Does the Glass Ceiling Still Exist?
By Kate Lorenz, CareerBuilder.com Editor
Does the glass ceiling still exist, or is it now just a myth being propagated by feminist advocacy studies?
While overwhelming numbers of women executives and managers say their career advancement is hindered by the glass ceiling, others deny its very existence.
Hala Moddelmog, former president of Church's Chicken, says she never experienced any problems because she is a woman. And upon becoming CEO of Hewlett-Packard, Carly Fiorina flatly declared, "I hope we're at the point that everyone has figured out that there is no glass ceiling."
On the contrary, men at Fortune 100 companies commonly complain that due to diversity goals, women actually have an unfair advantage. "Every company I've worked at goes out of its way to hire or promote women to senior level positions," says an upper-middle manager at a major food company. He adds with a sigh, "It's not easy being a 'pale male' in today's corporate world."
Yet recent research and statistics tell a different story, suggesting that the glass ceiling remains firmly in place. It's been 10 years since the U.S. Government's Glass Ceiling Commission released its findings that while women had 46 percent of America's jobs and more than half the master's degrees being awarded, only 5 percent of all senior manager positions were filled by women. What's more, female managers' earnings were on average a mere 68 percent of their male counterparts'.
Ten years later, those numbers have improved -- but only slightly, with women accounting for 47 percent of America's workforce and 8 percent of senior managers. And females' earnings average just 72 percent of their male colleagues' -- with the wage gap even larger among highly educated groups.
A report by Catalyst, a nonprofit research and advisory organization that supplies information on women in business, shows both sets of numbers being slightly higher, but the year-over-year improvement virtually the same. A spokesman for the group describes the pace of progress as "glacial."
International organizational development expert Adrian Savage surveyed 400 executives -- 74 percent of them women -- to see whether they believed a glass ceiling existed. The majority of respondents declared yes and said that:
Different standards are used to judge the performance of women and minorities.
Their corporate culture assigns lesser value to women and minorities.
The "good old boy network" is the biggest discrimination barrier to career advancement.
Because women and minorities are less willing to play the political game, many choose to leave the corporate world entirely.
Women Employed, a national organization that advocates women's economic advancement, says that the glass ceiling remains in place due to "the day-to-day practices, management, employee attitudes and internal systems that operate to the career disadvantage of women and minorities."
Other researchers say it's not so much the companies, but the social framework that hinders career progress. They say women are, on average, more reluctant than men to put themselves forward as candidates for competition, considerably more likely to interrupt their careers or leave the corporate world entirely due to work/family choices, and much less willing to play the political game.
While acknowledging that the glass ceiling for women still exists in certain industries and organizations, Adrian Savage, in his report "The Real Glass Ceiling" contends that a far more common and impenetrable glass ceiling exists for women and men who don't want -- or know how -- to play office politics.
Savage writes that up to the upper middle management level, promotions are based largely on results and achievement. However, between upper-middle-management and the executive level, the playing field shifts to one of power and influence.
"Dealing with the politics is the job at this level," he says. Most everything else can be delegated, but the politics -- the exercise of power and influence in decisions on strategy and resource allocation -- is what top executives do.
"In fact, the new rules are so important to the way top teams function that even highly talented people who can't conform will be blocked or eliminated. Though few people talk about it, this is the real glass ceiling."