Glass ceiling

Glass ceiling

''' The term glass ceiling refers to situations where the advancement of a qualified person within the hierarchy of an organization is stopped at a lower level because of some form of discrimination, most commonly sexism or racism, but since the term was coined, "glass ceiling" has also come to describe the limited advancement of the deaf, blind, disabled, aged and sexual minorities.

This situation is referred to as a "ceiling" as there is a limitation blocking upward advancement, and "glass" (transparent) because the limitation is not immediately apparent and is normally an unwritten and unofficial policy. The "glass ceiling" is distinguished from formal barriers to advancement, such as education or experience requirements.


Sexual discrimination was outlawed in the United States through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the hopes of allowing women to rise in the working world once proper experience has been achieved. The term "glass ceiling" has been thought to have first been used to refer to invisible barriers that impede the career advancement of women in the American workforce in an article by Carol Hymowitz and Timothy Schellhardt in the March 24, 1986 edition of the Wall Street Journal. However, the term was used prior to that; for instance, it was utilized in a March 1984 Adweek article by Gay Bryant. The term glass ceiling was used prior to the 1984 article by two women at Hewlett-Packard in 1979, Katherine Lawrence and Marianne Schreiber, to describe how while on the surface there seemed to be a clear path of promotion, but, in actuality, women seemed to hit a point where they seemed unable to progress beyond. Upon becoming CEO and chairwoman of the board of HP, Carly Fiorina proclaimed that there was no glass ceiling. After her term at HP, she called her earlier statement a "[d]umb thing to say.

United States Senator Hillary Clinton used the term glass ceiling in her speech to endorse Senator Barack Obama for President: "And although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it's got about 18 million cracks in it."

The term glass ceiling was originally specifically applied to discrimination against women.

Types of glass ceiling barriers

  • Different pay for comparable work.
  • Sexual, ethnic, racial, religious discrimination or harassment in the workplace
  • Lack of family-friendly workplace policies

Sexism and glass ceiling effects

One of the major indicators that serves to demonstrate that inequality exists between males and females is the gender wage gap. Currently women working full time are making approximately 77 cents for every dollar that males make. While this is a marked improvement from the 1960s when women were making only 59 cent to the dollar for men, the goal of equal pay for equal work has yet to be reached, which in turn may limit the overall reach of women in all respects of social power that is based upon economic wealth, such as politics, the law, medicine, technology and other fields where women continue to be underrepresented. Some explanations offered to explain this gender gap center around education. Women were believed to have such low earning power when compared to males two decades ago because, women were just entering the paid labor force and therefore, they possessed less skill and education than most men. In turn the reason why this gap has greatly narrowed is due to the increase in education amongst women. McDonald and Thornton (2007) argue that when many factors such as promotions, job changes, and experience are controlled for much of the relationship between the wage gap, gender and educational attainment can be attributed to the types of majors men and women choose to pursue. This suggests that women just naturally gravitate to a field that earns less than male dominated fields. However, within female dominated fields (i.e., education) the “glass ceiling” is still present. Women often have great difficulty acquiring managerial positions within the school system, which is overwhelmingly female oriented. Therefore, this phenomenon extends beyond choice of major and into all fields.

Although it is often down-played that any differences exist between men and women who are “climbing the ladder” together this is untrue. Unfortunately, the gendered inequalities are often embedded within the social hierarchy and this affects how women and men are perceived in leadership roles. Different traits are ascribed to females when compared to males that often color the selection process with unfounded bias. If a female does have other traits aside from the gendered traits that she is believed to possess, then she is viewed negatively. For example, in a study conducted by Thomas-Hunt and Phillips (2004) they found that when women possessed expertise they were actually viewed as less influential by others. However, expertise was positive for males. Also, female led groups were less productive than male led groups even though the women held expertise in the area just like males. Therefore, possessing expertise is not viewed as positively as it is for males. This also suggests that lack of skills is not the only reason why women are not deemed worthy of leadership roles.

Overall, the system is designed to cap the amount of promotions and knowledge women gain in comparison to males. In accordance with this notion of limited promotions Lyness and Heilman (2006) found that in a study conducted with 448 upper-level employees that women were less likely to be promoted than males, and if they were promoted they had stronger performance ratings than males. However, performance ratings were more strongly connected to promotions for women than men. This suggests that woman had to be highly impressive to be considered eligible for leadership roles, whereas this was not the case for men.

Women are more likely to choose jobs based on factors other than pay, for instance: health care and scheduling that can be managed with the duties of primary care of children for which women are still overwhelmingly responsible, and thus they may be less likely to take jobs that require travel or relocation or jobs that are hazardous. On average, women take more time off and work fewer hours, often due to the unequal distribution of childcare labor, domestic labor, medical needs specific to women, and other family issues that tend to fall to a woman's responsibility per the gender roles assigned by society.

Reverse glass ceiling

A new phenomenon, known as the "reverse glass ceiling", has been taking shape in America over the past few years. More and more men have started their careers in female-dominated industries, such as nursing, paralegal, travel and childcare. Many have been discriminated against because of this. Some experts question whether it actually exists because it's still infantile in growth. Some others call this concept the "glass escalator" and describe it as the rapid advancement of men into positions of authority within female-dominated occupations.

Variations and related terms

  • Bamboo Ceiling - The exclusion of Asian-Americans from executive and managerial roles on the basis of subjective factors such as "lack of leadership potential" or "inferior communication ability" where the East Asian-American candidate has superior objective credentials such as Ivy League credentials (in comparison to their white counterparts with only state university credentials). For example, research shows that there are a decent number of partners at leading prestigious law firms in the United States who did not attend top notch law schools. However, you will seldom find an East Asian American partner of a leading law firm who did not attend a "Top 14 Law School" (according to the US News ranking).
  • Glass Closet - The exclusion of openly gay men and women from certain jobs, espescially in the media.
  • Glass elevator (or glass escalator) - The rapid promotion of men over women, especially into management, in female-dominated fields such as nursing.
  • Glass cliff - A situation wherein someone has been promoted into a risky, difficult job where the chances of failure are higher.
  • Celluloid ceiling, referring to the small number of women in top positions in Hollywood, as documented by Lauzen (2002) and others.
  • Sticky Floor - refers to women who are trapped in low-wage, low mobility jobs in state and local government.
  • Sticky Ladder - A term used to describe women's struggle to reach the top of the corporate ladder. This term describes the theory that women are not incapable of reaching the top; they just get "stuck" on the middle rungs of the ladder.

"Glass ceiling" in popular culture

Canadian indie rock band Metric wrote a song called "Glass Ceiling" on their 2005 album Live It Out, which is a reference to this type of situation.

The effect has also inspired a musical, bearing the same name. "Glass Ceiling" (2006), written by Bret VandenBos and Alex Krall, examined and parodied the idiosyncrasies of both males and females in the corporate workplace.

See also

Notes and references

External links

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