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What You Understand By Glass Ceiling Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 5580 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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According to Erica Strauss on Women and Barriers (2007) reported that women are not getting the credit they ought to have in the workplace despite having come a long way since time immemorial. Most have gotten their way to congress or in politics and achieved high positions, been given voting rights, and are involved in doing businesses across the Atlantic, and rocketed into space among others. Most women seem under-represented in upper management levels in many companies and getting paid less for the same work done by men.

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The main argument is that “glass ceiling” exists in the workplace and the term was coined more than twenty years ago by a Wall Street Journal to describe the barriers women face in the workplace with the word “ceiling” suggesting that women are blocked from advancing in their careers and the term “glass” is used because the ceiling is not always detectable.”

Phrases.org.uk defines glass ceiling as “an unofficial barrier to workplace advancement, usually in regard to women or minority groups.” While ethnicmajority.org defines the term as “the barriers that often confront Ethnic Americans and women in trying to reach the upper echelons of corporate America.” Castro (1997) concurs and says that it is a “term that describes the artificial plateau, beyond which women and other minorities are denied the opportunity to advance to upper levels of executive management in corporate America.”

Mindtools.com reports that “glass ceiling was a concept applied to women and some minorities. It was very hard, if not impossible, for them to reach upper management positions. No matter how qualified or experienced, they simply were not given opportunities to further advance their careers. There are many more women and minorities in powerful positions. However, the glass ceiling is still very real. And it’s not always limited to gender or race.” The “glass ceiling” barriers toward women, Fieldman (1997) says “they are nothing but an insidious form of sex discrimination, in violation of law.”

Paycheck.in.com define glass ceiling as “an artificial barrier in a women’s career which deters her from reaching senior positions or attaining high salary levels. This particular term was first coined by Hymowitz and Schellhardt in a 1986 Wall Street Journal Report on corporate women. While the word ceiling is used to indicate that the advancement of women in their careers is limited the term glass is used because the ceiling is not always visible. The barriers commonly include salary inequality for the same work, discrimination in promotions, sexual harassment in the workplace and lack of policies to maintain work-life balance.”

From all these definitions there seems to be a commonality in the definition of glass ceiling. From my perspective glass ceiling is an artificial barrier in women’s career and minority groups including certain ethnic groups, which deters them from reaching senior positions or attaining high salary levels despite there being opportunities for advancement no matter how qualified or experienced they may be, not only in America but globally in careers that have been male dominated for a long time. I also feel that in today’s world, men are also facing glass ceiling in their workplaces even though they may not be as majority as women especially in Kenya. I think some major contributing factors are the organization work culture and environment, racism, nepotism, sexual harassment, diverse subcultures and cultural beliefs, employment policies and practices, type of organization (family owned) and leadership within these organizations.

Glass Ceiling from an international perspective

The ILO’s Global Employment Trends (2003) reported that “women continue to have lower labour market participation rates, higher unemployment rates and significant pay differences compared to men. Women represent over 40 per cent of the global labour force, approximately 70 per cent of women in developed countries and 60 per cent in developing countries. Women occupy around 30 to 60 per cent of professional jobs in the sample of countries from which new data were available. This represents an increase of 0.7 per cent between 1996-99 and 2000-02. However, considerable variations remain between women’s share in different types of professional jobs.” Statistics also show that the “number of women holding administrative and managerial positions has risen dramatically (U.S. Department of Labor, 1996), information also suggests the overall market is still showing signs of a glass ceiling for women.” (U.S. Department of Labor, 1995). Moreover, “women represent nearly 50% of the total U.S. labor force. Yet according to Catalyst, a non-profit group committed to expanding opportunities for women in the workplace, women held just 16.4 percent of corporate officer positions in 2005. Only 10 Fortune 500 companies had women CEOs in 2006, and none of those companies were among the Fortune 100.” (Copernicusmarketing.com). Additionally, Jacobs (1995) says that “extensive investigation of sex segregation in the workplace indicated that women have not found job opportunities equivalent to those of their male counterparts.” According to Lahtinen and Fiona (1994), “during the last 20 years in Britain, the number of women employees has grown; there has been a 2.8 million fall in the number of men, and a two million rise in the number of women who work.”

