The glass ceiling is defined as a real barrier of invisible nature which exist because of prejudice and bias based on gender, race, age, religious and political affiliation, and ethnicity. It is a sort of restriction or upper limit that prevents a qualified and deserving person from reaching the next level of advancement.
What is Glass Ceiling?
A glass ceiling is a metaphor that was coined about the unforeseen and unexplained reasons that act as artificial barriers in the path of further career advancements concerning women and minorities. These accepted norms, unwritten rules and implied bias prevent them from reaching high level or managerial positions in an organization not due to corporate policies but because of male-dominated hierarchy.
Business organizations have responded to the claims of the glass ceiling and equality gap by putting their onus on hiring a diversified group of workforce. It includes making policies that will ensure that a pre-set number of minorities and women are at least working in the company at management level positions. Minimizing or even eliminating the concept of the glass ceiling help the most qualified person to reach the top irrespective of gender.
The equality gap is not the same for every country as it is also dependent upon the mindset and thinking process of the society of that place. For instance, you will find very few women at a higher position in Arab countries where women are customarily prohibited from leaving their homes compared to the United States where women enjoy the freedom to a higher degree.
Glass ceiling exists even in forward-thinking countries, and this is why there were only 33 women CEOs in the list of 2019 Fortune 500 companies. It represents a mere 6.6% of the total list and shatters the belief that equality gap has reduced considerably in recent years.
Causes of the glass ceiling
The glass ceiling is a subtle yet strong barrier that does not let a female reach the top in the same manner as a male employee. The various causes of the glass ceiling are described below-
1. Psychological reasons
Human psychology plays a dominant role in encouraging the concept of the glass ceiling. It is a fact that a white man will look in favour of a white man and a black man at a black man.
If the choice is between male and female, a male will, in most cases go with his male counterpart instead of female. The human mind will promote someone with whom he feels a connection.
2. Old-boy network
The biggest obstacle to females in top managerial positions is because of the old-boys network. The group entrusted with the selection process are in most cases comprised of males who are traditional by nature and do not like to see women at the top position until and unless she is highly qualified for the job compared to other males.
Even in these circumstances, they will prefer to select a male employee rather than a female one at the time of promotion. There is frequent male bonding in the workplace that excludes the participation of female executives because they are not deemed important, especially at the time of policymaking.
3. Job segregation
For example, if you think of hiring a secretary, the first picture is of a female and not a male in your mind, likewise, if you think of a manager, the reverse is true. The number of women in jobs like public relations, personnel and nursing are higher than any other fields.
The top management posts are filled with males, whereas women find jobs in the business mainstream that mark them as leaders with great difficulty.
4. Sex discrimination or gender bias
Are you aware that one of the most important causes of the glass ceiling in a workplace is sex discrimination or gender bias. It is a serious obstacle that prevents women from moving forward in their careers.
Male chauvinism is at its height in almost all the organizations, and their attitude towards female colleagues merely is atrocious. The men seldom like to work under a female boss, and this is reflected daily in their mannerisms and approach.
The reason for the so-called gender bias is not because of incompetency. Still, it is sadly based on gender and the age-old mentality that perceives women in a more traditional role of a housewife, mother and sister and not a career woman.
Men do not take women seriously is a common misgiving amongst the female population, and sadly it is to a great extent true as women believe that they are at a disadvantage in the male-dominant atmosphere of the organization.
5. Sexual harassment
It is imperative to put a woman in her place so that she does not forget who she is, is one of the significant cliché you hear in a male-dominant organization. A simple way to achieve it is through actual or the perception of sexual harassment.
One of the most serious issues that a female employee faces in an organization is the risk of sexual harassment.
Requests for sexual favours and unwelcome sexual advances are in some cases related to advancements and promotions in a company and on refusal leads to the glass ceiling. As per a recent survey, a good number of women sued someone in the company for this reason.
They even experienced retaliation from their employers after reporting harassment.
The disadvantages of the glass ceiling are as follows-
- The glass ceiling is a serious problem for female and minority employees who are paid less if compared with the male employees in a similar position in the organization
- Glass ceiling often leads to sexual harassment as male employees do not like to see female employees in a position of power especially if she is placed ahead of them in a commanding position
- Glass ceiling opens up the organization for a possible legal case of discrimination and bias.
How to Break the Glass Ceiling?
The various ways of dealing with the glass ceiling are described below-
1. Talk about the glass ceiling –
Understand the concept and make everyone aware of the glass ceiling and how it has an impact on others. Conversations will prove a blessing in putting your point across.
Tell others about the reason for its existence, its adverse effects on society and how one can break it. Share your resources and knowledge about the topic with peers and colleagues so that everyone becomes aware of it.
