Examining the Glass Ceiling


In our current age of progress and innovation we have been hearing a term much more frequently of late – the much hyped “glass ceiling”. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, the popular term is simply defined as an invisible barrier that prevents minorities from successfully rising up the hierarchy and achieving higher level positions. Today we will dive into this fascinating topic and examine the implications and origin of the popular term.

As stated in the definition, the brunt of the glass ceiling’s impact falls primarily on minorities and women. How did this matter arise you ask? Well, it all began before World War I, during the time when women were bound to stay at home and men went out seeking work. This pattern began to change during the war; since a large portion of men went out to protect their country, the women began to take charge. They looked for sources of income and employment, and when the war ended, many women were forced out of their jobs, but decided to keep them. Thus, began what we now know as second-wave feminism – women wanting equal wages at work, equal facilities and equal rights as their male counterparts.

 During that time working women were scorned and shunned in society for taking away jobs from “more deserving” males. Even though, we are no longer in the 1960’s, this concept, of women being not as able to work has been passed down through the generations. According to a survey by the Department of Labor, approximately 95%of senior managers in the Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 industrial organizations are male.

 The statistic has risen for several reasons, the foremost of which is the completely antiquated mindset of some (not all) men. According to them, women are not able to give their whole concentration and focus on jobs due to pregnancy and child rearing – apparently, a part of their minds will always think about family. This is the foundation of the glass ceiling: a general assumption made by men that women will either not want to or will not be capable of taking on work at higher level positions.

Leaders must question their own biases and make decisions with an equity perspective. Most people can learn the skills necessary for most positions no matter their gender or background. Sometimes, perspectives are passed down from one leader to the next without enough consideration of the perspective. Mental models are powerful and need to be examined with the correct lens. 

 Another reason leading to the formation of this troublesome stereotype is the fact that minorities and females are often given access to much less facilities than the rest of the workforce. Mentors are often hired a lot less for females, and as a result many are not yet skilled enough to climb the corporate ladder. It is up to the women to stand up for themselves in this matter and seize the opportunity to learn these skills in order to advance. Some companies do a better job identifying people of color and women to groom into leadership positions. 

Undoubtedly, businesses play a huge role in shattering this abhorrent glass. However, women themselves should also begin to take the matter into their own hands. Women often show more humility than men – if they don’t show their talents in the correct light, no one will notice them enough. It is up to women to take a stand and not look back when the promotion is offered. Speaking up is not a matter of humility, as much as it is about being assertive. This is a choice for each of us. 

I truly believe things are getting better as organizational leaders are recognizing that diversity is a key factor in gaining greater shares of the market, as well as increasing creativity and innovation for organizations. The literature shows that women are graduating with more graduate degrees in than men these days, but the Fortune 500 does not yet reflect the kind of diversity that that these qualified leadership-oriented and trained graduates are reflecting. I suspect that things will get balanced out in time. However, now is a great time to visit how your organizational culture supports diversity.


Make good choices and have a great day! Only you get to choose how you feel about it!

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Dr. Paul Gerhardt is a skilled leadership and diversity trainer who builds customized workshops online or at your workplace. He is a tenured professor of management and a diversity and leadership well-respected and trusted trainer who helps organizations get amazing returns on their training investment. Consider inviting Dr. Paul Gerhardt to do customized leadership or diversity training at your organization. Most organizations find that diversity and leadership training by the right trainer yields a significant instant return on investment.

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Some say he’s half man half fish, others say he’s more of a seventy/thirty split. Either way he’s a fishy bastard.