Liff andWard’s (2001) study on a “UK High Street Bank investigates women’s under representation in senior management positions, in relation to the job requirements for such positions. Their results found the bank giving constant messages to their women that to be on top management one has to prove loyalty and commitment through working long hours and participating and involving in the senior and top management functions. Moreover, women who were unable to adapt to this were undermined and excluded by the bank.”

In a series of interviews of writers and commentators in Dailymail.co.uk (2008), a feminist writer Fay Weldon commented that women with children are the only ones that face glass ceiling because bonding with babies creates a relationship that can never be turned off and the mother role becomes more of the mother’s responsibility than any other role. The multitasking of women is what prevents them from reaching the top because of the many issues that go through their minds. Men on the other hand find it easier because they can focus on one task completely switching off other issues and accomplish more at work. Additionally, most women do not want to work for long hours which bring with it a lot of stress and strains because of the much responsibility they have at work and at home as they try to maintain that balance.

Duncan Bannatyne disagrees and doesn’t believe that glass ceiling exists. He doesn’t believe in a business being so male-dominated and points out that regardless of whether one is male or female, they are all able to start, own and run their own businesses, though he had often questioned why there were less women in business compared to men.

Lorraine Heggessey sees it otherwise and believes that glass ceiling does exist. According to her,

women seem to be developing their confidence and behavior and are relatively new to working in the government, media, banking among other. She points out that men’s lack of experience doesn’t hinder them from getting to the top and apply for jobs two years earlier before becoming prepared for it unlike women who make sure that they had completed all they need to do before they can take up that position. As a “successfully first woman controller of BBC1 in 2000 and now the chief executive of talkback THAMES, one of the country’s largest TV production companies” she advices women to look through the glass ceiling and see it as something transparent and behave as if it is not there.

It may be true that men don’t allow their lack of experience to get in their way but I also feel that there are women who don’t allow it either and it doesn’t mean that all women must feel that they are entirely prepared for a job before going for it. I think intense competition, high rates of unemployment and increased graduates in the market has made both men and women look for jobs intensely or start their own business out of what they studied in campus.

According to Nicola Horlick, “one of Britain’s best known businesswomen who was nicknamed Superwoman for holding down a high-powered City job while raising a family comments that women are no less successful today than previously – in fact, there are now more female than male millionaires.” She ascertains that to the fact that more women are becoming entrepreneurial and since the workplace for then is too inflexible while one has a family, then one opts for more flexible opportunities and in jobs such as PR, Marketing, and Publishing which are more family friendly. The playing field for women becomes uneven especially when they start raising up children. (Dailymail.co.uk 2008)

Ruth Badger who “runs her own consultancy firm in Didsbury, Manchester and was a runner up on the second series of The Apprentice, now helps turn falling companies into successes and runs her own consultancy firm in Didsbury, Manchester” believed that she could always smash any glass ceiling that would hinder her from moving up. She outshone her peers at work both men and women by rising up to a much senior position from a mere junior manager. She believes in hard work and performance and the capacity to demonstrate your achievements verbally (Dailymail.co.uk 2008) Stfrancis.edu agrees and points out that glass can be smashed hard enough through perseverance and never giving up until one strikes it instead of complaining about it.

