Breaking the glass ceiling: Overcoming Career Roadblocks for Women and Minorities


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  • Many terms exist to describe the Glass Ceiling affect. These are a few definitions of the most common. Different terms apply depending on the industry.Hour-glass ceiling: According to the NY Times, the Hour-Glass Ceiling is a time-based impediment to career advancement, often faced by working mothers. A new form of employment glass ceiling – the time demands of the modern workplace: Dr LyndallStrazdins from the Australian National University has undertaken research looking at time scarcity as an aspect of disadvantage. Her research study found that, on average, working mothers spend much more time than working fathers with their families. “The way time is shared within families is completely different depending on whether you are a mother or a father. Virtually all senior jobs are full time and most of those have long hours. If you think what a mother has behind her, she’s got a partner who is not going to bend his working time, on average, so she enters those jobs with a different back story to what a man might,” Strazdins says. “It’s not about merit in that sense, it’s whether you can put that time in and whether society allows you to do that or not. It is a profoundly more powerful barrier for a mother compared to a father.” Family Circle editor Gay Bryant first said this term in a 1984 Adweek interview then later on in her book entitled, Working Woman Report (1985)The term the "glass ceiling" first came into use in 1986, when two Wall Street Journal reporters named Carol Hymowitz and Timothy Schelhardt coined the phrase to describe the invisible barrier that blocks women from advancing to senior leadership positions in organizations. Since then, the metaphor of the glass ceiling has also come to be applied to the advancement of minorities.
  • Societal barriersThe supply barrier is related to opportunity and achievement. The difference barrier manifests itself as conscious and unconscious stereotypes, prejudice, and bias related to gender and ethnicity. Stereotyping and preconceptions of women’s roles and abilities.Internal business barriersThe following business-based barriers were identified:Outreach and recruitment practices that fail to seek out or recruit women and minoritiesPrevailing culture of many businesses is a white male culture and such corporate climates alienate and isolate minorities and womenInitial placement and clustering in staff jobs or in highly technical and professional jobs that are not on the career track to the topLack of mentoring and management trainingLack of opportunities for career development, tailored training, and rotational job assignments that are on the revenue-producing side of the businessLittle or no access to critical developmental assignments such as memberships on highly visible task forces and committeesSpecial or different standards for performance evaluationBiased rating and testing systemsLittle or no access to informal networks of communicationCounterproductive behavior and harassment by colleaguesThe Federal Glass Ceiling Commission and independent research suggest that the underlying cause of the glass ceiling is the perception of many white males that as a group they are losing control and opportunity. Many middle- and upper-level white male managers regard the inclusion of minorities and women in management as a direct threat to their own chances for advancement. As a result of this "upper- and middle-level white male resistance", business-based barriers are not always being as forcefully addressed as they should.
  • Government Barriers The Federal Glass Ceiling Commission pinpointed three governmental barriers to the elimination of the glass ceiling. They are:Lack of vigorous and consistent monitoring and law enforcementWeaknesses in the collection of employment-related data which makes it difficult to ascertain the status of groups at the managerial level and to disaggregate the dataInadequate reporting and dissemination of information relevant to glass ceiling issuesOther barriersDifferent pay for comparable work.Sexual, ethnic, racial, religious discrimination or harassment in the workplaceLack of family-friendly workplace policies (or, on the flipside, policies that discriminate against gay people, non-parents, or single parents)Exclusion from informal networks; Failure of senior leadership to assume accountability for women's advancement; Lack of role models; Lack of mentoringRequiring long hours for advancement, sometimes called the hour-glass ceiling
  • U.S. women still earned only 77 cents on the male dollar in 2008, according to the latest census statistics. (That number drops to 68% for African-American women and 58% for Latinas.) Some say 77% is overly grim. One reason: it doesn't account for individual differences between workers. the 1998 wage gap — women's earnings rise to 81% of men's. Factor in occupation, industry and whether they belong to a union, and they jump to 91%. That's partly because women tend to cluster in lower-paying fields. The most-educated swath of women, for example, gravitates toward the teaching and nursing fields. Men with comparable education become business executives, scientists, doctors and lawyers — jobs that pay significantly more. But industry doesn't tell the whole story. Women earned less than men in all 20 industries and 25 occupation groups surveyed by the Census Bureau in 2007 — even in fields in which their numbers are overwhelming. Female secretaries, for instance, earn just 83.4% as much as male ones. And those who pick male-dominated fields earn less than men too: female truck drivers, for instance, earn just 76.5% of the weekly pay of their male counterparts. Perhaps the most compelling — and potentially damning — data of all to suggest that gender has an influence comes from a 2008 study in which University of Chicago sociologist Kristen Schilt and NYU economist Matthew Wiswall examined the wage trajectories of people who underwent a sex change. Their results: even when controlling for factors like education, men who transitioned to women earned, on average, 32% less after the surgery. Women who became men, on the other hand, earned 1.5% more. Skeptics who deem the 77% estimate too optimistic also note that the figure only counts women working full-time (35 hours a week or more, for the full year) and doesn't account for the fact that women are far more likely to take time off to start a family or work part-time while rearing one. Over a period of 15 years, according to a 2004 study by the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR), a full 52% of women in the prime earning age range of 26 to 59 go through at least one full calendar year earning nothing at all, compared with just 16% of men. Those choices make a difference: over that span, female workers earn just 38% of what men make — making the wage gap twice as large as the census figure. (And despite the earnings premium that comes with greater education, women with bachelor's degrees earn less over 15 years than men with a high school diploma or less, according to the IWPR study.)
