Gender, Power, and Organisation: A Psychological Perspective

By Paula Nicolson | Go to book overview

Chapter 5

In the shadow of the glass ceiling

INTRODUCTION

Many women are blocked in their attempts to gain access to the higher reaches of public and professional life. They remain clustered in positions that fail to make full use of their qualifications and abilities. Over 70% of women work in lower-level clerical and service sector jobs; over 40% of women work in jobs where they have no male colleagues…. For too many there is a glass ceiling over their aspirations-it allows them to see where they might go, but stops them getting there. In any given occupation and in any given public position, the higher the rank, prestige or power, the smaller the proportion of women.

(Hansard Society Commission, 1990:15)

Much has been written about the glass ceiling in recent years (Hansard Society Commission, 1990; Davidson and Cooper, 1992; Flanders, 1994). Women do break through and achieve senior positions, but the more senior a woman becomes, the more isolated she is from other women. The issues here are the psychological costs of success and how far the fact of some women's success has the potential to break the glass ceiling for others.

In this chapter I progress from an analysis of the individual and interpersonal aspects of gender at work, to distinguish the impact on successful women of the group and organisational practices which subordinate women in professional life. Despite the success of some, women's achievement continues to take place in the patriarchal context, which most readily displays male success and female failure. This potentially restricts the way women and others realise and explain their achievements, as well as the means by which they negotiate their relationships in the context of their biographies and within patriarchal culture.

At the end of Chapter 4, I outlined the threats to men and patriarchal culture imposed by women's rise up organisational hierarchies. Here I want to explore the implications of male success for women's experiences, particularly their management of self-esteem, relationships with other

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