Glass Ceiling

What Is the Glass Ceiling?

The glass ceiling is a metaphor referring to the invisible barrier that prevents women and other underrepresented people from being promoted to leadership and executive positions, even when they have the right qualifications and skills.

Who Is Most Affected by the Glass Ceiling?

Women in the workforce are most affected by the glass ceiling. Underrepresented men are also affected.

9% of HR professionals describe their company’s leadership team as predominantly women. In contrast, 50% describe their company’s top leaders as mostly men.

It’s important to note that women of color, disabled women, LGBTQ+ women, women whose incomes are lower, and women who belong to multiple underrepresented groups are more likely to experience more discrimination than cisgender White women.

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What Are the Effects of the Glass Ceiling?

Inequitable work environments can negatively affect employees’ health and well-being. Employees may experience:

Variations of the Glass Ceiling Effect

The term glass ceiling was initially used to describe the workplace limitations women faced. Additional terms have been introduced to describe similar workplace difficulties associated with gender or race including:

What Causes or Creates a Glass Ceiling?

Several interconnected factors impact gender equality and form the glass ceiling such as:

Is the Glass Ceiling Still a Problem?

In short, yes. While there has been gradual progress, gender and racial inequity still exist in the workplace. According to a report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women and all racial and ethnic groups (except Asian men) still lag behind White men in median weekly earnings. In their research on women in corporate America, McKinsey found that only one in four C-suite executives is a woman—and only one in 20 is a woman of color.

It’s significantly more difficult for diverse talent to climb the corporate ladder due to what McKinsey calls the “broken rung.” In essence, few women are promoted from entry-level positions to manager roles. As a result, there are too few women to promote to executive positions. McKinsey notes that for every 100 men who are promoted to manager positions, only 87 women are promoted, and only 82 women of color are promoted.

What Impact Does a Glass Ceiling Have on Employee Morale?

A glass ceiling breeds inequity which can cause impacted employees to feel disillusioned at work. The unfortunate reality that they can be barred from career advancement even if they have all the necessary qualities to succeed can cause employee morale to plummet.

In turn, low employee morale can cause:

How Can HR Promote Diversity and Reduce the Effects of the Glass Ceiling?

As opposed to putting the onus on women and underrepresented people to overcome unjust barriers, HR can proactively take measures to remove the glass ceiling at their organization such as:

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