  • Lilly Ledbetter sued her former employer Goodyear for pay discrimination. Ledbetter, who retired in 1998, won the suit and was awarded back pay and $360,000 in damages, only to have it overturned in an appeal by Goodyear. The Supreme Court interpreted the law that she didn’t file her lawsuit against Goodyear within 180 days after the discrimination occurred, as required by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Supreme Court decision holding that the statute of limitations for presenting an equal-pay lawsuit begins on the date that the employer makes the initial discriminatory wage decision, not at the date of the most recent paycheck, as a lower court had ruled. With the Fair Pay Act, now the 180-day statute of limitations resets with each new discriminatory paycheck.When Congress passed the Equal Pay Act in 1963 to battle unequal pay for equal work among women and minorities in the workplace, women earned only 58 cents for every dollar a man made. By 1977 the disparity had shrunk to 77 cents and remained so for 32 years.Over the course of 47 years the unequal wage gap between men and women amounts to an estimated loss in wages for women of $700,000 for high school graduates, $1.2 million for college graduates and $2 million for professional school graduates.If a wage gap didn’t exist, poverty rates for single moms would be cut in half and poverty rates for dual-earner families would be cut by about 25 percent, according to the National Women’s Law Center.Paycheck Fairness wasn't about being fair, it was about being equal. Fair and equal are not the same thing and the sooner we all recognize that, the happier we'll be. This bill would have opened the door to a whole lot of equality and not a lot of fairness.
  • Taking into consideration the Glass Commission Report of 1996, some employers put into action the issues raised in the report.
  • First of all, it is exceedingly rare to find two people who are doing precisely the same work. Perhaps only two workers doing the same job at the same rate on the same assembly line would qualify. Two secretaries in an office, who in theory probably have the same duties, might still find that one of them ends up typing twice as many letters as the other. And this second secretary may in turn do three times as much filing as the first. One might take half again as many phone calls as the other yet do so in the same amount of time because she is able to get to the nub of the conversation more quickly. Productivity, proficiency, and even a certain amount of chance play huge roles in determining exactly what, and how much, work each person does. It is next to impossible to say that any two people have done “equal” work.In the case of Lilly Ledbetter, who sued Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. for alleged pay discrimination, the fact that Ledbetter continued to work for Goodyear for 19 years and, presumably, to cash her paychecks indicates that she was satisfied with her compensation during that time. Had she at any time disagreed that she was being compensated fairly for the work she was doing, she had only to request an increase in pay and then, if the company declined her request, to quit. By remaining in Goodyear's employ for nearly two decades, she gave assent to the wages she was receiving. As long as a person accepts the pay he is receiving and is not the victim of either force or fraud by his employer — and paying a person the wage to which he agreed, even if it differs from others' wages, in no way constitutes fraud — the government has absolutely no business punishing the employer. It's a simple matter of property rights. Perhaps Obama thought he was doing women and minorities a favor by signing this Act. However, this can cause employers to discriminate in hiring because for fear of lawsuit. When an employee negotiates a salary it becomes an agreed upon arrangement between employer and employee. Employers must live up to their word, and then some, but employees are free to disregard theirs and then pillage their employers for failing to discern exactly how much money the employees thought they should have been paid.NegotiatingWomen already have the right to stand up for themselves. In fact, I find it offensive when people think I'm so incompetent and incapable that I can't walk into a salary negotiation and handle it on my own. Instead, what I need is a powerful and benevolent government that holds my hand and guarantees that I'll be given the same salary as the men.Know Your RightsFinally, watch for discriminatory behavior. Sometimes biases and stereotyping can cross the line into discrimination. It's unfortunate for both you and your organization when situations like this occur. Don't just accept frustration and failure. Know that you're doing everything right, and arm yourself with a good understanding of your rights regarding official company policies and local laws. Identify the Key Competencies within Your OrganizationKey competencies are the common skills and attributes of the people in your company's upper levels. These skills are often tied closely to the organization's culture and vision. Companies that value innovation and strive to be leaders will probably promote individuals who are outgoing, risk takers, and not afraid to "tell it like it is." However, if you work for a conservative company (such as a publicly owned utility) chances are that top management are analytical thinkers, with a reputation for avoiding risk and making careful decisions. Ask yourself these questions:What are the values of your organization?What behaviors does your company value and reward?What type of person is promoted? Understand what sets your company and its leaders apart. This is the first step toward discovering how to position yourself for a top leadership role.
