Glass ceiling

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is about a metaphor. For more information about the barrier that prevents women from reaching the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, see Gender pay gap.
A chart illustrating the differences in earnings between men and women of the same educational level (USA 2006)

A glass ceiling is a metaphor used to represent an invisible barrier that keeps a given demographic (typically applied to women) from rising beyond a certain level in a hierarchy.[1]

The metaphor was first coined by feminists in reference to barriers in the careers of high-achieving women.[2][3] In the USA, the concept is sometimes extended to refer to obstacles hindering the advancement of minority men, as well as women.[2][4] Asian and Asian-American news outlets have coined the term "bamboo ceiling".[5][6]


The United States Federal Glass Ceiling Commission[7] defines the glass ceiling as "the unseen, yet unbreachable barrier that keeps minorities and women from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, regardless of their qualifications or achievements."[1]

David Cotter and colleagues defined four distinctive characteristics that must be met to conclude that a glass ceiling exists. A glass ceiling inequality represents:

  1. "A gender or racial difference that is not explained by other job-relevant characteristics of the employee."
  2. "A gender or racial difference that is greater at higher levels of an outcome than at lower levels of an outcome."
  3. "A gender or racial inequality in the chances of advancement into higher levels, not merely the proportions of each gender or race currently at those higher levels."
  4. "A gender or racial inequality that increases over the course of a career."

Cotter and his colleagues found that glass ceilings are correlated strongly with gender. Both white and minority women face a glass ceiling in the course of their careers. In contrast, the researchers did not find evidence of a glass ceiling for African-American men.[8]

The glass ceiling metaphor has often been used to describe invisible barriers ("glass") through which women can see elite positions but cannot reach them ("ceiling").[9] These barriers prevent large numbers of women and ethnic minorities from obtaining and securing the most powerful, prestigious, and highest-grossing jobs in the workforce.[10] Moreover, this effect prevents women from filling high-ranking positions and puts them at a disadvantage as potential candidates for advancement.[11][12]


The concept of the glass ceiling was originally introduced outside of print media at the National Press Club in July 1979.[citation needed] This was at a Conference of the Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press led by Katherine Lawrence of Hewlett-Packard. This was part of an ongoing discussion of a clash between written policy of promotion versus action opportunities for women at HP. The term was coined by Lawrence and HP manager Maryanne Schreiber.

The term was later used in March 1984 by Gay Bryant. She was the former editor of Working Woman magazine and was changing jobs to be the editor of Family Circle. In an Adweek article written by Nora Frenkel, Bryant was reported as saying, "Women have reached a certain point—I call it the glass ceiling. They're in the top of middle management and they're stopping and getting stuck. There isn't enough room for all those women at the top. Some are going into business for themselves. Others are going out and raising families."[13][14][15] Also in 1984, Bryant used the term in a chapter of the book The Working Woman Report: Succeeding in Business in the 1980s. In the same book, Basia Hellwig used the term in another chapter.[14]

In a widely cited article in the Wall Street Journal in March 1986 the term was used in the article's title: "The Glass Ceiling: Why Women Can't Seem to Break The Invisible Barrier That Blocks Them From the Top Jobs". The article was written by Carol Hymowitz and Timothy D. Schellhardt. Hymowitz and Schellhardt introduced glass ceiling was "not something that could be found in any corporate manual or even discussed at a business meeting; it was originally introduced as an invisible, covert, and unspoken phenomenon that existed to keep executive level leadership positions in the hands of Caucasian males."[16]

As the term "Glass Ceiling" got more issued within society, public responded with differing ideas and opinions. Some argued that glass ceiling is a myth rather than a reality because women chose to stay home and showed less dedication to advance into executive suite.[16] As a result of continuing public debate, the US Labor Department's chief, Lynn Morley Martin, reported the results of a research project called "The Glass Ceiling Initiative" formed to investigate the low numbers of women and minorities in executive positions. This report defined the new term as "those artificial barriers based on attitudinal or organizational bias that prevent qualified individuals from advancing upward in their organization into management-level positions."[14][15]

In 1991, as a part of Title II of the Civil Right Act of 1991,[17] Congress created the Glass Ceiling Commission. This 21 member Presidential Commission was chaired by Secretary of Labor Robert Reich,[17] and was created to study the "barriers to the advancement of minorities and women within corporate hierarchies (the problem known as the glass ceiling), to issue a report on its findings and conclusions, and to make recommendations on ways to dis- mantle the glass ceiling."[1] The commission conducted extensive research including, surveys, public hearings and interviews, and released their findings in a report in 1995.[2] The report, "Good for Business", offered "tangible guidelines and solutions on how these barriers can be overcome and eliminated".[1] The goal of the commission was to provide recommendations on how to shatter the glass ceiling, specifically in the world of business. The report issued 12 recommendations on how to improve the workplace by increasing diversity in the organization and reducing discrimination through policy[1][18][19]

