The Glass Ceiling: Are Women Where They Should Be?

By Chaffins, Stephanie; Forbes, Mary et al. | Education, Spring 1995 | Go to article overview

The Glass Ceiling: Are Women Where They Should Be?


Chaffins, Stephanie, Forbes, Mary, Fuqua, Harold E., Jr., Cangemi, Joseph P., Education


The "glass ceiling" is a term coined in the early 1980's to describe the invisible barrier with which women came in contact when working up the corporate ladder. This form of discrimination has been depicted as a "barrier so subtle that it is transparent, yet so strong that it prevents women and minorities from moving up in the management hierarchy" (Morrison & Glinow, 1990). The glass ceiling has been evident in both position and pay within organizations (Frieze et al., 1990). Though it appears to still exist, the nature of the glass ceiling has changed. This article focuses on the influence of gender-based stereotypes, the illusion of equality, and the characteristics of successful women in the business world. Relevant statistics are presented which provide evidence most females are now given mere "token" positions in companies with only the appearance of power and prestige rather than being blatantly excluded from such positions, as was the case mere decades ago.

Biased Perceptions Toward Women

Stereotypes based on gender have historically placed women in a nurturing, submissive role while men are seen as the dominant, more aggressive gender (Levinson, 1994). According to Bardwick & Douvan (1976), assertive behavior is considered more valuable because of its characteristics of objectivity, impartiality, and orientation toward problem solving. Stereotypical views of males suggest they are more suited to managerial positions than females because of their leadership styles (Frieze et al., 1990). Men appear to be more directive or autocratic while women opt for a more participative style (Eagly & Johnson, 1990). Further stereotypical views of the difference between men and women are observed from a psychoanalytical perspective in a recent article in the American Psychologist by the eminent industrial consultant Harry Levinson. According to Levinson, "The male orientation is described as penetration and thrust versus the female orientation of enveloping and surrounding. The whole psychology of management is that of aggressive attack and dominance...to be on top or on the bottom - helpless, dependent and victimized" (Levinson, 1994).

Sexual discrimination often keeps women out of management positions. Cultural stereotypes suggest males are intellectually superior to women, are more emotionally stable, and are more achievement-oriented and assertive than women. Successful managers are thought to possess masculine traits. Stereotypical thinking in organizations not only influences the recruitment and selection of women to particular positions, it also affects career development and performance evaluation (Billing & Alvesson, 1989).

Societal norms and beliefs in relation to women often inhibit females from entering managerial positions in corporations. Terborg (1977) asserted the existence of a 'male managerial model', that women should not or cannot be successful in management, which perpetuates societal norms. Terborg (1977) also felt women often are discouraged or pressured by vocational counselors and family members not to seek nontraditional occupations, such as management positions. Goodale & Hall (1976) found high school students of both sexes who had similar aspirations for college and career choice were not encouraged equally by their families. Male students reported their parents displayed significantly more pressure and interest in their career goals than did the parents of female students. Women who were denied entry into medical school received different advice from counselors than men. Men were encouraged to reapply to more schools or to consider a doctoral program in a related field. Women, on the other hand, were warned of the hardship which would accompany a decision to pursue a medical degree and were advised to change their career goals to pursue a more traditional sex-role profession such as nursing (Weisman et al., 1976). In recent years, 78 percent of students enrolled in professional schools in the U. …

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