The Importance of Eliminating the Prevalent Glass Ceiling

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The Importance of Eliminating the Prevalent Glass Ceiling
Rebecca Nieuwhof

Although there is an increasing amount of women in the workplace, there has only been a small increase in the amount of women in senior management positions. For example, in 2010, only 2.4% of the U.S. Fortune 500 chief executives were women. Additionally, only 12.5% of the directors were women this was only a small increase from 12.2% in 2009 (Toegel, 2011). Since 2010, these numbers have only risen by small margins.

Evidence confirms that women in management are only able to advance so high in the company hierarchy before they hit the ‘glass ceiling’ that prevents them from reaching top management or executive status (Dreher, 2003). The glass-ceiling metaphor was first introduced in 1986, by two Wall Street Journal reporters. The metaphor describes invisible obstacles so subtle that they are as transparent as glass, yet so strong that they are impenetrable for women to move up to higher levels of management (Lockwood, 2004). The metaphor has since evolved to include minorities in men as well. Essentially, the glass ceiling does not consider merit and achievement instead it reinforces discriminatory barriers that block opportunities.

Women’s unequal representation in leadership positions poses multiple concerns. First and foremost, the barriers that block advancement in management ladder go against fundamental principles of equal opportunity and social justice. Secondly, the barriers also impose organizational costs. For example, researchers are consistently finding a positive relationship between the representation of women in management positions and business performance measures such as market share and return on investment. Studies show that having diversity of gender in leadership has tangible payoffs (Tully, 2007). There are real reasons why women are faced with the glass ceiling. The glass ceiling needs to be proactively targeted and eliminated in order to provide equal opportunities for women and diversity in leadership.

There are many barriers in the way for women to move higher. The most commonly talked about obstacle is the gender stereotypes and preconceptions about women. Some stereotypes include that women are too emotional, are either too aggressive or not aggressive enough, are not as committed to their careers as men, are not willing to work long or unusual hours, lack willingness to relocate, and have difficulty making decisions (Staff Catalyst, 1993). Another stereotype is that men are perceived as masculine and achievement-oriented while women are just observed as nurturing and facilitative (Pichler, Simpson, & Stroh, 2008). Women are less likely to even get the chance to prove themselves because hirers base their decision on biases of what society says women can and cannot do. These stereotypes cause bias in the employee hiring stage as well as the employee growth stages. If women show signs of behaviour that is deemed masculine they are greeted with hostility and are sometimes disliked, which can result in a downwardly biased performance evaluation. Ultimately, performance evaluations play a determining factor in the movement of women in higher management. Therefore, if they are being stereotyped or show leadership skills in ways that are against preconceptions they are looked down on and are often not recognized for their performance.

Another barrier faced by women is being a mother when seeking traditionally male positions. The results of the study done by Heilman and Okimoto showed that women suffer disadvantages in the workplace because they are mothers (2008). It should be noted that women naturally tend to pick personal priorities, such as family, over work (Wrigley, 2002). Often, family is more important to women than work and because of this they put more of their focus there which can hinder their chance to show strong performance and move past the glass ceiling. However, just because women choose...
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