For a long period of time, women around the world have encountered serious problems in accessing and securing formal employment. It was really hard for women to work up the corporate leader due to invisible barriers. In the United States, women who held managerial or professional jobs in the mid 1970s were very few. The nature of women involvement in the formal employment sector is influenced by numerous factors, which may be social or cultural. In most societies, women are expected to balance between family and work demands (Chaffins et al. 1995). Those who are unable to do so are disrespected and denounced in the society. Despite their accumulative requisite experience and education, women still encounter invisible barriers commonly known as glass ceiling. By definition, glass ceiling refers “to the various barriers that prevent qualified women from advancing upward in their organizations into management power positions.” (Burn, 2011, p. 106). Glass ceiling is an interesting topic since it has been a subject debates and discussions in most countries around the world in the past decades. Glass ceiling is attributed to numerous factors.
Gender Stereotypes and Leader Prototypes
Various theories have been put forward to explain problems that women encounter in the society. Congruity theory is one such theory that elaborates problems that women face in the society in regard to leadership functions and roles. According to Karau and Eagly (2002), there is incongruity between female roles and leaderships roles, which often leads to various forms of prejudice. In most societies around the world, women are perceived as inferior hence less favorable than their male counterparts to perform leadership roles or occupy leadership position in organizations. Leadership is a predominantly a male prerogative in organizations, military and political among other sectors of the society. Karau and Eagly (2002) acknowledge the fact that women in the contemporary society have gained increased access to middle management positions in organizations. However, they are quite rare as top leaders in these organizations. Congruity theory supports that the prescription of behavior of a leader in most societies is less favorably to women. The expectations and beliefs of people about actual and ideal behavior of men vary from that of women. Congruity theory invokes the construct of roles of women in the society. Social roles of both sexes are shared expectations particularly when analyzing characters of individuals who occupy or ought to occupy top management positions in various sectors of the society (Kent et al. 2010).
As Eagly and Karua (2002) noted, social gender roles are consensual beliefs of people in the society. Congruity theory has also been supported by social role theory. Social role theory infers that there is a correlation between what a person does and the inner dispositions. In most cases, definition or description of gender roles originates in inferences of perceiving correspondents arising from observed behavior of men and women in relation to their personal qualities (Kent et al. 2010). People tend to analyze the behavior of women when performing their typical roles and relate them with personal qualities required to undertake superior roles of top management. In most societies, women are expected to conform to actions and tendencies that match their social roles, most of which are based on either gender, economic or demographic subsets. Unsurprisingly, these tendencies and social expectations feature in professional settings. Therefore, individuals believed to be more likely to meet social expectations of top management positions are preferred over those who are considered to be unlikely to fulfill the social expectations. Social expectations on managerial roles are that individuals occupying these positions are that they should be technically strong and have relational skills. From past literatures and research findings, women are believed to lacking male-typed qualities. Therefore, gender stereotype against women in professional settings is one such invisible barrier that has prevented women from working up ladder corporate and political sectors in the society (Kent et al. 2010).
Perceptions of people are shaped by various factors in the society. Most organizations experience concrete ceiling i.e. the negative impacts of racism and sexism. This has contributed to low number of women in managerial positions in firms and organizations around the world. The negative stereotyping of women is combined with leader prototypes thus subjecting women greater disadvantages. The characteristics that are commonly associated with leadership functions are ascribed to men as opposed to women. Generally speaking, few women are occupying management or leadership positions in most organizations due to gender stereotyping and leaders prototypes (Kent et al. 2010).
Responsibilities to Home and Family (Real and Perceived)
Another explanation for glass ceiling is real and perceived woman’s responsibilities to home and family. These responsibilities often undermine women’s efforts to work up the corporate ladder. They have hindered them from accessing top managerial jobs in various ways. In most organizations, managers are always focused on ascertaining the level of employee commitment. When analyzing this commitment, organizations tend to factor external cues that are salient to employees. According to Hoobler et al (2009), most managers often categorize their employees based on their sexes in reference to family –work conflict. It has been cited on numerous occasions that sex is a primary way of categorizing employees. As suggested in the previous subtopic, gender stereotypes are easily and automatically activated even in the contemporary organizations. Working mothers are believed to be less committed to their professional careers than working fathers. Some organizations have complained that working mothers tend to leave work early to attend family and home duties (Hobbler et al., 2009).
Women have typical social roles to perform that oblige them to be around home most of the time. This affects mostly married women who have children. Employers around the globe believe that their family responsibilities will adversely affect their commitment and attention on organizational duties. As such, it is pretty hard for them to promote or rise to positions of more responsibilities (Hobbler et al., 2009). For instance, in a U.S. study, married women are perceived to be less competent and experienced in running challenging opportunities in an organization hence cannot ascend to high-level managerial position as their male counterparts (Hobbler et al., 2009). In most societies, women are expected to disproportionately provide household labor and childcare. Managers view these typical social responsibilities of women as incompatible with ever changing demands of top management positions. These positions often require to spend long hours away from home, travel a lot and be ready to be relocated to any place at any time. However, such duties conflict with family and home roles that women are expected to perform. Research has also shown that women in high-status careers delay childbearing. In extreme cases, these women forgo childbearing. A study by Hoobler et al (2009) shows that female executives in Latin America, North America and some parts of Asia are less likely to get married and those who get married delay having children (Hobbler et al., 2009).