This is not the time to stay silent. It is no doubt that such conversations will be challenging but remember about the benefits of such talks.
Be compassionate and listen to what others have to say about it. Discussions about the glass ceiling will remove the taboo of keeping everything under the wraps and help you to understand the views of others
2. Make some changes in your screening process
Women and minorities face a considerable challenge during the hiring and the promotion process because of the dominance of the male employees. A meaningful way to eliminate or minimize the impact of a glass ceiling is by making the application as well as screening process blind. This will stop both conscious and unconscious biases from occurring at the workplace.
During the blind screening, unrelated information, as well as the name and other interest of the applicant that can provide a hint about their ethnicity, race or gender, are hidden. It is a proven fact that blind applications have increased the chances of hiring a woman in an organization with 40%.
It has also come to light that specific section of people has less chance of getting a call, and when their name is hidden, it increases to a very high degree. Making changes in the screening process will help the company in making comparisons based on experiences, skills and know-how.
3. Encourage diversity hiring
One of the simplest ways of breaking the glass ceiling is by promoting diversity hiring. Start by looking inward in the company and determining how diverse your workforce is.
Identify which demographics are absent. Make proper documentation that starts from a seniority level and reach the lowest levels. Go through teams and departments to know about the facts.
Once you are aware, it will become easier to encourage diversity hiring and to break down the existing glass ceiling in the organization.
4. Encourage anonymous feedbacks
Encourage anonymous feedbacks from the employees so that they can open up about their experiences and share any untoward experiences that have happened to them or to someone they know.
Make sure that they are aware that it is anonymous and they can share about bias, barriers and even sexual exploitation and harassment without the fear of any reprimand or rebuttal.
The collected information will prove helpful in breaking the concept of the glass ceiling and set a clear benchmark that will show the company where it stands. Once you are aware of the facts, it becomes a personal choice to let things stand as they were or make a conscious decision to break the set bias and glass ceiling in the organization.
5. Make way for training programs to remove bias
The best way of eliminating the glass ceiling is by promoting training programs in the organization. Bring in an expert in the field who can talk about the benefits of diversity and help remove bias through proper guidance and training.
This will ensure that every employee in the company is on the same page. The training program will help people to open up and share conversations. There is always a section of people who are unsure or reluctant to share because of some reason or other.
This program will prove a boon for them and encourage healthy interactions. Glass ceiling and bias are challenging topics and conversations will shed light on the various opinions and experiences of the people.
Organizations can provide additional training for people at a higher level to make conversations more inclusive and productive. Remember these are the people entrusted with hiring and promotions and changing their mindset for the betterment is of utmost importance.
6. Provide support to the survivors of sexual harassment
It is a fact that sexual harassment and exploitation is a truth that no one wants to acknowledge. A female employee, in most cases, does not come forward and share her dilemma as well as fear because of retribution.
As per the statistics, a woman is prepared to quit her job rather than bring up such a topic with a male HR or boss. If an organization wants in fact to break the concept of the glass ceiling, then it should set up necessary help points.
The available resources will act anonymously with discretion. This will provide support to people who might be on the verge of sexual exploitation and the survivors of such cases.
Every employee expects its workplace to be secured and safe, and the employer is morally bound to protect everyone working under him. Places, where employers have failed to take up necessary measures, have proved hazardous. Keeping offenders is not suitable for the company because one day, the situation will turn and bite back for sure.
7. Establish policies related to anti-discrimination
The best way to break the glass ceiling in an organization is by making concrete policies that will deal with discrimination issues. Most companies project themselves as a company that offers equal opportunities.
Provide support to the employees by providing them with concrete protection in the form of healthy and full-proof policies.
8. Tell about the anti-discrimination laws
There are laws already in place in most of the countries that prohibit organizations from discrimination. The rule applies to every type of work-related situation, for instance, promotions, hiring, firing, benefits, wages, training and harassment.
If an organization is interested in breaking the glass ceiling at its place, it will make sure that every employee be it male or female is aware of the law and fear repercussions in case of any untoward incident. This will also keep the company on the safer side as bias and harassment will minimize and help the company in avoiding legal trouble.
Hiring and promotions are a responsibility towards the company in choosing the right fit and promoting the best person for the job. The people entrusted with it should know that it is a privilege and they can’t compromise with the sanctity of their position.
In case of a bad apple in the team, the anti-discrimination laws will act as a suitable reminder. If everyone knows the legal consequences of discrimination against applicants as well as existing employees, they will think twice before encouraging the glass ceiling and promoting bias in the company.
The glass ceiling is one of the significant issues faced by minorities and women all over the world. Understanding the reasons is the first step towards taking a stand and working in favour of eliminating this concept from its roots.