  • Set Objectives to Align Your Competencies with Top Management Once you know your target, set goals to get there. You're responsible for determining your own career direction. Be proactive and go after what you want, because it probably won't be handed to you. Do the following:Let your boss know that you want to work toward a higher-level position.Ask your boss what skill areas you need to develop. Work together with your boss to set goals and objectives, then monitor and measure your performance. Remember to concentrate on areas of your performance that you can improve. Don't set a goal to achieve a certain position by a certain time. This can be discouraging if it doesn't happen. For example, set a goal to consistently demonstrate assertive and clear communication. If you achieve that goal, no matter what job title you have, you've succeeded! Build Your NetworkYou should also build relationships with other people in your organization. You never know who may be in a position to help you or provide you with valuable information.It's important to network in all areas and levels of your company. Many people tend to think it's best to make friends at the top. However, to be effective and actually make it to the top, you'll need the support of colleagues at other levels as well. Try these tips:Reach out to new people on a regular basis.Get involved with cross-functional teams.Expand your professional network outside of your organization. If you can't break the glass ceiling in your company, you may have to look elsewhere for opportunities.
  • Find a MentorHaving a mentor is a powerful way to break through the glass ceiling. The barriers that you face have likely been there for a long time. Past practices, biases and stereotypes, and old ideas are often long established at the top of many organizations.Is upper management reluctant to work with certain types of individuals? Do they exclude certain people from important communications? A mentor can help you learn how to get connected to the information and people who can help you. A mentor can also be a great source of ideas for your professional development and growth. Ask yourself these questions:Is there someone in upper management you can approach to help you?Will your boss be able to provide mentoring support?Are there people with strong political power who can offer you assistance? Build Your ReputationUltimately, the way to get ahead is to get noticed. You want people to see your competence, leadership abilities, communication skills, technical knowledge, and any other competencies that are typical of people at the top. Develop your skills and network with people so that your name becomes associated with top management potential. To do this, you need to build a reputation as the kind of person who fits the description of top management. Visibility is very important. Remember, while you can see up, those at the top can see down. Make sure that what they see is you!Follow these guidelines:Seek high-profile projects. Speak up and contribute in meetings.Share ideas with peers as well as people in higher positions. Identify places where your reputation is not what you want it to be, and develop plans to change them.
  • Key PointsTo get ahead and reach the leadership level you want, you need to champion and market yourself. That means proactively managing every step of your career. If you can't seem to break through a glass ceiling, you might have to work harder than others. We can't all be exactly the type of upper management person our company wants. What we can do is develop the skills that the company values. Arm yourself with a development plan as well as the help of your boss, a strong network, and, hopefully, a mentor. You can then build and showcase the skills that will help you climb the corporate ladder. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone, and you may find new zones of opportunity. Apply This to Your LifeIf you're frustrated with your career advancement, consider the following: Do you have a career plan in place? If you don't, now is the time to make one!Does your boss, or anyone in your organization, know what your goals are? Unless people know what you want, they may keep you in the same position and assume you're happy there. Do you feel alone and unsupported in your career goals? If so, who can help you change that? We all need to make our own success, but most people don't succeed all on their own. Ask for support and assistance – this is a sign of strength, not weakness. What areas for skill development have been pointed out to you in the past? Are you making improvements? Are you facing a glass ceiling? Recognizing that the ceiling exists is the first step. The ceiling won't be removed unless you do something about it. Apply some of the ideas in this article, and monitor your progress.
