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What is the Glass Ceiling?

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Many of us will have heard the words “glass ceiling” used as a metaphor to describe how people are unable to pass beyond a certain point. In economic terms this glass ceiling refers to the situation where a person is unable to climb any higher in their profession because of their race, gender, sexual preference, religion, or other factor. It is a contentious issue, but there is little doubt that such blocks to advancement do exist in at least some organizations. During the last few decades there has been a lot of effort to make the playing field a bit fairer, but people will disagree about how much this happened – all though few would doubt that there have been improvements.

So what is the Glass Ceiling?

The metaphor “glass ceiling” actually describes the situation very well. A ceiling is something that stops people from going up any further, and the fact that it is glass means that it is a transparent blockage – it can be hard to detect. The factors that stop some people from gaining higher positions don’t have to be written down, or even discussed, for them to have an impact. Many feminists will argue that the glass ceiling exists because business has traditionally been a male institution, and this means that men are naturally favored because of the way the system works. In other words there is no need for there to be written regulations to hamper women from advancement, because the dice is already loaded against them.

The credit for introducing the words “glass ceiling”, as a way of describing this situation where people can’t advance in business, goes to Gay Bryant. In 1984 Bryant wrote an article for Adweek, and this led to other people picking up on the term; it wasn’t long before it became part of our common way of describing this situation. It isn’t too surprising that “glass ceiling” has been adapted so easily into our lexicon, because it is such an accurate description of what is happening.

The Glass Ceiling Debate

While most people are prepared to accept that there may be barriers to the advancement of individuals within an organization there are many who argue that the claim is overstated. There are many factors that may explain why females tend to climb less high in a corporation when compared to their male colleagues. For instance, many women will choose to take a career break so that they can have kids and look after them for the first few years.

There have been a lot of efforts made to remove the glass ceilings in different organizations. Some will actively promote the rise of women to the higher echelons of a corporation in the hope that in the future this will make it easier for females to climb the career ladder. If it is no longer a boy’s only club then this should help remove the glass ceiling. There have also been similar initiatives to help other individuals who may suffer because of a glass ceiling.

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Meet the Author

Anthony Carter currently resides in Fife, Scotland with his wife Lisa, and their three wonderful children. As a senior editor for various publications, if he's not reading and writing, you would find him photographing and traveling to some of the most far-flung locations around the world.

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