Number of women CEOs from the Fortune Lists has been increasing from 2012–2014,[20] but ironically women's labor force participation rate decreased from 52.4% to 49.6% between 1995 and 2015 globally. However, it is evident that some countries like Australia has increased the labor force participation of women over 27% since 1978. Furthermore, only 19.2% of S&P 500 Board Seats were held by women in 2014, of whom 80.2% were considered white.[21]

Gender pay gap[edit]

The gender pay gap is the difference between male and female earnings. In 2008 the OECD found that the median earnings of female full-time workers were 17% lower than the earnings of their male counterparts and that "30% of the variation in gender wage gaps across OECD countries can be explained by discriminatory practices in the labour market."[22][23] The European Commission found that women's hourly earnings were 17.5% lower on average in the 27 EU Member States in 2008.[24] As of April 2016 the wage gap in the United States was "79 cents for every dollar paid to men, amounting to an annual gender wage gap $10,762".[25] The wage gap is an even bigger problem for women of color. African American women are paid 60 cents to every dollar a white man makes while Latina women are paid only 55 cents. "Two Asian women are paid 84 cents for every dollar paid to white" men.[25]

Although people argue that the gender pay gap is not relevant anymore, statistics show that it will take at least 70 years from now for the gap to close. According to the United States International Labor Rights Forum, every single country in the world suffers from gender pay gaps by margins of up to 40 percent.[26] The United States ranks 65th in pay equality, and women are in the majority of most poverty stricken in America.[27]

In her article "Women and Politics", Irina Zamfirache claims that the glass ceiling can be explained by woman's place in society. Statistically the gender pay gap is decreasing over time, which seems appropriate seeing as women are no longer portrayed as housewives. However, according to Zamfirache despite the media still projecting a disadvantageous image of women, the change of stereotypes and perceptions of not only women but also minorities suggests that the glass ceiling can eventually be dissolved.[28]

Glass escalator[edit]

In addition to the glass ceiling, which already is stopping women from climbing higher in success in the workplace, a parallel phenomenon called the "glass escalator" is occurring. This can be defined as how more men are joining fields that were previously occupied mainly by women, such as nursing and teaching, and within these job fields, the men are riding right past women and going straight to the top, similarly to if they were on an escalator and a woman was taking stairs. Men are being offered more promotions than women and even though women have worked just as hard, they are still not being offered the same chances as men are in some circumstances.[29] The chart from Carolyn K. Broner, Ph.D. shows an example of the glass escalator in favor of men for female-dominant occupations in schools.[30] While women have mostly occupied the position of teachers, men are taking the higher positions in school systems as deans or principals.

According to this scholarly article,[31] "men encounter powerful social pressures that direct them away from entering female-dominated occupations (Jacobs 1989, 1993)." Since female-dominated occupations are usually characterized with more feminine activities, men who enter these jobs can be perceived socially as "effeminate, homosexual, or sexual predators".[31] Research on the career paths of men who have occupations in female-dominated fields, such as nursing or teaching, come to a conclusion that men benefit financially from their gender status. This can be extended to say that men are able to abuse their gender advantages in such contexts, often "reaping the benefits of their token status to reach higher levels in female-dominated work."[32] Not only are males taking power from women in more female oriented jobs, but they are rising to the top more steadily than females.

Sticky floor[edit]

In the literature on gender discrimination, the concept of "sticky floors" complements the concept of a glass ceiling. Sticky floors can be described as the pattern that women are, compared to men, less likely to start to climb the job ladder. Thereby, this phenomenon is related to gender differentials at the bottom of the wage distribution. Building on the seminal study by Booth and co-authors in European Economic Review,[33] during the last decade economists have attempted to identify sticky floors in the labour market. They found empirical evidence for the existence of sticky floors in countries such as Australia, Belgium, Italy, Thailand and the United States.[34]

Glass Ceiling Index[edit]