  • Breaking the glass ceiling: Overcoming Career Roadblocks for Women and Minorities

    1. 1. Breaking the Glass Ceiling Barriers BY JO ELLEN KANO
    3. 3. What do these terms mean? Glass Ceiling  Discriminatory practices that have prevented women and other protected-class members from advancing to executive-level jobs. Glass Walls  Women to advance only in a limited number of functional fields within an organization. Glass Elevator or Escalator  Refers to a fast track for advancement usually for men in a field more dominated by women. Glass Cliff  An opportunity a woman may take or promoted into that puts her in a precarious position of utter professional disaster if she fails. Hour-Glass Ceiling  A time-based impediment to career advancement, often faced by working mothers.
    4. 4. Women in Leadership <20% of women occupy upper management roles Females comprised of 48% of the workforce 15.4% of women held corporate officer positions (2007) 6.7% at top-paying positions 15.6% increase in companies who did not have female corporate officer positions Positions leading to top management jobs fell 1.9% Only 12 Women CEOs in Fortune 500 list of companies
    5. 5. Barriers to Advancement Societal  Supply Barrier –related to educational opportunities and the level of job attainment  Difference Barrier – Stereotypes, Prejudice, & Bias Internal Business  Failed outreach and recruitment practices  Business culture white male  Failure of senior leadership to assume responsibility for women’s advancement  Lack of mentoring/training, role models  Lack of opportunities for career development  Limited or no access to memberships, committees, highly visible task forces  Different standards for performance evaluation  Biased rating and testing systems  Limited access to networks of communication  Counterproductive behavior and harassment by colleagues
    6. 6. Equal Pay, Governmental, and Other Barriers Comparable Pay Barrier Governmental Lack of work-friendly policies Discrimination or harassment in the workplace Requiring long hours for advancement
    7. 7. Pay Equity / Comparable Worth The concept that pay for jobs requiring comparable levels of knowledge, skill, and ability should be paid similarity, even if actual duties differ significantly Arises from the continuing gap between the earnings of women and men 2007 Census Bureau Study  Women earned less than men in 20 industries and 25 occupation groups  Men earned more even in fields where female workers were dominant Courts have consistently ruled against the concept
    8. 8. Government Solutions to the Gender Pay GapLilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Equal Pay Act in 1963Restoration Act Jan. 29, 2009  In place to battle First legislation unequal pay for women President Obama and minorities in the signed into law workplace. Amends Civil Rights  1963 – women earned Act of 1964 and .58 per dollar to men changes the 180 day  1977 – changed to .77 time limit for filing and has stayed at this lawsuits level for 32 years.
    9. 9. Employers Addressing Issues Establishing mentoring programs Providing career rotation Increasing top management & boardroom diversity Establishing goals for diversity Allowing for alternative work arrangements  Flexible hours  Paternity/Maternity Leave
    10. 10. Proposed Solutions Equal pay for equal work may not be a viable solution Know your position, research the pay, and bring everything to the negotiating table Know your rights Identify key competencies within the organization  Organizational Values  Behaviors that the company values and rewards  The type of person promoted  Understand what sets the company and its leaders apart
    11. 11. Setting Career Objectives Align competencies with top management  Let the boss know  Ask about skills areas you need to develop  Work together with the boss to set goals and objectives  Monitor and measure your performance Building the Network  Regularly reach out to new people  Become involved with cross-functional teams  Expand your professional network outside the company
    12. 12.  Find a MentorWays to Smash  Approach someone in upperthe Glass management to help  See if the boss can be a mentor  Find people who have strong political power to offer assistance  Build a Reputation  Seek high-profile projects  Speak up and contribute in meetings  Share ideas with peers as well as people in higher positions  Identify places where your reputation is not what you want it to be, and develop plans to change them
    13. 13. Have you been pushed up to the Glass Ceiling? Whatever the reason, you have a choice Acceptance of the situation  Be happy with looking up and not being able to touch what you see, or You can smash the glass with purpose and determination
    14. 14. In Closing…Key Points Champion and Market Yourself Proactively manage every step of your career You might have to work harder than others Develop the skills that the company values Have a development plan and a strong network Solicit help from the boss and hopefully a mentor Build and showcase the skills that will help you climb the corporate ladder. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone, and you may find new zones of opportunity. Apply this to your life
    15. 15. ReferencesArnst, C. (2008). Women in Leadership: The 20% Rule. Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved from eader.htmlBreaking the Glass Ceiling: Reaching for the Top with Everyday Tools. (2012). Mind Tools. Retrieved from, L. (2010). Why do Women still earn less than men? Time U.S. Retrieved from,8599,1983185,00.htmlGlass Ceiling. Retrieved from Glass Ceiling. (2010, April). New York Times Opinion Pages. Retrieved from’s First Bill Narrows Wage Gap. (2012). UAW Solidarity House. Retrieved from (2012). What is the Glass Ceiling? ceiling.htm