Michelle Mone, a “co-founder of MJM international and creator of Ultimo, one of the UK’s most successful designer lingerie brands believes that, the problem for women in business is not men – it is their own lack of confidence.” She says that women are so afraid of being rejected more that the way men do hence lack the zeal to hit the glass ceiling. She doesn’t believe in a woman behaving like a man rather she points out on determination, being passionate and assertive that will help women get through to senior levels. She attributes to the creation of glass ceiling by women due to taking care of families, have to do shopping, clean the house and clothes, and schooling. Additionally, women tend to be jealous of each other and cannot help each other get top most positions because they are perceived as threats and especially when one is attractive. She encourages women to work together since they can achieve more. However, I also feel that men’s ego, fear and need for status can hinder other men and also women from achieving top positions. (Dailymail.co.uk 2008),

According to Dailymail.co.uk (2008), “Avivah Wittenbery-Cox a co-author of Why Women Mean Business and CEO of 20-First gender consultancy says that, all this talk about the glass ceiling doesn’t help solve the real problems facing the female workforce. The phrase implies that we women rise up and up through the ranks without any trouble at all, until suddenly we find our path is blocked.” She says that the government policy in Britain doesn’t support as much dual income couples and even though many companies take women through programmes in leadership training and give extra support to female employees as they try to do the right thing; lack of government support is a hindrance.

According to Avivah, there is a policy by most top companies to identify high performing employees at the age of 30 and 35 and it is at the point where most women are starting their families or are having young children and are on maternity leave, or encounter sleepless nights because of the young children, while their men colleagues are at work and get the promotions much faster. Women according to Avivah want to excel in what they do as a wife, daughter, mother, girlfriend, volunteer and professional careers and it doesn’t mean they want the top positions.

According to Wells (1997) there has been an increase in women possessing bachelors and post graduate degrees especially in business management and law at the postgraduate level which are considered to be the fundamental credentials needed for senior management positions.

Mallon and Catherine (1999), highlight that married women without children, unmarried or divorced women are more likely to be in senior management grades and unlike their male counterparts, they take long to establish their careers. In their study, the constraining effect on career development for women had to do with organization culture especially working for long hours, value, policy related to childcare and family, and practice and sexual discrimination. “A notable finding was that, despite the high level of qualifications held, 35 per cent of women attributed their (perceived) slow career progression to their own lack of relevant training and breadth of skill and a similar number thought that additional training was the answer. Lack of self-confidence was described by one woman as a: “powerful barrier with many subtle effects”. (Mallon and Catherine 1999) and it is often cited as a cause of women’s under-representation at senior levels (Inlogov 1989). Research findings confirm that the many women rejected for higher management positions are as competent as the men joining the workforce (White, 1992) Even though women are now graduating in higher numbers than men from educational institutions (Fagenson & Jackson, 1994), “the poor representation of women at senior management level continues” (Hind & Baruch, 1997, p. 276). Research appears to suggest that glass ceilings, rather than a lack of qualifications, limit women’s advancement into the upper levels of management (Lyness & Thompson, 2000).

Glass ceiling in Africa

According to un.org/africarenewal on an article written by Ernest Harsch (2006), “the election of Ms. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as the new president of Liberia stands as a double landmark. The event signalled an important step in the West African nation’s transition to peace after 14 years of civil war; it also marked the first time that a woman was elected to the highest political office anywhere in Africa.” She was able to break the glass ceiling by being the only woman among 22 presidential candidates.

According to africa-investor.com, cracking the glass ceiling (2008), until recently, “the Nigerian economy was run by a woman; South Africa has a female Vice President; and Kenyans laud their own female Nobel-prize-winning scientist.” Despite women breaking the glass ceiling, “there are still major disparities between the sexes in the workplace. UNICEF estimates there are six million more women in the world than men, performing 66% of the work in return for only 11% of the world’s income. Yet there are signs that the banking industry in Africa – traditionally a male-dominated bastion – is beginning to reflect not only the make-up of banking elsewhere in the world, but also the make-up of the societies it works with and relies on for its business. Women are controlling larger amounts of money than at any other time, and are beginning to emerge from behind the collective mind of many traditionally male-dominated environments to become leaders, professionals and entrepreneurs. While South Africa’s vibrant economy offers women exciting employment opportunities with fast-growing, world-renowned firms, the path to the top has been twice as hard. Racial oppression during the apartheid era has compounded women’s efforts to break into business in general, resulting in what Ruwaida Kassim, CEO of the Institute of Retirement Funds (IRF), refers to as a racially-tinted glass ceiling.” (africa-investor.com 2008)

