C-Change? Generation Y and the Glass Ceiling

By Eisner, Susan P.; Harvey, Mary Ellen O'Grady | SAM Advanced Management Journal, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

C-Change? Generation Y and the Glass Ceiling


Eisner, Susan P., Harvey, Mary Ellen O'Grady, SAM Advanced Management Journal


When it comes to gender equity, have things really changed in the workplace? Many studies have looked into the complicated workplace scene for executives, long-time workers, and women but not into the possible clash of expectations versus reality for young workplace entrants. Based on a survey of Ramapo College Gen Y (born in 1980 and after) undergraduate business school students, and comparing responses to existing surveys of employees and executives by Lifetime Networks and Catalyst, it's hard not to conclude that Gen Yers may be a bit optimistic regarding gender equity issues. Gender discrimination may have "gone underground" and be harder to detect, but should continue yielding to steady pressure if new Gen Y labor force entrants are discerning.

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Introduction

For decades, studies have described a "glass ceiling," an invisible employment barrier preventing those with protected characteristics from reaching advanced positions they otherwise might achieve. Coined 22 years ago in a Wall Street Journal piece (Hymowitz and Schellhardt, 1986), the presence of a glass ceiling impeding women's career progression has been reaffirmed by research organizations including the American Association of University Women, Catalyst, the Center for Creative Leadership, the Institute for Women's Policy Research, and the U.S. Glass Ceiling Initiative/Commission. In recent years, employers including American Express, Boeing, Home Depot, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, and Wal-Mart made headlines regarding their unequal treatment of female employees; corrective measures involved multi-million dollar settlements and procedural changes (Morris, 2005; Leonhardt, 2006). In 2008, the national candidacies of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Governor Sarah Palin also brought glass ceiling issues into U.S. public dialog (Kristof, 2008; Luo, 2008).

Against this backdrop, today's mostly Generation Y (1) (Gen Y) students are preparing to enter the fulltime workforce. The largest generation since the Baby Boomers (2), Gen Y joins the workforce when demographic trends predict tightening U.S. labor markets as Baby Boomers reach retirement age (Piktialis, 2004). New workers are increasingly valued (Southard and Lewis, 2004), especially those with post-secondary education as the economy's need for skills continues to heighten (America's Dynamic Workforce, 2007). Therefore, U.S. employers are seeking to recruit, retain, and motivate Gen Y employees (Hira, 2007), half of whom expect to be promoted in less than two years and two-thirds of whom expect to move on from their job within five years (Walker, 2006).

As a result, Gen Y and its impact on the workplace are receiving academic, practitioner, and media attention (Eisner, 2005). Several attributes of Gen Y identified in studies have stimulated this paper: Gen Y is more educated than previous generations (America's Dynamic Workforce, 2007), Gen Y women are completing more education than its men (Dey and Hill, 2007), and Gen Y has been socialized with an expectation of equality and a strong social conscience (Hira, 2007). Many proscriptive pieces have been written on efforts managers can take regarding the glass ceiling. But little research has been done on attitudes of Gen Y men and women regarding gender conditions they will find at work. Those attitudes may affect glass ceiling efforts, as well as recruitment and retention. Much research on workplace gender equity has been conducted on senior managers, those who have broken through the glass ceiling: women, or those who have been at work for some time. How do their perceptions compare with those of men and women schooled in business, beginning their careers, and not yet through the ceiling?

This paper explores a timely topic: Will the changed generation find a changed ceiling? Is a "c-change" occurring? Specifically, it examines these areas of inquiry:

* To what extent will Generation Y encounter the glass ceiling in the contemporary U.

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