JOURNAL OF PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH, 14(1), 27–55 Copyright © 2002, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Glass Ceiling? What Glass Ceiling? A Qualitative Study of How Women View the Glass Ceiling in Public Relations and Communications Management Brenda J. Wrigley
Department of Advertising Michigan State University
The glass ceiling persists for women in public relations and communications management, despite increasing feminization of these fields. This qualitative study seeks to identify factors that support and perpetuate the problem of the glass ceiling for women in public relations and corporate communications management. In-depth interviews and focus groups were used to allow 27 women to give their views on the glass ceiling. I suggest a new theoretical concept, negotiated resignation, for explaining the psychological process by which women come to terms with the glass ceiling. Study participants identified five factors contributing to the glass ceiling, as well as a number of strategies women can use to overcome the glass ceiling. I examine the findings from both a radical feminist and liberal feminist perspective. Recommendations for educators, students, and practitioners are included in this study, as are some comments from the 27 women who worked as managers in both agency and corporate environments.
In 1991 U.S. Labor Secretary Lynn Martin released the findings of a special government study entitled, “The Glass Ceiling Initiative.” This federal study examined the challenges presented by a lack of women and minorities in management. The commission was made up of 21 bipartisan members and was created by the Civil Rights Act of 1991 (Russell, 1995). The Department of Labor (1991) defined the glass ceiling as, Requests for reprints should be sent to Brenda J. Wrigley, Department of Advertising, Michigan State University, 324 Communication Arts & Sciences, East Lansing, MI 48824–1212. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
… those artificial barriers based on attitudinal or organizational bias that prevent qualified individuals from advancing upward in their organization into management-level positions. (p. 1)
The Report highlighted the absence of women and minorities in management. The study looked at nine corporations, beginning in the fall of 1989, combining research and hearings featuring speakers from business, labor, and women’s groups (Women and the Workplace, 1991). Secretary Martin concluded her foreword to the report for the U.S. Department of Labor (1991) by urging that the Glass Ceiling Initiative’s Report be taken seriously: The glass ceiling, where it exists, hinders not only individuals, but society as a whole. It effectively cuts our pool of potential corporate leaders by eliminating over one-half of our population. It deprives our economy of new leaders, new sources of creativity—the “would be” pioneers of the business world. If our end game is to compete successfully in today’s global market, then we have to unleash the full potential of the American work force. The time has come to tear down, to dismantle—the “Glass Ceiling.” (p. 1)
Since the Glass Ceiling Initiative’s findings were released, little has changed. As of March 31, 2000, women corporate officers numbered 1,622 or 12.5% (Catalyst, 2001a). According to Business Week, women in 1997 represented 11.2% of officers at large corporations, an increase from the 10.6% reported in 1996 and 8.7% in 1995. The magazine noted that those who do make it to the top are paid “substantially less than their male counterparts” with women paid 68 cents for every dollar paid to a male corporate officer (Hammonds, 1998, pp. 82–83). The upshot: “‘In the upper echelons, it’s still a White male preserve,’ says Heidi Hartmann, director of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. ‘Why are we surprised?’” (p. 83) In public relations, the news about salary inequities is no better. In the PRWeek magazine Salary Survey (March 27, 2000), women were...
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