Paths of Glory and the Glass Ceiling: Differing Patterns of Career Advancement among Women and Minority Federal Employees

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Women and ethnic minority employment is concentrated in lower level positions; individual career advancement efforts apparently confront a glass ceiling that hinders promotion into middle and upper management careers. This study examines the glass ceiling phenomenon among federal employees through secondary analysis using data from the 1991/1992 Career Development or Glass Ceiling Survey (U.S. MSPB, 1992). Ethnic-gender categories (white-male, white-female, minority-male, and minority-female) are analyzed with respect to variables focusing on objective human capital factors that may affect career advancement.

The discriminant analysis demonstrates that there are indeed gender and secondary ethnic distinctions among upper-level federal employees. Regression analyses also establish that ethnic and gender considerations affect career advancement differently. Questions of work and family responsibilities are the main source of these differences.

Regression analyses indicate that women and minorities are much more dependent upon formal, objective factors such as education, prior experience, and performance ratings for their career success than are white male colleagues. Because the career advice and mentoring women and minorities receive (while objectively sound) does not include the important social linkage to decisionmaking networks (presently dominated by white male employees), decision-makers are more likely to lack individual and organizational fit assessments that are crucial determinants in hiring and promotion.l

INTRODUCITON

Although women and ethnic minorities are relatively well represented, in fact, in some cases overrepresented,2 in the public service, these general figures are not equally distributed. Masked behind these overall statistics are serious imbalances, especially with respect to supervisory and managerial positions. Women and ethnic minority employment is concentrated in the lower level positions; individual efforts apparently confront a glass ceiling that hinders advancement into middle and upper management careers.

This study examines the glass ceiling phenomenon among federal employees through secondary analysis using data from the 1991/1992 Career Development Survey (U.S. MSPB, 1992), commonly referred to as the Glass Ceiling survey. Two tests are employed. First, the gender- and ethnic-related aspects are tested via discriminant analysis. Second, regression analyses are used to test the effect on career advancement.

GLASS CEILING MODELS

While women and other minorities have been recruited into organizations, especially in the public sector, their career advancement has, in many instances, stalled at the middle management level. They have, in essence, bumped up against a "glass ceiling" (Guy, 1992: Naff, 1994). Conceptually, the "glass ceiling" has also come to include other gender- and ethnic-related barriers to career advancement. Additionally, women and minorities have experienced "glass walls," "sticky floors," and "trap doors" (Guy, 1994).

Sticky floor transitional positions, such as the ubiquitous "administrative assistant," designed to move individuals from lower-level to managerial positions, often lack the credibility and skill-building components necessary to accomplish this purpose. Similarly, some middle management positions fail to provide developmental responsibilities that would enable the incumbent to win promotion. Glass wall jobs shove individuals into secondary professional career paths that do not possess the potential for advancement into upper management slots. Trap doors pose behavioral dilemmas for women. Sexual harassment, for example, may not be taken seriously in a male-dominated organization. To ignore it only compounds the problem. To file a complaint in order to redress this problem is to "inform" on colleagues and thereby embarrass the organization.

The overall percentages in an organization may reflect a demographically balanced organization while middle and upper management figures are progressively more unbalanced (Guy, 1994; Lewis, 1986a, 1988, 1994; Newman, 1993; Naff, 1994). …