The Glass Ceiling Effect: Another Perspective on Women and Leadership

“The glass ceiling is a barrier so subtle that it is transparent; yet so strong that it prevents women from moving up the corporate hierarchy”

—Ann Morrison, American Author

The term “Glass ceiling” can be defined as an unacknowledged upper limit in corporations and other organizations, above which it is difficult or even impossible for women to reach out to the highest ranks.  “Glass ceiling” is a popular metaphor widely used for the hard-to-see informal barriers that prevents women from getting promoted or achieving further opportunities in leadership positions.  The metaphor of “glass ceiling” has also been used to describe the limits and obstacles faced by racial minority groups.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s 1991 definition of glass ceiling is “those artificial barriers based on attitudinal or organizational bias that prevents qualified individuals from advancing upward in their organization into management-level positions.” (Report on the Glass Ceiling Initiative.)

Famous American actress cum author Ann Morrison defines the concept of the Glass Ceiling as:

“The glass ceiling is not simply a barrier for an individual, based on the person’s inability to handle a higher-level job. Rather, the glass ceiling applies to women as a group who are kept from advancing higher because they are women.”

The Elements behind the Glass Ceiling:

It is pretty obvious that women are facing a lot of hurdles to break through the glass ceiling and reach to the highest leadership position throughout the ages. Preventing both women and organizations from reaching their full potential, the invisible “Glass Ceiling” denies us all of the maximal benefits of gender diversity in leadership. Some of the most common barriers are highlighted below:

Job isolation:

Women are offered the same kinds of job roles like the staff, public relations or occasionally finance specialties that rarely lead to the more powerful management positions. Over time, women are eventually excluded from jobs in the mainstream of business, the route taken by CEOs and presidents.

Old-boy Network:

There are many instances when men get the managerial powers in an organization who manages greater numbers of people, enjoys more freedom of hiring and firing, and controls the company’s assets directly while women are deprived of such authorities and powers.

It is the “Old-boys” of the organization that makes all the policy; where the women are kept virtually absent.

Sex Discrimination:

In a recent survey, working women were asked about the greatest obstacle they had to overcome to achieve success; “simply being a woman” was the most frequent response.  In another survey by the Wall Street Journal, women leaders quoted the most serious obstacle in their business careers to be “male chauvinism, attitudes toward a female boss, slow advancement for women, and the simple fact of being a woman.” These instances are enough to prove the prevalence of sex discrimination in the workplace.

Sexual Harassment:

Sexual harassment remains one of the biggest barriers for women in managerial roles. A corporate environment that tolerates sexual harassment intimidates and demoralizes women executives. Even after the adoption and enforcement of numerous laws against sexual harassment, women do not feel sufficiently encouraged and empowered to speak out for fear of compromising their work.

Benefits of Women in Leadership:

Studies found that inclusion of women in business leadership has significantly improved such factors as firm value, financial performance, economic growth, innovation and social responsiveness and philanthropy.

The additional benefits of women in corporate leadership include stricter monitoring and supervision and fewer legal infractions such as fraud and embezzlement. A better balance among women in leadership positions can create a more diverse team of leaders with different perspectives and a greater ability to contribute new ideas and thus enhancing the profitability. The transformational leadership style often used by women tends to be a good option for contemporary organizations, as it encourages employee morale, motivation, and performance.

Overcoming the Barriers: Strategies

Women′s progress up the corporate ladder is still limited by the “glass ceiling” despite the myriad of Government policies and programs which have been introduced to ensure that their talents and skills are recognized and accepted.

Women can help themselves to overcome this career hurdle by:

  • Acquiring appropriate business skills and know how;
  • Taking up line‐management positions rather than management service roles;
  • Gaining the necessary experience through “apprenticeship” and “acting positions”;
  • Seeking career counseling;
  • Volunteering for leadership and executive positions;
  • And lastly, acquiring the ability to measure their operating effectiveness in the workplace.

An awareness of the emergence of new barriers to their progress is also worth considering. The current socio‐economic situation is creating different “glass ceilings” in the form of the downsizing of organizations, new differentiated and self‐directed career paths, the advent of the contractual worker, and the care of aged parents.

Conclusion:

Since the latter half of the 20th century, women have made great paces in increasing their representation in the workforce. However, a considerable gap remains in the achievement of leadership positions across different fields. Renowned feminist Gloria Steinem stated it best: “Clearly no one knows what leadership has gone undiscovered in women.”  It is far past time we strive to find out and finally shatter the glass ceiling.

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