What is the 'Glass Ceiling'

The glass ceiling is a metaphor referring to an artificial barrier that prevents women and minorities from being promoted to managerial- and executive-level positions within an organization. The phrase glass ceiling is used to describe the difficulties faced by women when trying to move to higher roles in a male-dominated hierarchy. The barriers are most often unwritten, meaning that women are more likely to be restricted from advancing through accepted norms and implicit biases, rather than defined corporate policies.

BREAKING DOWN 'Glass Ceiling'

The glass ceiling concept was first popularized in a 1986 Wall Street Journal article discussing the corporate hierarchy, and how invisible barriers seemed to be preventing women from advancing in their careers past a certain level. In more recent years, the analysis of the glass ceiling has expanded to include not only issues preventing women from advancing, but also minorities.

Companies have responded to the equality gap by focusing on measures to increase diversity. This has included hiring personnel specifically tasked with ensuring that women and minorities see improved representation in management-level positions. By focusing on policies that reduce or eliminate the glass ceiling, companies can ensure that the most qualified candidates hold decision-making positions.

Additionally, research has shown that diverse groups are more successful in making decisions than homogeneous ones, which has the effect of signaling to companies that eliminating the glass ceiling can positively affect their bottom lines.

The Glass Ceiling in the United States

The equality gap varies from country to country, and in some cases is driven by cultural stances against women participating in the workforce. In 2005, women accounted for nearly half of the workforce but less than 10 percent of managers in the United States. While the percentage of upper-level positions held by women was somewhat higher in Fortune 500 companies, women who were able to hold these positions still earned less than men. In 2017, there were 24 female chief executive officers (CEOs) leading Fortune 500 companies, which is less than 5 percent of the total list.

In response to the growing concern over barriers preventing women and minorities from advancing, the United States Department of Labor launched the Glass Ceiling Commission in 1991. The Commission was charged with identifying the types of barriers that exist, and policies that companies had undertaken or could undertake to increase diversity in managerial and executive levels. The Commission found that qualified women and minorities were being denied the opportunity to compete for or win decision-making positions, and that the perceptions of both employees and employers often included stereotypes that held women and minorities in a negative light.

When Hillary Clinton ran for president in 2008 and 2016, she repeatedly spoke of her goal of shattering the “highest, hardest glass ceiling” by becoming America’s first female president.

RELATED TERMS
  1. Ceiling

    A ceiling is a maximum permissible level in a financial transaction. ...
  2. Accounting & Financial Women's ...

    Accounting & Financial Women's Alliance is an organization of ...
  3. Mancession

    A term coined during the 2007-2009 recession when men held 7 ...
  4. Budget Control Act - BCA

    Budget Control Act is a 2011 federal statute to increase the ...
  5. Boehner Bill

    The 2011 Boehner Bill was legislation endorsed by Speaker of ...
  6. Up-and-In Option

    Up and in options are a type of barrier option that can only ...
Related Articles
  1. Managing Wealth

    Wall Street’s Glass Ceiling

    It’s tough to boast that there are more female CEOs than ever before when they make up only 4.2% of the total.
  2. Personal Finance

    How Women Uniquely View Finance and Investing

    Understanding gender differences on financial-related issues and how they are changing over time is fundamental to understanding the investing world.
  3. Financial Advisor

    Why Retirement Planning Differs for Women

    Women face unique challenges when it comes to saving for retirement compared to men. Here's why and how to better prepare.
  4. Financial Advisor

    These Investors Needs More Advisor Attention

    Women live longer than men and their post-retirement finances are in jeopardy. A new report by the National Institute for Retirement Security shows why.
  5. Tech

    These Robo-Advisors Aim to Serve Women

    Women's general lack of confidence in investing makes the female market a ripe one for tailored advisory services. Here's a peek into the nascent market.
  6. Personal Finance

    How to Identify a Workplace that Will Help You Succeed

    While the workforce gender gap has narrowed, women are still underrepresented in the C-suite. Here's how top female CEOs got their start.
  7. Small Business

    Why Is Wall Street Dominated By Men?

    Find out why women in the financial industry are still lagging behind their male counterparts when it comes to pay.
  8. Financial Advisor

    Wealthy Men and Women Investors: 4 Key Differences

    Research validates that wealthy men and women invest differently. Here's why—the insights may help advisors better tailor their services to clients.
  9. Retirement

    Why Women Have a Tough Time Saving for Retirement

    Retirement saving is hard but for women, there are unique challenges. Whether its caregiving or pursuit of a low wage job women aren't saving enough.
  10. Personal Finance

    Why Are So Few Women in Investing?

    Women asset managers are more likely to be a CFA and tend to outperform. So why are there so few women in the asset management business?
RELATED FAQS
  1. How strong are the barriers to entry in the oil and gas sector?

    Learn what a barrier to entry is and how it helps existing companies. Understand the strength of barriers to entry in the ... Read Answer >>
  2. What are the key barriers to entry in electronics?

    Learn how the entry barriers of economies of scale and scope, research and development, capital, and brand loyalty affect ... Read Answer >>
  3. When is managerial accounting appropriate?

    Understand the difference between managerial accounting and financial accounting, and learn common scenarios in which managerial ... Read Answer >>
  4. Can minors invest in mutual funds?

    Not directly. Mutual fund investments can be made through a custodial account opened in a minor's name and overseen by a ... Read Answer >>
  5. Is it possible to beat the market?

    "Beating the market" means trying to earn an investment return greater than that of the S&P 500 index, one of the most popular ... Read Answer >>
  6. How does financial accounting differ from managerial accounting?

    Learn about the main differences between financial accounting and managerial accounting, including why one is highly uniform ... Read Answer >>
Trading Center