In 2016, the Economist updated their glass-ceiling index. It combines data on higher education, labour-force participation, pay, child-care costs, maternity rights, business-school applications and representation in senior jobs.[35] The countries where inequality was lowest were, in order of most equality, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Hungary, which three of the five are the same as 2015 however Iceland and Hungary were not on the top 5 list before. Iceland had the lowest difference with women earning a score of 82.6 out of 100 as to what men make.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Federal Glass Ceiling Commission. Solid Investments: Making Full Use of the Nation's Human Capital. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Labor, November 1995, p. 13-15.
  2. ^ a b c Federal Glass Ceiling Commission. Good for Business: Making Full Use of the Nation's Human Capital. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Labor, March 1995.
  3. ^ Wiley, John (2012). The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Gender and Sexuality Studies. Vol. 5. John Wiley and Sons. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Hyun, Jane (2005). Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling: Career Strategies for Asians. New York: HarperBusiness. 
  6. ^ "Top 10 Numbers that Show Why Pay Equity Matters to Asian American Women and Their Families". name. Retrieved 2016-05-03. 
  7. ^ "The Environmental Scan: A Fact-Finding Report of the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission Washington, D.C.". name. Retrieved 2016-09-01. 
  8. ^ Cotter, David A., Joan M. Hermsen, Seth Ovadia, and Reece Vanneman (2001). The glass ceiling effect. Social Forces, Vol. 80 No. 2, pp. 655–81.
  9. ^ *Davies-Netzley, Sally A. (1998). Women above the Glass Ceiling: Perceptions on Corporate Mobility and Strategies for Success Gender and Society, Vol. 12, No. 3, p. 340, doi:10.1177/0891243298012003006.
  10. ^ Hesse-Biber and Carter 2005, p. 77.
  11. ^ Nevill, Ginny, Alice Pennicott, Joanna Williams, and Ann Worrall. Women in the Workforce: The Effect of Demographic Changes in the 1990s. London: The Industrial Society, 1990, p. 39, ISBN 978-0-85290-655-2.
  12. ^ US Department of Labor. "Good for Business: Making Full Use of the Nation's Human Capital". Office of the Secretary. Retrieved 9 April 2011. 
  13. ^ Frenkiel, Nora (March 1984). "The Up-and-Comers; Bryant Takes Aim At the Settlers-In". Adweek. Magazine World. Special Report. 
  14. ^ a b c Catherwood Library reference librarians (January 2005). "Question of the Month: Where did the term 'glass ceiling' originate?". Cornell University, ILR School. Retrieved June 30, 2013. 
  15. ^ a b Bollinger, Lee; O'Neill, Carole (2008). Women in Media Careers: Success Despite the Odds. University Press of America. pp. 9–10. ISBN 9780761841333. 
  16. ^ a b Wilson, Eleanor (September 4, 2014). "Diversity, Culture and the Glass Ceiling". Journal of Cultural Diversity. 
  17. ^ a b Redwood, Rene A. (October 13, 1995). "Breaking The Glass Ceiling: Good for Business, Good for America". National Council of Jewish Women. 
  18. ^ Johns, Merida L. (January 1, 2013). "Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Structural, Cultural, and Organizational Barriers Preventing Women from Achieving Senior and Executive Positions". Perspectives in Health Information Management. 
  19. ^ Morrison, Ann; White, Randall P.; Velsor, Ellen Van (1982). Breaking The Glass Ceiling: Can Women Reach The Top Of America's Largest Corporations? Updated Edition. Beverly, MA: Personnel Decisions, Inc. pp. xii. 
  20. ^ jcombopiano (2012-11-27). "Fortune 500 CEO Positions Held By Women". Catalyst. Retrieved 2016-05-03. 
  21. ^ acostigan (2012-10-17). "Statistical Overview of Women in the Workforce". Catalyst. Retrieved 2016-05-03. 
  22. ^ OECD. OECD Employment Outlook - 2008 Edition Summary in English. OECD, Paris, 2008, p. 3-4.
  23. ^ OECD. OECD Employment Outlook. Chapter 3: The Price of Prejudice: Labour Market Discrimination on the Grounds of Gender and Ethnicity. OECD, Paris, 2008.
  24. ^ European Commission. The situation in the EU. Retrieved on July 12, 2011.
  25. ^ a b National Partnership for Women and Families, comp. (April 2016). "America's Women and The Wage Gap" (PDF). Trade, Jobs and Wages. Retrieved 2 May 2016. 
  26. ^ "Womens Rights". International Labor Rights Forum. Retrieved May 2, 2016. 
  27. ^
  28. ^ Zamfirache, Irina (2010). "Women and politics – the glass ceiling". Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology. 
  29. ^ "A New Obstacle For Professional Women: The Glass Escalator". Forbes. Retrieved 2015-10-23. 
  30. ^ "MEN, WOMEN, & THE GLASS ESCALATOR". Women on Business. Retrieved 2015-10-23. 
  31. ^ a b
  32. ^
  33. ^ Booth, A. L., Francesconi, M., Frank, J. (2003) A sticky floors model of promotion, pay, and gender European Economic Review, 47, 295-322.
  34. ^ Baert, S., De Pauw, A.-S., Deschacht, N. (2016) Do Employer Preferences Contribute to Sticky Floors? ILR Review, doi: 10.1177/0019793915625213.
  35. ^ Daily chart: The glass-ceiling index


External links[edit]