The Glass Ceiling

The Glass Ceiling

By all accounts, Ann Hopkins – who had joined Price Waterhouse accounting firm in 1978 – was one of the company’s top management consultants. She had single-handedly secured a project for the firm with the State Department; a project worth upto $44 million. She was what one would call “a terribly hard worker.” So, when in 1982, she – the only woman among 88 candidates – was denied a partnership at the company, something just did’nt add up. Why was “one of the very best” management consultant not offered the partnership, while others – who were comparatively less accomplished as her – were? The reason – she later learned – had nothing to do with the quality of her work. Instead, it was her “too macho” and less ladylike personality that prevented her from securing the partnership. She was advised to “walk more femininely, talk more femininely, dress more femininely, wear make-up, have her hair styled, and wear jewellery.” In short, the company expected her to conform to the gender stereotype which she obviously disapproved of. Soon after, Hopkins resigned from the company, sued it for gender discrimination under title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and won the case.

Ann Hopkins’ story is one of the most famous examples of what is termed the glass ceiling effect.

The glass ceiling effect is a metaphor used to represent the (invisible) obstacles hindering the hierarchical advancement of a certain demographic in major corporations. The term gained popularity in mid-1980s and has come to embrace the pervasive resistance faced not just by women but all minorities in rising to the highest ranks. The glass ceiling addresses the issue of prevention of women from being promoted to executive rankings in corporations in spite of their accomplishments. In most corporations, only five percent of board of directors and corporate officers are women.

The (invisible) obstacles often arise due to discriminatory promotion practices and workplace prejudices that take a toll on women. The experience of being subjected to such practices and prejudices not only end up diminishing the confidence of women but also makes them think less of themselves. As Sheryl Sandberg, in her book Lean In, notes, “[M]any people, but especially women, feel fraudulent when they are praised for their accomplishments. Instead of feeling worthy of recognition, they feel undeserving and guilty, as if a mistake has been made. Despite being high achievers, even experts in their fields, women can’t seem to shake the sense that it is only a matter of time until they are found out for who they are – impostors with limited skills or abilities.” What could be more unfortunate?

While the causes and the detrimental effects of the glass ceiling barriers are now better understood than before, there is still a lot that needs to be done in order to break the glass ceiling, so to speak. According to Women in the Workplace 2019 – a study by McKinsey and LeanIn.Org – for every 100 men who became managers, only 72 women were promoted to the same level. If this disparity has to be done away with then efforts need to be made on several fronts; right from the level of the government down to the individual. It is essential that all biases and prejudices that keep women out of positions of power are nipped in the bud, so that every woman who aims for the sky is not limited by the invisible glass ceiling.

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The Glass Ceiling
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The Glass Ceiling
The glass ceiling effect is a metaphor used to represent the (invisible) obstacles hindering the hierarchical advancement of a certain...
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The Women Leaders
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