Representor Winter 2023 - Feature Article


The Glass Ceiling Project: Improving our industry by learning and growing together as allies

Robert Derringer

Have you ever been in a meeting, at a conference roundtable, at dinner, or on social media, when someone says something a bit unsettling? Then, another person adds a comment or makes an attempt to be funny. You might even notice the conversation degrade as others join in.

Have you ever left one of those interactions and said to yourself, “I should have spoken up?” Or, maybe, you approached someone you noticed that was visibly affected by the conversation and offered your support? Have you ever promised yourself to “do better” next time?

If you answered yes to any of the last three questions, The Glass Ceiling Project (TGCP) was created with you in mind. TGCP is currently a private LinkedIn group – a place for men and women to come together to advance ways that men can “do better” to help shatter the glass ceiling that limits so many women, people of color and other groups underrepresented within the business and professional world. There is roughly equal gender representation within the group.

In a world of influencers, TGCP’s aim is to be influential and impactful, helping male allies find and confidently use their voice to effect change. The group aims to:

  • Proactively use our individual voices to dispel misogynistic/racist/insensitive statements
  • Learn how to “call in” rather than “call out”
  • Lean on one another for advice and guidance
  • Provide mentoring and skills training

Societal change accelerates when those in power are allies to those seeking just and fair opportunity. The group’s purpose is to actively influence dialogue and actions, rather than sitting passively on the sidelines to root for the underdog.

While I take pride in a continuing and successful 30+ year career in sales management in the electronics components and industrial automation industries, I have not always been the type of colleague, ally or leader that TGCP aims to create. When given the opportunity to manage western region sales for Aries Electronics in 1988, I was a driven but arrogant white male who expected everyone to adapt to my style. My own insecurities would often find me saying things to gain attention, and I was not above making jokes about one’s gender, sexual preference, religion, ethnicity, age, weight – you name it. If I could get a laugh, I said it, and to those who took offense my attitude was, “Get over it, it’s only a joke.” 

It would be several years until I began to understand that many who laughed at my jokes were, in fact, not laughing with me but instead laughing at me. And, while I was always aware of the high concentration of white males in the industry, it took me many years to come to realize the many benefits conferred to me simply by default as a white male. 

The path to the creation of TGCP contains several epiphany moments. One of the earliest was as a parent of an adopted mixed-race child. I remember reading Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat in the Hat” to my son, Garrett, and wondering how he saw Sally and Conrad in Dr. Seuss’ fifty books (98 percent of the characters were white and no girls or women of color appeared in these books).1 I started to notice the tendency of so many films to feature white people in leading roles and people of color in supporting roles or, worse, disproportionately as villains, criminals or thugs. 

Sally and Conrad, characters in The Cat in the Hat , Dr. Seuss, 1952

As time progressed, I learned to moderate my language and become more aware of how my words and actions were perceived by others (white men, too). I’m still learning – the day I stop learning will be the day I stop

breathing. However, many comedy routines and jokes are no longer funny to me; not from some sense of political correctness, but instead because humor at the expense of another is simply no longer humorous to me.

I’m a big believer in the concept of discomfort fostering growth. I try to challenge myself to view situations from a different perspective when I feel uncomfortable. It is often when I confront those uncomfortable feelings that I’ve grown personally and professionally. Harvard Business Review featured a great article on this concept several years ago titled, “If You’re Not Outside Your Comfort Zone, You Won’t Learn Anything”2 – thanks to Mel Foster Company’s Mike Swenson for the recent and timely share on LinkedIn.

As I continue to focus more thought and intention around matters of social justice to help create a world where people are afforded the same opportunity as I’m afforded, there’s a story I’ll share that leads me to where I am today. Several years ago, I held a position on an industry conference planning committee and I lobbied for a local sociology professor to speak on diversity and inclusion at this conference. I held the view that women, and particularly women of color, were far and away the most credible to speak to the lack of diversity in our industry. I was tremendously disappointed when the committee passed on my suggestion.

While I continued to hold this view for several years, I started to challenge myself to take unconventional or uncomfortable positions. For instance, when leadership would map out a business process and say things like, “He gets the order, she enters the order,” I would ask, why are we automatically putting the man in the selling position and women in the administrative position? Or, when colleagues would mock the pronunciation of a colleague of Mexican heritage’s name, I stopped the conversation and asked how it would feel if their names were mocked.

I began to realize that I, too, have something to say alongside women and people of color. As a white male eligible for an AARP card, my voice lands differently than the voice of the underrepresented. Just as ERA member rep companies offer synergistic product lines that offer solutions to OEMs, ODMs, CEMs and more, The Glass Ceiling Project complements the efforts of other industry associations that are working to develop a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce within the electronics components and industrial automation industries.

While there is ample research indicating that a diverse workforce fosters innovation3, when self-proclaimed misogynist Andrew Tate is said to be the favorite influencer among those under 18 years of age4, more voices are needed. Our daughters and granddaughters deserve better. And, if this old dog can learn new tricks, I’m convinced there’s other old dogs in our business who would like to make a difference and leave our industry a better place than before. If you’re interested in learning more about The Glass Ceiling Project, feel free to reach me at or on LinkedIn at 

About the Author

Robert Derringer is a 35-year industry veteran currently employed as director, global channel, for Crouzet North America and he recently chaired the ECIA Executive Conference. Robert gained extensive experience working with reps when he had national sales responsibility with Dialight Corp. Robert managed product management, customer service and marketing efforts at companies such as Amphenol RF, LEDiL, Hirschmann of America and Aries Electronics and worked in distribution for three years as vice president of supplier development for Waldom Electronics.