The Glass Ceiling


 Copyright ©1991 magiamma All rights reserved

A glass ceiling created by gender discrimination blocks master status for women.  This ceiling limits women’s ability to achieve power and financial rewards. A woman must overcome an existing gender gap in executive positions, differences in salaries and decision-making ability, double standards and sexual harassment. As well, she must spend additional time and money for child care and housekeeping.

Men occupy the majority of executive positions. Only eight out of every 1,000 employed women have high-paid executive administrative or managerial jobs. In the U. S., women hold less than one-half of 1 percent of positions in the highest divisions of corporate managment, and three percent of the five positions below CEO at all Fortune 1000 companies. One reason is that executives are promoted in a self-perpetuating manner. For example, Sun Microsystems, a billion-dollar Silicon Valley corporation, promotes high level executives such as directors and V.P.s by the consensus of the existing members of each level. This practice of the pale-male, country-club elite allows continued dominance of white males in the upper echelons of the corporations. The result is that only 6.6% of working women hold executive jobs. Like the feudal lords of old, CEOs of corporations profit in extreme disproportion to those who do the work. These corporate and institutional lords earn salaries up to a hundred and fifty times those of salaried professionals. The CEO of Disney World made $240 million in 1993.

Women earn less than their male counterparts and are channeled into lower-paying jobs. For every dollar a man makes, a woman earn 72 cents even if she has the same occupation,  educational background and experience, and comes from the same social class. This is true even in women-dominated fields such as nursing. Women reach their highest earning capacity at age 44. Between 45 and 54, their median annual income is only 59% of their male colleagues’. Between 55 and 64, women’s median income declines to 57.7% that of men, according to a report by the Older Women’s League. Also, a definite division of labor channels women into low-paying jobs such as clerical, sales, public relations, and personnel.

Companies place double standards on men and women. The decision-making process and management styles of men are more structured and organized, while women’s are more flexible, resulting in decreased upward mobility. An emotional or aggressive woman is dismissed as unsuited for management, but a man who acts the same way is looked up to. The male communicates his ability to manage life’s tasks and the female communicates her need to be helped. A perfect example is the door ceremony, where a man actively opens the door for the female who passively waits for it to be opened. A woman is unsuited for management if she acts passively, but is also unsuited for management if she is assertive. This is a Catch 22. For example, according to an article in U. S. News & World Report,  Ellen Ober graduated from M.I.T. and went to work for Digital Equipment Corporation as a manager in manufacturing. She met her daily production requirement 95 percent of the time, but because of her non-confrontational style of management, she was told to change her management style or get out of manufacturing. 

Sexism has diminished women’s self-esteem as well as their ability to play the power role required by an executive. Expected to prefer corsages to handshakes at ceremonies, women are often the brunt of sexual slurs. Women working in blue-collar jobs must put up with degrading graffiti and pornographic pictures and magazines owned by their male co-workers. Women who organized a grievance committee about this in the 1980s at NBC and ABC were hit by “staff cuts.”                         

Women put in additional hours, called “the third shift,” taking care of their homes and families. They must spend additional money for child care as well as time to attend to housekeeping responsibilities. Because socialization requires women to raise their children in an isolated home environment, they often choose career paths that allow more flexiblity over ones that are cut-throat and time-consuming, thus limiting career advancement.

If a woman does not exhibit the expected set of stable behavior patterns that are typical of a commanding individual, she is not promoted. For women not to be status inconsistent with men, there must be a major reassessment of the socialization process that forms the gender roles of young girls and boys.