Trends in Workplace
Discrimination against Women
Many Americans believe that sex discrimination no longer presents a significant problem for working women. Increasingly common are newspaper and other media accounts of women who receive high-level appointments in academia and in the other professions, and who advance to upper-level corporate positions. The appointment in July 1999 of a woman as president and chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard, the world's second-largest computer company, was greeted with the pronouncement that “the glass ceiling finally had been shattered,” and that the appointment reflected the absence of barriers that blocked women from promotion to middle and senior management positions. 1 But, the elevation of a woman to a CEO position clearly is not an everyday occurrence. In fact, Hewlett-Packard was only the third of the Fortune 500 companies to turn to a woman for leadership at the highest level. 2 The glass ceiling may have been cracked in this instance, but to characterize it as “shattered” is to engage in gross exaggeration.
Certainly, we should celebrate the appointment of a woman to a leadership position in a company as large as Hewlett-Packard and in an industry historically dominated by men as a significant step toward workplace gender equality. But this appointment hardly means that women no longer confront barriers in achieving equal workplace status with men. Although the past thirty-five years have witnessed much progress, sex discrimination—blatant, subtle, and covert—continues to plague working women. Nearly all still encounter obstacles to job advancement, whether the obstacles be glass or cement ceilings or ordinary brick walls.