Term Paper: Women and the Glass Ceiling the Disparities

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¶ … Women and the glass ceiling

The disparities in terms of opportunities, advancement and position between men and women in the workplace are a well-known and much debated issue in sociological discourse. This is due to the fact that hindrances to female advanceman or the "glass ceiling" is related to central sociological concepts and to the analysis of the way that societies are constructed by ideological as well as class and gender issues. As one researcher states; "It is well documented that women are less likely than men to exercise authority in their jobs... Yet the causes of this gender difference in authority have received little attention...." (Hopcroft R. 1996)

These disparities in the sexes and the glass ceiling phenomenon are intimately linked to various sociological theories about society. The terms 'glass ceiling' is a metaphor used to express the various problems and hindrances to advancement that many women in the business and corporate world. This metaphor can be explained by the fact that female advancement in the corporate world confronts a 'glass ceiling' where the possibilities of advancement are easy to see but prevented by a real and impenetrable barrier. In essence the term glass ceiling can be viewed as the"....idea that discrimination against women in the workplace remains a formidable barrier to their upward mobility in the corporate world." (Lopez, N.)

However the full understanding of this phenomenon requires a sociological analysis of the underlying societal forces and pressures that result in the discrimination of women in the workplace. As such, the understanding of the glass ceiling phenomenon is largely dependent on the societal factors that create this situation. As will be discussed in this paper, the glass ceiling phenomenon does not in essence have an economic rationale and researchers have pointed out that the prevention of female advancement is related to ideological and social facets which stem from the structure of class and gender in the society as a whole. This paper will therefore attempt to discuss the phenomenon of the glass ceiling in terms of its sociological causes and ramifications.

2. The social reality of the glass ceiling

The are numerous studies which attest to the fact that while there have been many advances with regard to the issue of gender disparities and discrimination in society in recent years, yet "...After four decades of economic, political, and social changes, women are by no means equal partners with men in economic or family life." (Tilly and Albelda, 1997, p. 1) These disparities are seen especially in the glass ceiling phenomenon. Tilly and Albelda (1997) clearly outline this situation.

Women, especially those with children, who have moved up the corporate ladder hit the "glass ceiling" -- that invisible barrier to further advancement -- and are shunted off to the "mommy track." Many more women -- particularly single mothers -- with limited skills or support are stuck in a "bottom- less pit" of poverty. While these two groups of women may seem a world apart, they have much in common -- their economic opportunities are restricted because of their gender.

Tilly & Albelda, 1997, p. 1-2)

The reality of the situation for women in society is underlined by various statistics and studies which clearly indicate that while the gap between men and women is closing in society, there are still areas which very few women have access to in the corporate world. For example, a study by Hopcroft (1996) indicates that "...despite general declines in gender segregation and the influx of women into management during the 1970s (Jacobs 1989, 1992), by 1980 women had still made little headway in achieving authority in the workplace." (Hopcroft R. 1996) Another study suggests that,

Regression results indicate that only more educated men hold occupations characterized by greater wage growth with increased experience. Higher levels of education did not serve this function for women. This finding is consistent with the current notion of a "glass ceiling" which limits the occupational mobility of women. (Duncan K. 1996)

3. Gender, class and ideology

The reason given for the prevention of upward mobility for women in society therefore does not seem to have any logical or economic rationale. As many studies reiterate, no matter how educated or capable a woman might be, advancement is often denied. "Even the most highly educated, privileged women run into the "glass ceiling," the set of invisible barriers to advancement up the corporate ladder. (Tilly & Albelda, 1997, p. 45) This can be substantiated with reference to more specific studies. For example,

Despite...significant inroads made into the Canadian labour market, women continue to experience occupational segregation and income and status inequality compared to men in their workplaces. Vertical segregation is still pervasive in the full-time labour force -- Canadian men still occupy higher status and higher paid jobs than women." (Gazso, 2004)

Why are women who are theoretically as capable as men being denied from entering top corporate positions? This question leads to various sociological analyses relating to the norms and values that determine the structure of society.

Central to the analysis of this question is the issue of societal values and perceptions of gender. One has to consider "...how gender is intricately related to women's and men's unequal workplace experiences." (Gazso, 2004) Many theorists state that social norms and ideologies which situate and women in terms of certain pervasive role perceptions still tend to persist in the structure of even the most advanced societies. This view is supported by studies that suggest that women who attempt to succeed in the top corporate structures must "act like men." "... women striving to succeed in managerial work are not only pressured to work the hours that only men with supportive wives, or women without families, can devote to work, they have to 'act like men' in a whole variety of formal and informal ways, ranging from the clothes they wear to the topics they chat about." (Watson, 2003, p. 145)

In other words, there is within the normative structure of society a stratified system which is based not on economic principles but rather on attitudes, values and role perceptions that are gender specific. There is therefore an ideological rather then an economic barrier to the advancement of women; a structure of inbuilt values and gender roles which tend to persist in the male-centered corporate hierarchy and resists the "womenization' of work.

This in turn relates to the way that society constructs gender and gender roles. Therefore in sociological terms gender is much more than just "... masculine or feminine attributes assigned to biological sex," but rather is a structure which is composed of "... malleable patterns of behaviour amongst individuals." (Gazso, 2004) in this light gender becomes, from the point-of-view of the analysis of values and norms, a reality that is dependent on the context of that society. As Gazso (2004) and others emphasize, gender roles experienced in a society are a reflection of the norms, values as well as the prejudices of that society.

Therefore we can only understand the glass ceiling phenomenon in terms of the larger values and views of gender in that society. This also leads to the realization that gender barriers are a reflection of deeper and more pervasive discrimination in a society, as well as the result of perceptions that are created by a generally male orientated authority structures.

4. Conclusion

The sociological analysis of women in society covers a wide range of issues which are closely related.

One of these that have already been referred to is the ideology of gender specific behavior. Ideology refers to the way in which reality is represented or constructed. More appropriately, ideology is the re-presentation of reality through the prism of various cultural and sociological perspectives. This provides a theoretical basis for an examination of the phenomenon of the glass ceiling

From a Marxist perspective ideology in capitalistic societies is used to distort reality by those in power to maintain this power and control in the face of more rational logic. This perception could be applied to the facts surrounding the 'glass ceiling', where the social construction of gender roles becomes a form of oppression resulting in the dominance of one gender over another. This serves as a 'reason' for the existence of the 'glass ceiling'.

One could take this analysis even further and relate it to the relationship between gender and class divisions in the society. In this analysis women are not oppressed or discriminated against because of their biological nature but rather because of the mores and norms that comprise the social construction of femaleness in the society. Therefore it is obvious that in order to bridge the divide that results in the glass ceiling for of gender discrimination, the underlying norms and values that inhibit normal development and create discriminatory disparities must be analyzed and addressed.



Coyne, B.S., Coyne, E.J., & Lee, M. (2004). Human Resources, Care Giving, Career Progression, and Gender: A Gender Neutral Glass Ceiling. New York: Routledge. Retrieved February 19,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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