“Women in South Africa’s financial sector have been doubly marginalised as a by-product of discrimination, yet we have progressed steadily,” she says. She points out that the current pension fund adjudicator is a woman, and that she, at only 27, is heading up a body that plays a vital role in overseeing an industry that contributes more than ZAR 10 trillion (US $1.24tr) to the South African economy. Many women also have the kind of life experience that makes them ideally suited to the human aspects of financial services, particularly when explaining or marketing products to other women. Beyond that, the multitude of roles women find themselves performing – mother, sister, wife, career woman, homemaker – helps develop finely-tuned emotional intelligence that plays to their advantage within the social dynamics of a workplace no matter who they are dealing with, from the boardroom to the canteen.” (africa-investor.com, 2008)

In less developed countries there are few women with management skills, and this creates a barrier to growth. Additionally, women are much more likely to be taken out of school early by their parents so that they contribute economically and materially to home life, and childbirth pressures which further disrupt career prospects.” (africa-investor.com, 2008)

According to ILO’s Global Employment Trends (2003), “cultural and social attitudes towards what constitutes “male” or “female” jobs result in occupational segregation, although the extent of the problem varies from country to country, and from job to job. Women are mainly concentrated in the “feminized” professions such as nursing and teaching (horizontal occupational segregation), where at the same time they remain in lower job categories than men (vertical occupational segregation). However, women continue to make small inroads into non-traditional fields such as law, information and communication technology (ICT) and computer science, and engineering, and there is evidence that employers are beginning to promote women more systematically and to introduce family-friendly policies in order to retain them.

However, women who choose non-traditional jobs can face special constraints in the workplace, not least of which are isolation, limited access to mentoring and female role models, and sexual harassment.”

In South Africa, while “women are gaining acceptance to informally enter the boardrooms, the culture of long working hours and demanding job requirements, are discouraging them from actually holding seats there.” (Babita 2006)

It can be seen that glass ceiling is not just a one country women’s problem but in Africa and internationally not only in one career field e.g. marketing, finance, technology but in majority of careers if not all.

Glass ceiling in Kenya

In an online article written by Muthoni Thang’wa (2006), “Statistics in Kenya show that more girls enroll in school each year than ever before due to the introduction of free primary education in 2003.” But it was noted that the enrolment of girls only increased in some regions after introducing free education in primary schools illustrating that many parents who didn’t see the need of educating the girl child had to wait for the introduction of free primary education. Additionally, most cultures would marry off their daughters at the age of 12 years however, many organizations that cater for women have tried to stop these customs by educating the parents and society and sheltering girls who try to be married off earlier and give them education. However, there is a lot yet to be done since some cultures have held on to these customs.

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According to Muthoni (2006), “Ms Agnes Pareiyo of Tasaro Girls Rescue Centre in Narok runs a centre that serves as a refuge for mainly Maasai girls who refuse to undergo female circumcision and opt for an alternative rite of passage.” The centre helps to advice, reconcile and educate parents and their daughters on other ways these rites of passage can be done while avoiding these harmful culture of girl’s circumcision. Ms. Agnes was recognized by the UN for her efforts.

That the goal of the centre is to reconcile parents and their daughters after the alternative rites and giving them an education speaks volumes of girls in regard to the cultural rites of passage.

Former Tetu MP Professor Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Laureate, contributed to sustainable development, democracy and peace and won the Nobel peace prize in 2004. Muthoni (2006) says that Professor Wangari through the Green Belt Movement was able to mobilize rural women to fight deforestation, thus restoring not only the main source of fuel, but preventing soil erosion and protecting our rivers an lakes which are a source of life to man. Professor Olive Mugenda shattered a glass ceiling when she became the first female vice chancellor to serve Kenyatta University which is one of Kenya’s six public universities.

