Glass escalator

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The term "glass escalator" was introduced by Christine L. Williams in her research "The Glass Escalator: Hidden Advantages for Men in the "Female" Profession"[1] published in August 1992. The glass escalator refers to the way men, namely heterosexual white men, are put on a fast track to higher up positions when entering women dominated sex-segregated professions. It is most present in lower levels of the profession. This idea is a parallel to the popular idea of the glass ceiling, where women face troubles advancing in the workplace.

Types of jobs[edit]

Whether the career is women-dominated, men assume leadership positions at higher rates than women. When considering men in women-dominated professions, the four professions often examined for this phenomenon are: teaching, nursing, social work, and librarianship. These professions are sex-segregated and have much higher percentages of women working them. Although these professions have gained more men in the past few decades, they remain sex-segregated and are employed mostly by women. Williams does acknowledge that it is rare to find professions where men and women have equal representation at the same job level.

Often, in these jobs when men are hired they are fast tracked to higher positions in roles of administration and leadership. This happens even when the men had little intention of wanting these roles when applying and interviewing for their job. Christine L. Williams suggests that "As if on a moving escalator, they must work to stay in place,"[1] suggesting that their ascent into leadership roles will be effortless and inevitable. In addition to it being inevitable, they are often pressured to take on these roles. It is suggested that this is because characteristics associated with men and masculinity are viewed as more desirable than feminine characteristics associated with womanhood.

Negative aspects[edit]

Despite many of these advantages faced by men in these professions, they also face some negative aspects. In Christine L. William's research, she interviewed with a male nurse who had intentions of going to grad school for family and children nursing, but was discouraged and pushed to go towards adult nursing because of the heavier feminine connotation family and children nursing has, as well as the sometimes-negative connotation of men working with children.[1] This was a similar experience for other men she had conducted interviews with. No matter what the profession was, the men were discouraged from going towards more feminine aspects of their career and pushed towards the more masculine sides of it.

Black men in nursing[edit]

The experience of riding the glass escalator is one is most often experienced by heterosexual white men. This can be seen when looking at men in nursing. Black men in nursing do not get to ride the glass escalator, in fact, they tend to receive discrimination. Adia Harvey Wingfield discusses this in her research entitled "Racializing the Glass Escalator: Reconsidering Men's Experiences with Women's Work".[2] Harvey Wingfield attributes black men's experience in nursing to gendered racism.

While many men who enter nursing receive a warm welcome from women colleagues as "a response to the fact that professions dominated by women are frequently low in salary and status and that greater numbers of men help improve prestige and pay".[2] This experience is not shared by black men in nursing. Harvey Wingfield suggests that this is due to the social construct of black men being framed as threats to white women. Their higher ups may treat them poorly due to negative stereotypes about black men. They also find it harder to advance in their career because they are viewed as less qualified; while white men nurses may be confused by patients to be doctors, black men nurses get confused for janitors.

Black men do not have the same experience, nor the advantages, of the men in Williams' original work.[1] Wingfield concludes that a shared racial identity with one's coworkers facilitates access to the glass escalator.[2] Black men, some of whom are tokens in the field of nursing, do not share the racial identity of many of their female (and dominantly white) colleagues. White women tend not to value working with nurses of color, particularly when they are men.[2] As a result, they do not assist in enhancing their black male colleagues' careers in nursing.

Men in teaching[edit]

Men in teaching have also been known to ride the glass escalator into school administrative positions. Andrew J. Cognard-Black examines the experience of men in teaching in "Riding the Glass Escalator to the Principal’s Office: Sex-Atypical Work Among Token Men in the United States".[3] Cognard-Black notes that at the start of the 1990s, 28% of teachers were men.[3] Through his research he found that men had a much greater chance of advancing upward into school administrative positions.

Transgender and gay men[edit]

Another important area to look at is trans men and gay men.[4] In an increasingly progressive era, there is a greater presence of the transgender community and their experiences with the glass escalator should be examined. It seems in order to ride the glass escalator one needs to conform to heteronormative appearances and behavior. If they conform they can excel into leadership positions. Those gay men and trans men who do not pass well enough do not get a chance at the glass escalator. Trans men who presented as masculine could receive male benefits only if they presented as masculine enough. If they were not masculine enough they might likely face discrimination. Williams concludes that "Only those who embody the appropriate class-based aesthetic can ride the glass escalator".[2] It should be acknowledged that this type of affect is not present in all jobs. Williams notes that working dead-end jobs like retail often offer very little chance for upward mobility.


  1. ^ a b c d Williams, Christine (Aug 1992). "The Glass Escalator: Hidden Advantages for Men in the "Female" Professions". Social Problems. 39: 253–267.
  2. ^ a b c d e Wingfield, A. H. (2009). "Racializing the Glass Escalator: Reconsidering Men's Experiences with Women's Work". Gender & Society. 23 (1): 5–26. doi:10.1177/0891243208323054.
  3. ^ a b COGNARD-BLACK, Andrew J (2012). "RIDING THE GLASS ESCALATOR TO THE PRINCIPAL'S OFFICE: Sex-atypical Work among Token Men in the United States". Teorija in Praksa. 49.6: 878–900.
  4. ^ Williams, Christine. "THE GLASS ESCALATOR, REVISITED: Gender Inequality in Neoliberal Times, SWS Feminist Lecturer". Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)