Breaking The Glass Ceiling Essay Research Paper

Breaking The Glass Ceiling Essay, Research Paper


The term the ?glass ceiling? first came into use in 1986 when two Wall Street Journal reporters coined the phrase to describe the invisible barrier that blocks women from the top jobs in corporate America. In the article, The Corporate Woman, the authors described a corporate world in which access to the top for women was blocked by corporate tradition and prejudice. They wrote that ?the executive suite seemed within their grasp, but they just couldn?t break through to the top.? Among the reasons cited for the existence of the glass ceiling were the belief that women are too easily diverted form their careers by family. The biggest obstacle women face is also the most intangible, men at the top feel uncomfortable beside them.


Over the past thirty years women have made huge strides in the workplace, however it is a rarity to find women holding the elite positions in the corporate world. If the women who have already made it are to be believed, numbers alone may not be enough. Stereotypes, myths and preconceptions still block women from advancing up the corporate ladder. Women still encounter difficulty reaching the top rung, attaining a certain level and then hitting a ?glass ceiling?, a phrase coined by an author in The Wall Street Journal back in 1986.

With women?s unprecedented achievement in the workplace, not only do women now make up nearly half of the labor force, they are better educated than ever. More than half (54%) of all college graduates are women and many go on to earn advanced degrees. In spite of their progress, women in business still encounter invisible barriers. The ?glass ceiling? keeps the best and the brightest from reaching their full potential. For example, less than 10% of all senior management positions are held by women, an extremely modest increase from the 3% of twenty years ago. Clearly much needs to be done to increase these low numbers in the immediate future.

While women have become more common in today?s business world, the statistics would lead us to believe that the transition has been sudden, instead the process has been much more evolutionary in nature. During the last twenty years, women in the labor force rose at a rate twice that of men. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 58% of women age sixteen and over are now in the work force, compared with 76% of men. By the year 2005, between 61% and 65% of women will be in the labor force, compared with 74% to 76% of men. According to the Wall Street Journal analysis, men still hold a majority of management positions. Women held 30% of management jobs in 1992, which was up from 21% in 1982. The journal predicts that it will take another twenty to thirty years for women to tip the scales to a more balanced position in management and leadership roles in business. Despite the odds, there are some companies where women are shattering the ?glass ceiling.?

The lack of adequate education, training and experience in the past, to some extent, explained the difficulties women experienced in obtaining management jobs. Today, a large and increasing proportion of women in many countries are well qualified, which allow more women to hold more management jobs, but they tend to be at lower levels and in less vital areas. Women often do better in professional and financial services, as well as public service.

The invisible barriers that limit women?s progress toward employment extend all the way from the ?glass ceiling? at the top of the nation?s largest corporations to the ?sticky floor? of low-paying jobs. A process of practices that eliminate women for higher positions creates these barriers. Barriers exist in the structure of work organizations, and in educational and economic systems. Advancement beyond low paying jobs must be considered in a broader context than movement up the hierarchy of a private sector. In the best case, advancement means a job change that results in better pay, benefits, working conditions, or security. The majority of women employed in the largest and most stable U.S. companies work in clerical, blue-collar, service, and sales jobs. Women in these types have few opportunities for promotions and they face many structural and cultural barriers that keep them from earning more money.

Hewlett Packard is one of the companies giving women the opportunity to crash through the invisible barriers, Carleton Fiorina recently became the CEO of the computer making giant. Fiorina has an M.B.A. from the University of Maryland and an M.S. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She started out as a secretary at Hewlett Packard, which then led to her position at AT&T selling phones to the government. Working the way up the corporate ladder at AT&T led to one of Fiorina?s great achievements as an executive with Lucent, a spin off corporation of AT&T. Fiorina later became the president of the $20 billion Global Service division at Lucent. Because of her great accomplishments, she was the first choice to take over Hewlett Packard. Fiorina is quoted saying, ?My gender is interesting but it is not the story here?, she prefers the focus be on her remarkable achievements as an executive with AT+T and its lucent technologies spin off. ?No woman has achieved leadership at this level of American business?, says Sheila Wellington, President of Catalyst, a New York City organization that tracks women in the work force. ?It?s going to give young women, girls, a powerful message.?

Among the reasons for the existence of the ?glass ceiling? is the belief that family too easily diverts women from their careers needs. Balancing a family and managing a business is no easy task. Men may get ahead informally during a golf game, whereas women are more likely to be doing laundry or taking care of their kids, which allows limited time for outside socializing with upper management. Diana Bennett, president of D.L. Bennett & Associates says, ?instead of golf on Saturdays, women should work their way up by joining civic, charitable and business boards. But if you?re going to join a board, be involved,? Frank Fiorina, the husband of Hewlett Packard CEO Carleton Fiorina, helped his wife follow her dreams and have the opportunity to get ahead. Once her career started blossoming, Frank took early retirement from his job as a director of government sales at AT+T to become a full-time househusband. This allowed Carleton to aspire to everything she is today.

Equal rights has been a battle for women for many years, affirmative action finally has helped many women get what they deserve. Affirmative action refers to the steps taken by a company to increase the number and improve the rank of female workers. Due to Affirmative action, which was implemented 25 years ago, women are getting the jobs that they want and not the ones determined by their sex. Unfortunately, we are miles behind men in the workforce, but we are trying to catch up, and one day the struggle and the battle will be will worth it.

Women are not waiting for their chance to make it to the top; instead women are taking what they have learned and leaving their current position to start their own business. According to a study released last year by the National foundation for Women Business Owners, women own approximately 7.7 million firms, an increase of 43% since 1990. Women are forming new businesses at double the rate of men. In turn, big companies are losing valuable women, and it has become very costly to organizations that invested a lot of time and money into these women.


To succeed in business, women should acknowledge the glass ceiling, yet their goals should not be constrained by it. Instead, they need to leave the ?us against them? mentality behind and set their goals beyond those of their predecessors. Women have learned that they have the power to create their own opportunities, and that their full potential can be noticed. As the number of women in management continues to rise, more companies may find that when they reach into their pool for their next executive, the best person for the job may be a woman.


Chartrand, Sabra. ?Gender Gap Splits Views of Glass Ceiling.? The New York Times June 1996:

Greenfield, Karl Taro, ?What Glass Ceiling.? Time 154 Aug. 1999:

?The Glass Ceiling Revisited.? Editorial. Corporate Woman 1998:

Glass, Neil. ?Cracking the Glass Ceiling.? ABC News May 1996:


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