According to deloitte.com (2010), in an interview with Ambassador Amina Chawahir Mohamed, the permanent secretary and chief executive officer, Ministry of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs of the Republic of Kenya, “countries that have women in government leadership positions have an increased number of issues affecting women on the legislative agenda, often resulting in positive societal and economic developments. For example, after ten women won parliamentary seats in Kenya, legislation relating to women’s issues, such as combating domestic violence, was passed into law.”

Likewise, “research has shown companies with women in leadership positions perform better and achieve more economic rewards than those without women representation. The top 500 multinational firms, which had at least three women on their boards, saw a 16.7 percent return on equity, while average companies just saw an 11.5 percent return.” (Marquez Jessica, 2007)

According to deloitte.com (2010), a report by UNIFEM, Migrating rates of people with tertiary education, “as the world grows ever more interconnected, talent is becoming increasingly mobile. With the exception of North America, regions throughout the world are experiencing a “brain drain,” in which educated women are emigrating at alarming rates in search of advancement opportunities. For example, in Africa alone, 27.7 percent of females with tertiary education emigrate-10 percent more than men. An organization-wide culture shift is required to nurture an environment that is friendly to women and encourages their advancement.” Women’s progress has vital implications for the health and growth of governments, companies, and nations. Both the private and public sectors must continue to nurture and advance diverse talent-including high-potential women– in order to stay competitive and grow. (deloitte.com 2010)

According to “Prof David Ndetei, a lecturer at the University of Nairobi says that cases of depression among women are likely to be high in African countries where living conditions are difficult and there are no mechanisms to respond to women who need psychiatric help. Prof Ruth Oniang’o, a gender activist who advocates women economic empowerment in eastern Africa, notes that “many of the retrenchment programmes implemented by countries in sub-Saharan Africa in response to poor economic performance have affected those in lower cadres, which are predominantly occupied by women while Mr. Peter Lubao, a consultant counselor says that “the stress at the workplace, which might come in the form of sexual harassment, combined with the difficulties at the household level, combine to make life very stressful for a working woman.”


According to allafrica.com, women have been overburdened by many gender roles and societal pressures more than men, which have contributed negatively to the health of women. The professional women are said to be the most affected since they have to combine both the demand of the family and those at work and ensure that both run smoothly. Additionally, it is said that sexual harassment and violence, and discrimination at work and in the household causes anxiety development in women and depressive disorders and hence lack ideal ways on how to respond to these pressures.

Glass ceiling facing women in marketing

According to Maclaran, Stevens and Catterall (1997), highlight that many women are opting to become entrepreneurs because they are dissatisfied with their non-supportive working environments which “is determined by the culture within a particular organization, namely the systems of shared values which create the behavioural norms.” In their study they gave an example of a woman marketing who would always feel disadvantaged and perceived herself as an outsider because the managing director would take all the other sales people who were all men for drinks, furthermore, in her attempts to set up a customer feedback system, the sales team resisted all her attempts. This affected her not to perform as required because she also felt that they were withholding valuable information from her and hence, created a long distance relationship with them.

Other instances included women being excluded from discussions, had to adapt to the male culture and had to prove themselves that they could handle the task at hand.

Maclaran, Stevens and Catterall (1997) argue that “the external environment is an area of particular importance to the marketing role, and that there are many cultures that the woman marketing manager must comprehend, accommodate and come to terms with. It is not sufficient for her simply to seek to understand the culture of her own organization and work to improve her internal communications; she continually faces the challenge of being a woman in a predominantly male world. Learning to adapt to the gender related culture of customers’ organizations also becomes a critical function for her to be able to manage the company/customer interface more successfully.”

