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What is the Glass Ceiling?

Updated: Nov 22, 2022

We talk about this A LOT on my blog and my podcast... so what is the #glass #ceiling? Where did this term come from? What else don't we know about it?


I talk a lot about the glass ceiling in my work. Hell, it is in every podcast introduction, and almost every blog. It is a piece of the story I tell - that it is not the glass ceiling that holds women back, but rather, it's our own sticky floors.


But we haven’t really explored what the Glass Ceiling really is, what it means, and how it affects women in the workplace. I recently read on LinkedIn about Marilyn Loden, the women who first coined the term Glass Ceiling at a conference in 1978, and it got me thinking… what else am I not looking at? What else don’t I know?






What is the Glass Ceiling?


The Glass Ceiling is a metaphor for the barriers that #women and other #minorities face in the #workforce, as they advance up the #corporate #ladder. It is a fact that women have no problem entering the workforce at the lower levels, but as you advance into higher levels of #leadership, those numbers plummet. Those numbers drop even further if you are a woman who is also a #person of #color. This invisible barrier affects our career trajectories, our finances, and our overall success.


It hinders promotions, salary increases, and opportunities for advancement.


So where did this term come from?


#Marilyn #Loden, who at the time was in HR for AT&T, first coined the term at the Women’s Exposition in New York in 1978. Marilyn Loden was a writer, #consultant, and #advocate for diversity. She fought for #equality, write three books on Diversity, and was a champion for gender equality. Sadly, she passed away in August of this year, and I am sure was saddened to know that while progress has been made, we are still fighting for equality in the workplace.


So why Women? Why women of color?


While the number of women who work has increased dramatically, we still are not represented in #leadership roles, or #C-Level roles, like men, are.


I pulled some numbers from the #Lean In Organization and a beautiful pictograph that shows the representation in the #Corporate #Pipeline by #Gender and #Race from 2021. White Men make up 35% of entry-level roles, and 62% of the C-Suite level roles. Whereas white women make up 30% of the entry-level roles and only 20% of the C-suite level roles. It's important to note that women of color make up 17% of the entry-level roles and only 4% of the C-suite level roles. (Click here to see the pictograph from Lean In.)


These glass ceilings exist often because of #unconscious #bias. Those deep-rooted beliefs are often unrealized to many about #ethnicity, #gender, #sexuality, and so on. While this is largely unintentional, it's a huge problem. They also exist because of #systemic issues, such as #company #culture that often leaders ignore.


The representation of women between entry-level and the C-suite drops by more than 75%. As a result, Women of Color account for only 4% of C-suite leaders.


Since 2016, we have seen consistent statistics as it relates to #female #promotions. Women are promoted to managers at far lower rates than men. The numbers are even lower for women of color,


Another reason that this “glass ceiling” exists is that women with college degrees often choose to work in fields that offer lower income, and women become underrepresented in top-paying jobs.


About 40% of women born in America in 1985 hold college degrees, whereas men are just under 30%. But this difference doesn’t yield higher pay. This is because women are choosing majors that do not lead to higher-earning jobs such as education, teaching, etc.


These same higher-paying jobs are often not as flexible when it comes to the demands of #child care, #household #duties, and other life commitments, which tend to fall more heavily on women's shoulders. In turn, women have a harder time in these roles, because of these gender duties, with childcare being the most prominent


#COVID has also played a huge role in #gender #inequalities. More women ended up leaving the workforce during the pandemic than men did. Approximately 3.5 million mothers with school-aged kids lost jobs or left the workforce in the U.S. And while many jobs have returned, there are still 1.1 million fewer women in the workforce than there were in February of 2020. (4)


What can we do? How can we SMASH the glass ceiling?



The first thing is, you have to recognize that it does exist.

Yes, this podcast is all about getting out of your own sticky floors, but that doesn’t mean that the glass ceiling isn’t there and that it does not pose a huge problem as it relates to elevating women.


You may be working for an organization with some thick paned glass if:

  • There is little to no diversity at the executive level.

  • You notice sexist, racist, or other prejudicial language that are excused as “banter” or “jokes.”

  • Pay gaps between employees can’t be explained.

  • Advancement and promotions that don’t follow a process and are often justified away by “that's just how we do things here.”

Take responsibility for your own development AND your Sticky Floors.

If you aren’t being shown the opportunities that you feel you deserve in your role or at your company, you need to take full ownership. Invest in yourself, build your skills, and grow your experience in any way possible. If you are truly stuck in a company with a culture where you aren’t going to advance due to this ceiling, it's time to start building your arsenal, padding that resume, and move on.


Get a strong support network of other women.

Nothing beats having a tribe of women who understand what you are going through. They can offer you support and advice, and keep their ears to the ground for new, and often better, opportunities.


If your company has ANY female in the leadership role, partner with her to see how you can make a difference at the company.

Ideas can be to cultivate an Employee Resource Group to support women in your industry, discuss opportunities to create a safe space for women, and inviting in training for Unconscious Bias Training. If simply offering support to your fellow sisters is all you can do, then please, do that.


If you are a woman in a leadership role, there is, even MORE, you can do. Please use your role to further impact women in a positive manner.


You can work with your HR department to ensure gender equity in the internal hiring processes. This is one of the BEST ways to move forward! Not only can you ensure that there are diverse candidates put forward, but also those pay inequities are addressed from the jump.


Promote Female Sponsorship. This opens up the door for more female leaders to follow suit.


You know all about the Glass Ceiling - but What is the Glass Escalator?


This refers to white men being promoted faster when working in fields typically dominated by women or minorities. (I know I saw this in HR. I worked for a company with a HUGE HR team, that was predominantly women, but the leadership roles were dominated by all men, with only one woman on the HR Leadership Team.


Have you ever been there??? My guess is you probably have! And if you haven’t you have seen it elsewhere.


Sticky floors exist. There is no doubt in mind! And yes, we need to be working internally on ourselves every day to address some of those limiting beliefs. But the glass ceiling is that systemic issue that we must tackle together. It is so important for female representation at all levels of the business, especially at the top!


Did you know that when you have a diverse leadership team, literally everyone wins? Having women in management leads to a 19% higher return on equity and 9% higher dividend payments. Companies see higher financial returns including revenue, profitability, and lower volatility for stock (if it's publicly traded.)


The glass ceiling is not going to be smashed in a day, but we can put a crack in it. We can make these issues easier for the next generation. For our daughters, nieces, and friends.


I’ll leave you with the wise words from our fellow queen, Beyonce:


“Power is not given to you. You have to take it.”


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