Although there is an increasing amount of women in the workplace, there has only been a small increase in the amount of women in senior management positions. For example, in 2010, only 2.4% of the U.S. Fortune 500 chief executives were women. Additionally, only 12.5% of the directors were women this was only a small increase from 12.2% in 2009 (Toegel, 2011). Since 2010, these numbers have only risen by small margins.
Evidence confirms that women in management are only able to advance so high in the company hierarchy before they hit the ‘glass ceiling’ that prevents them from reaching top management or executive status (Dreher, 2003). The glass-ceiling metaphor was first introduced in 1986, by two Wall Street Journal reporters. The metaphor describes invisible obstacles so subtle that they are as transparent as glass, yet so strong that they are impenetrable for women to move up to higher levels of management (Lockwood, 2004). The metaphor has since evolved to include minorities in men as well. Essentially, the glass ceiling does not consider merit and achievement instead it reinforces discriminatory barriers that block opportunities.
Women’s unequal representation in leadership positions poses multiple concerns. First and foremost, the barriers that block advancement in management ladder go against fundamental principles of equal opportunity and social justice. Secondly, the barriers also impose organizational costs. For example, researchers are consistently finding a positive relationship between the representation of women in management positions and business performance measures such as market share and return on investment. Studies show that having diversity of gender in leadership has tangible payoffs (Tully, 2007). There are real reasons why women are faced with the glass ceiling. The glass ceiling needs to be proactively targeted and eliminated in order to provide equal opportunities for women and diversity in leadership.
There are many barriers in the way for women to move higher. The most commonly talked about obstacle is the gender stereotypes and preconceptions about women. Some stereotypes include that women are too emotional, are either too aggressive or not aggressive enough, are not as committed to their careers as men, are not willing to work long or unusual hours, lack willingness to relocate, and have difficulty making decisions (Staff Catalyst, 1993). Another stereotype is that men are perceived as masculine and achievement-oriented while women are just observed as nurturing and facilitative (Pichler, Simpson, & Stroh, 2008).
Women are less likely to even get the chance to prove themselves because hirers base their decision on biases of what society says women can and cannot do. These stereotypes cause bias in the employee hiring stage as well as the employee growth stages. If women show signs of behaviour that is deemed masculine they are greeted with hostility and are sometimes disliked, which can result in a downwardly biased performance evaluation. Ultimately, performance evaluations play a determining factor in the movement of women in higher management. Therefore, if they are being stereotyped or show leadership skills in ways that are against preconceptions they are looked down on and are often not recognized for their performance.
Another barrier faced by women is being a mother when seeking traditionally male positions. The results of the study done by Heilman and Okimoto showed that women suffer disadvantages in the workplace because they are mothers (2008). It should be noted that women naturally tend to pick personal priorities, such as family, over work (Wrigley, 2002). Often, family is more important to women than work and because of this they put more of their focus there which can hinder their chance to show strong performance and move past the glass ceiling. However, just because women choose those priorities does not mean that this barrier is their fault.
Women are stereotyped in this area based on the biases of the lack of fit conceptions about traditional male-based work positions. The lack of fit model suggests that women are automatically considered ineligible to fit in a male-based position because they stereotypically possess nurturing and communal attributes and behaviours that contrast with the independence and competitive attributes and behaviours of a male (Heilman & Okimoto, 2008). Because of the biases presented, women are not only discriminated, but expectations of them are lower which means there is little room to prove their capabilities.
Another obstacle is that even though women are discriminated, they just tolerate it and do not do anything about it. This idea is referred to as “negotiated resignation, a coming to terms with one’s work situation” (Wrigley, 2002). Some women decide to not deal with the unfairness and start their own businesses. Other women move from job to job in the hopes of finding a workplace where discrimination does not exist. While other women simply continue on in their current jobs believing that the harder they work, the higher the chance will be that they get noticed and promoted. As long as women continue to let the issue slide and not do anything about it, sex discrimination will continue to be an issue for years to come.
According to a study done by Instead’s executive education program, women show qualities that are equal to or surpass the qualities of men. However, there is one quality where women falter: vision. At the top tiers of management, having the ability to see opportunities and devise strategies based on the overall company is essential. Additionally, the ability to inspire others is equally important (Ibarra & Obodaru, 2009). The challenge for women is to grab vision and make it something they are known for. Vision is a competency that can be developed and women should work at achieving it in order to help themselves secure management positions.