Forrest (1989) points out that “women are frequently evaluated as less acceptable candidates for stimulating, challenging jobs or for high status positions within their organizations. This was certainly the case for one woman marketing manager who related how, in a previous job, she had built up the marketing function within the organization but did not receive recognition for her efforts. It was not until she left the organization that there was tangible recognition of her work: a male subordinate, recruited and trained by her, was promoted to her position and was given the title of “marketing manager”, a title which had eluded her.” (Maclaran, Stevens and Catterall 1997)

Maclaran, Stevens and Catterall (1997) point out that “one of the problems resulting from the assumptions made about women’s role in the workplace is that women are frequently excluded from group activities within those organizations where a strong male culture predominates. These activities may be business-related, for example, considering a female colleague too irrational to be involved in the development of a strategic plan, or too emotional to make a worthwhile contribution to the question of severing relationships with a long-term supplier. At other times these activities are of a social Nature and may manifest themselves as “boys” weekends or sporting networks, social activities which strengthen men’s bonds with one another.”

“The marketing concept with its emphasis on understanding customers and internal coordination is quite essentially about teamwork and communicating with others, both within and outside the organization. Yet the marketing managers were often excluded from activities that would have enabled them to network more effectively and which would have made their jobs so much easier. For example, the female marketing manager with an all-male sales team found that they would meet most frequently in the pub and she was never invited along to these meetings. Many of the women felt excluded from strategic decision making, and usually found themselves in less valued support roles in marketing, such as customer care, market research, advertising or promotional activities” (Maclaran, Stevens and Catterall 1997)

In the hospitality industry, Li and Leung (2001) suggested that “a profile characterized by determination, ambition, positive attitude, interpersonal skills and hard work contributed to the career advancement of female managers.”

According to copernicusmarketing.com, “women are experiencing success in marketing. Eighty percent believe women are experiencing a greater degree of success in marketing departments than in the past and 66% say their success in marketing is greater than in other departments. 81% want to be Chief marketing officer someday compared to 68% of male marketers. It is argued that women “listen” to consumers better (because they’re better listeners, generally). This is cited by 54% of respondents, including 52% of the men and 57% of the women in the survey. Separately, almost as many (45%) say women understand the importance of “emotional connections to brands.” Women favor a “collaborative” approach, and desire to “influence,” but not command their colleagues, which are the best ways to produce a successful marketing program. These reasons are cited by about 40% of the male respondents and over 50% of the females. Based on the results of the study, the author conclude that women have achieved great success in marketing and that their success has been in large part due to the decision-making styles and characteristics such as a collaborative style, team-orientation, facility with consensus building, thoughtfulness, and listening skills that are increasingly ascribed to female business decision-makers. Clearly these characteristics are considered an asset within marketing and have been rewarded in the form of increased advancement opportunities.”

Not much research has been done on glass ceiling facing women in marketing and it is an area that needs to be looked into. However, from the little research done, women are still facing glass ceiling, and some have been able to break the glass ceiling through determination, hard work, good interpersonal skills, positive attitude and ambition. Most of the promotional activities in marketing would work well for women who are not married because of the travelling and night outs promotions in various geographical places that is why the role is more suited for men hence, move faster up the ladder. However, marketing jobs within the office would work well for women because of the normal working time.

Causes of glass ceiling in Kenya

According to copernicusmarketing.com, “one theory behind the slow-rise of women to upper management is that the qualities and characteristics generally ascribed to female business decision-makers are generally undervalued-in spite of growing evidence of the strong, positive contribution these attributes make to improved corporate performance.” This is also true to the Kenyan society because of the culture and beliefs especially in various subcultures where the woman’s place in society is the home and cannot hold higher positions than the men.

Due to the need to spend more time with their families, many women opt to work for fewer hours as compared to their male counterparts. Statistics have shown that “it is easier for men to have both a family and a career. Where women forego their marriage and children and devote themselves to a career is more pronounced in industrialized countries than in developing countries.” Wirth (2001, p.18). The strongly knit culture in Kenya has brought up the woman as taking care of the home including the grandparents hence, you will find many women starting small businesses to get enough money to take care of the family.

According to Powell and Graves (2003), “men tend to measure success by high salaries and important job titles and promotional opportunities whereas women place a higher value on their relationships with colleagues and community service focusing on interpersonal relationships and feelings. Others suggest that ingrained stereotypes and socialization cause the glass ceiling. In some organizations, ‘the good


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