Social Psychology: the Glass Ceiling Phenomenon

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STUDENT I.D. No: 060013503


Assignment 1

Submission date: Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011


Social Psychological research on sexism has come a long way from a mere page on ‘antifeminism’ in Allport’s (1954) classic text, The Nature of Prejudice, to the current rate of thousands of pages of scholarly work published every year devoted exclusively to the topic (Duckitt, 1992). A contemporary form of sexism, constantly in debate is the ‘Glass Ceiling’ phenomenon; arguably one of the most familiar and evocative metaphors[i] to emerge from the 20th century. From the publication of Kanter's 1977 book, Men and Women of the Corporation emerged the notion that experiences within the workplace are clearly gendered. Since that time, explaining the existence of the glass ceiling and other forms of discrimination, prejudice and inequality leading to the underrepresentation of women in the upper echelons of organizations has become a primary question for employers and researchers alike (Barreto et al, 2009). This essay will evaluate how social-psychological research and theory can contribute towards understanding the ‘Glass Ceiling’ through; a brief background of the phenomenon, relevant theories and empirical research, potential interventions and general social-psychological limitations.

The ‘Glass Ceiling[ii]’ is an "artificial barrier based on attitudinal or organizational bias that prevents qualified individuals from advancing upward in their organization into management-level positions" (U.S. Department of Labour, 1991). More simply, the glass ceiling constitutes an invisible obstacle for women[1], preventing them from moving up the corporate ladder (Eagly, 2003). The Glass Ceiling is evidently illustrated through statistics. For example, of the Fortune 1000 Companies, only 17 are led by women CEOs; this corresponds to less than 2 percent of women serving as CEOs[2] (Catalyst, 2003)[iii]. Furthermore, gender discrimination and the glass ceiling has lead to a significant pay gap between the sexes (Booth et al, 2005), and across 22 nations, both sexes still prefer a male boss (Hogg & Vaughan Hogg & Vaughan, 2008). As stated by the president of Catalyst - an organization for the advancement of women in business - this number does not adequately reflect the influence of women in managerial and leadership positions (Weyer, 2007). Although researchers of a study surveying over 1,200 women in Fortune 1000 companies came to the conclusion that “obstacles to women’s advancement are not intentional” (Townsend, 1997), labour market statistics described above, demonstrate that gender appears to be negatively affecting the advancement of women (Adams, 2002; BBC, 2004).

The Glass Ceiling requires analysis through multiple, embedded lenses of social and cultural contexts, providing a dynamic interplay of factors that constrain and reinforce the operation of gender in society. The meta-analytical framework and integrative perspective of prejudice, discrimination and inequality, spans from individual differences (micro) to interpersonal, social (macro), and situational (meso) levels of explanation.

The Glass Ceiling represents a modern or ‘new’ form of sexism and institutional discrimination (Brown, 2000). It is a subtle, covert, and primarily implicit form of indirect prejudice. Due to the Glass Ceilings’ gender discriminating orientation, there exist copious theories, which have proposed to account for this particular inequality. At the micro level, categorization leading to both inter-group differentiation and intra-group assimilation, accentuation effects, Outgroup Homogeneity Effect[iv], bias information processing, Self Fulfilling Prophecies[v], illusory correlations and stereotypic activation[vi] all result in gender bias in evaluation within an organization. More specifically, Social Role Theory (Eagly, 1987) holds...
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