There are small things that women can do and qualities they can develop in order to increase the likelihood of moving higher in the company hierarchy. However, women cannot overcome this issue on their own because much of the bias and discrimination comes from the side of the organization. It is important that organizations seek ways to help minimize this discrimination and provide equal opportunities for women. Typically, the CEO or president of an organization will consult with the HR professionals to determine what strategic organizational changes are necessary to reduce the existence of a glass ceiling so that the organization’s performance and reputation can be maximized (Lockwood, 2004). Human resources management plays a large part in being able to implement practices and facilitate change which is why they are consulted about this issue.
Developing a culture for diversity is one way to work towards eliminating the glass ceiling. As the global environment is becoming more competitive and multicultural, workplaces need to obtain individuals with diverse backgrounds and styles of leadership so that the organization can continue to perform well (Tully, 2007). These individuals should include the diversity of women as they possess different leadership styles than men. However, it is important to keep in mind that diversity does not mean having a single woman’s point of view or leadership style just for the sake of an organization’s reputation being perceived as being diverse. Merely hiring women executives will not make a difference; companies need to work to develop a culture for diversity of thought (Pletsch, 2008).
HR could also minimize the effects of stereotyping in employee recruitment by having female staff handle initial evaluation. Studies showed that male staff was highly focused on societal expectations where as women showed less bias in the evaluation of potential candidate. The male evaluator seemed to have an overall male bias when evaluating potential candidates (Skelly & Johnson, 2011). Often times, evaluators tend to hire people that are most like themselves (Pletsch, 2008). When male evaluators examine the qualifications and potential of a female candidate, they tend to wonder whether the women would be able to handle the balance between work and family. Based on the previously mentioned studies, having a female evaluator would likely decrease the likelihood of bias and increase the opportunities for women in an organization The glass ceiling has been a prevalent issue for the past couple of decades.
It will continue to be an issue in the future if there are no proactive measures taken by women and organizations. The biggest challenge is to reduce the gender stereotypes and preconceptions about women in order to allow them equal opportunities in top management positions. Women themselves have the ability to develop qualities such as stronger leadership and avid vision. They can also choose not to tolerate the discrimination and work together with other women to make a change. Although there are small things women can do, they cannot overcome the glass ceiling issue alone. Organizations need to be aware of the issue and make an effort to decrease discrimination and eliminate the glass ceiling.
Developing an organizational culture for diversity would help to provide women positions where they can perform as leaders and the organization can grow more diverse. Improving employee involvement would provide the opportunity for women to demonstrate the capabilities and qualities they possess so there would be an increased likelihood of recognition and promotion. Downsizing is another way to improve on the gender inequality balance. Women and organizations need to work together in order to eliminate the glass ceiling so that women get equal opportunities and social justice is followed.
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Ibarra, H., & Obodaru, O. (2009). Women and the Vision Thing. Harvard Business Review, 62-70.
Lockwood, N. (2004). The Glass Ceiling: Domestic and International Perspectives. Alexandria, Virginia, United States of America. Retrieved from 2004 Research Quarterly.
Pichler, S., Simpson, P. A., & Stroh, L. K. (2008). The Glass Ceiling in Human Resources: Exploring The Link between Women’s Representation in Management And The Practices of Strategic Human Resource Management and Employee Involvement. Human Resource Management, 47(3), 463-479.
Pletsch, A. (2008, June 16). The Paternal Cycle. Canadian Business, 81(10), 27-28.
Skelly, J. J., & Johnson, J. B. (2011). Glass Ceilings and Great Expectations: Gender Stereotype Impact on Female Professionals. Southern Law Journal`, 11, 59-70.
Staff Catalyst. (1993). Successful Initiatives for Breaking the Glass Ceiling. New York: Cornell University.
Toegel, G. (2011, February 18). Disappointing Statistics, Positive Outlook. Retrieved September 27, 2012, from Forbes Web site: http://www.forbes.com/2011/02/18/women-business-management-forbes-woman-leadership-corporate-boards.html
Tully, S. (2007, December 21). What Barriers Hold Women Back? Chronicle of Higher Education, 54(17), 4.
Wooten, L. P. (2008). Guest Editor’s Note: Breaking Barriers in Organizations for the Purpose of Inclusiveness. Human Resource Management, 47(2), 191-197.
Wrigley, B. J. (2002). Glass Ceiling? What Glass Ceiling? A Qualitative Study of How Women View the Glass Ceiling in Public Relations and Communications Management. Journal of Public Relations Research, 14(1), 27-55.
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