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Nudging the Glass Ceiling

Over one hundred and twenty years ago, women first began working outside the home in

increasing numbers. By the turn of the century, more than twenty-five percent of all women

were employed outside the home (Smith, 1993). Even though the majority of these women were

unmarried, widowed with children or had been abandoned by their husbands and left with

children to support alone, they were still considered immoral, unfeminine, and unfit or negligent

mothers. These women were paid considerably less than their male counter parts because of the

popular opinion that they should find a man to support them and their families. At this time in

history, women were not given the chance to become supervisors or executives because of the

sterotypical beliefs that women were incapable of long term job commitment due to child

rearing and that women were not aggressive enough to maintain control of corporations and


According to Bob Adams (1993), author of the Glass Ceiling, and supported by statistics

obtained from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “women currently make up more than fifty-seven

percent of the labor force. Yet, because of an invisible barrier, women have only five or six

percent of the higher management jobs” (p. 939).

This invisible barrier, the “glass ceiling” was first given currency by the Wall Street

Journal in 1986. Since that time, the term has been used to describe the barriers that prevent

women from advancing to the top in business, labor, government, acadamia, and other

institutions throughout the American work place (Adams, 1993, p. 939).

The “glass ceiling” is a form of discrimination in the work place. Although practices and

policies that create this barrier are often not as obvious as other forms of discrimination, they are

just as effective in denying

employment and economic opportunities for women.

There are many rationalizations for the justification of the “glass ceiling”. This writer

sees the “ceiling” as a roof. Roofs were built to protect as well as to keep people under. Men

have long felt a need to protect women because women were deemed to be “the weaker sex”.

Biologically, the female of the species has always been protected so that the species could

procreate. Since women have begun moving up the corporate ladder, parallel to their male

associates, they have also begun suffering from the same medical dilemmas that predominantly

men have suffered with for years. These maladies include hypertension, strokes, heart disease,

and more reoccurrent cases of cancer. Is it possible that women were to be protected from these


Throughout history, protection has also been used to disguise discrimination. If a person

is told that they are not allowed to be equal to someone else because it is for their own

protection, then they are not being discriminated against, simply protected for their own well


History has also proven that if a species is left alone, to their own devises, they will

indeed succeed and prosper.

Among other opinions held by some male executives is that women have not been in the

work pipeline long enough to have “paid their dues”. These men also feel that women will

eventually evolve into executives, but only after they have served their time (Naff, 1994, p.509).

Other conceivable reasons for the “glass ceiling”, as cited by Dena Bunis, show some

different perspectives for the causes. These causes include the fact that women managers are

being passed over in favor of men for special assignments and projects that would get them


Additional justifications for the barrier could include the fact that women are not being

included in networking activities such as golf games and informal dinners (Bunis, 1991, p.2).

The fact that American corporations are largely inhabited and run by white males,

demonstrates the sociological and psychological phenomenon that the human race tends to

associate with, hire, and promote people who look and act the same as them (Bunis, 1991, p.2).

Other reasons for discrimination, as alluded to by Adams, are that women are reluctant to

relocate for the sake of their career; that a woman’s style of leadership is not suited to the

executive suite; that a woman’s natural role is that of the nurturing and supporting gender and are

more predisposed to the career areas of teachers, nurses, secretaries, and

homemakers/housewives (Adams, 1993, p.944).

Women who have been or who are affected by the “glass ceiling” have very little

recourse with the nation’s labor unions. Among the nation’s 16.4 million union members, thirty-

eight percent are women. However, only three women sit on the thirty-nine member Executive

Council of the AFL-CIO (Adams, 1993, p.946). How can women expect or hope for help from

an organization which has its own internal problems with the “glass ceiling”?

There are several actions which can be adapted to remedy the dilemma of the “glass

ceiling”. Foremost, it is important that individual agencies examine their own employment data

to see whether there are particular areas where women are being promoted at a lower rate than

men. Agencies should also audit the criteria, formal or informal, that are being used in selecting

employees for advancement. The agencies should ask themselves if these criteria are really job

related and are they having an adverse impact on women (Adams, 1993, p.513)?

Next, managers should examine the ways in which they are evaluating employees and

look at what assumptions they may be making about whether one employee seems to have more

advancement potential than another. They should look for stereotypes and seek to curtail them.

Managers are obligated to think about whom they are selecting for a career-enhancing

assignment and who they are asking to coordinate the office Christmas party and make coffee

(Adams, 1993, p.513).

Ultimately, women should take advantage of opportunities to demonstrate their abilities.

Data shows that more women than men have found such experiences as developmental

assignments, the opportunity to “act” in a position prior to appointment to it, and formal

development programs or managerial training to have been very helpful in their careers. These

activities can help to break down stereotypes by showing that women have broader capabilities

and commitment than they are often given credit for (Adams, 1993, p.513).

Progress in denting or chipping the “glass ceiling” is likely to continue, but no sudden

breakthroughs are expected. Women in middle-management will continue to push toward the

top. Some will break through. Others will encounter frustrating obstacles. Those blocked by the

“glass ceiling” will increasingly follow their peers out the door to start businesses of their own.

Women need to continue to try to persuade the labor unions and businesses that shunting aside

talented women is a shot in the foot – and the pocketbook. As global competition increases and

the “baby bust” depletes the work force, women will be a major source of management skill.

Possibly the biggest push will come from the wives and daughters of male executives.

As these women hit the “glass ceilings” in their own companies, law firms, or universities, they

will tell their husbands and fathers about it. Current trends in education means that these young

women are now coming home with their own MBAs.

To continue to lose talented women hurts the organization severely. At a time when

female customers are making more buying decisions than ever before, a company without a

diverse work force is at a crippling disadvantage. In other words, “…grab a male-dominated

company by its bottom line, and its hearts and minds will surely follow” (Lawlor, 1994, p.87).

The bad news about the “glass ceiling” is that it is much lower than anyone thought and

that unless there is a continued and concentrated look, it will not just melt. It will not just break.

It will not just shatter. Women must keep pushing!

Reference List

Adams, B. (1993). The Glass Ceiling. CQ Reasearcher, Vol.3, No. 40, 937-960

Bunis, D. (1991). The Glass Ceiling. Newsday (Long Island, N.Y.)

Lawlor,J. (1994). Exodus. Working Woman, Vol. 19, No. 11, 38-41+

Naff, K. C. (1994). Through the Glass Ceiling: Prospects for the Advancement of Women in the Federal Civil

Service. Public Adminstration Review, Vol. 54, No. 6, 507-514

Saltzman, A. ( 1991). Trouble at the Top. U.S. News & World Report. June 17, 1991. 40+

Smith, R.E. The Subtle Revolution. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute, 1979

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