Employees in an organization are motivated by the benefits and rewards they received. Fair and equal treatment of employees is one of the primary ways of enhancing productivity in an organization (Hobbler et al., 2009). Most organizations have the view that woman’s primary responsibilities to family and home lowers their organizational commitment. It is common for women to take leaves from workplace during pregnancies and when their children are very small (Hobbler et al., 2009). This often affects their pay and promotion at the workplace. In an organizational setting, one can only ascend to the highest position in an organization through promotion. Therefore, this is setback for women even in the contemporary society. Low pay often lowers women’s morale at the workplace hence they become less committed to the organizations. As such they cannot work up the corporate ladder. Basically, marriage and associated responsibilities are costly to women’s career since they must balance them with organizational commitment (Hobbler et al., 2009).
The case of women in employment becomes more complicated once the organizational practices fail to make things better. For a long time now, many organizations in the world have been failing to raise the status of women through unsupportive organizational practices. Most of these practices are developed by people who are not keen to uplift the status of women. This leads to retrogressive practices which do not give women the necessary support to prosper in their work. The challenges faced as a result of the organizational practices are usually present from the recruitment stage up to termination of a female employee’s employment. This makes the working life of a woman full of barriers to going up the corporate ladder among other desirable expectations (Burn, 2011).
One of the organizational practices that lead to the glass ceiling effect for women in employment is limited recruitment and training. Reliable research has shown that many companies in the world are usually slow on recruiting female employees. This practice has existed in many organizations across the globe. This practice in organizations advocates for the hiring of male employees. This is because of certain perceived beliefs about the capability of men over that of women. With an organization letting such a practice to take effect, it makes the life of women difficult when it comes to getting employment opportunities. Such an organizational practice also emphasizes on the need to promote men in most cases. This makes the chances of a woman in employment ever rising to the highest ranks in employment slim. This practice has been very backward for a long time. It is interesting to see how present managers of many companies in the world look at what their predecessors were doing. This means that the companies who hired men to the expense of women will still follow the same trend. This is because current managers take this practice as an organizational precedent (Burn, 2011). Additionally, women have also lacked the necessary training once they are in work. Training is one of the things that make an individual efficient. It is worth noting that training moulds an individual in a way which makes him or her ready for more roles and responsibilities in an organization. Many a times, organizations have discriminated on women when it comes to training. This means that the female employees in an organization will be left behind when it comes to job training. This leaves them with limited knowledge on several aspects of the job they are in. This will leave them with a low performance level compared to that of their male counterparts. With such a situation taking centre stage, the chances of rising above the male colleagues will be very low. Limited training leads to limited levels of information and knowledge on the side of the women. Due to the fact that knowledge is power, the well trained male employees are able to have the necessary information and knowledge to take up bigger roles in their employment lives. This makes the position of the male employees become higher than that of the female ones (Le & Miller, 2010).
Organizational norms are also big contributors of the glass ceiling effect. It is worth noting that each organization has certain norms which usually guide most of its processes. Many organizations have the norms which do not support the quest of women to rank highly in their employment. This is caused by the fact that most organization carved the norms long time ago. The fact that norms are hard to break makes change hard to come by when it comes to supporting the women. One of the abrasive norms is the one which advocates for posting of women employees in departments which wield low levels of power (Le & Miller, 2010). This is usually done to ensure that the chances of a woman to influence the activities of an organization are low. Secondly, there is a norm in many organizations that fights the issuance of orders by a female individual. Many organizations have carved a norm where it is believed receiving orders from a woman is not proper. Additionally, some organizations have a norm concerning the productivity years of female employees. Many organizations have the norm which disregards a woman after certain years in employment. This is because of the belief that the woman will shift focus from the workplace to the family. This leads to many organizations failing to elevate women to higher positions in an organization for fear of being abandoned as the woman concentrates on her family. This makes the lives of women in the work place confined to the less important levels of employment as the organizations belief that it is not possible for a woman to have the welfare of the organization at heart to the expense of the family. Most of the organizational norms have been passing from one generation to the other. This makes it impossible to break such typical norms in an organization. This means that the possibility of women getting a chance to shine or getting elevated to better positions at work relies on the hope that such norms will fade away (Chaffins et al. 1995).
Lack of mentoring to women has also caused the glass ceiling. Mentoring refers to the process where a senior or experienced person guides a junior or inexperienced person on how to succeed or grow in a certain field. This involves a relationship where the necessary skills and knowledge are passed on to the junior individual so that he or she may grow in a given organization. In terms of mentorship, women have not been lucky. Women have been ignored. This has left women suffering from the fact that they do not enjoy the benefits which come with mentorship. Some of the benefits include more promotions, better compensation, and greater career mobility. These benefits are usually able to make a woman rise to better positions in organizations. Therefore, the failure to receive mentorship means that women cannot rise above the simple positions in an organization. This sometimes happens as a result of the social setting in our communities. It is worth noting that men engage in more informal social relationships during which power and mentoring takes place. This is not possible on the side of women since they engage less than their male counterparts. This makes the men gain more benefits from the social and mentorship instances in their lives. This places them better when it comes to moving up the corporate ladder. Reliable research has shown that men are usually better whether in formal or informal form of mentorship. This makes them become more empowered to the expense of their female counterparts (Burn, 2011).
There are numerous barriers which hinder women from ascending to high level management positions in the society or organizations. As revealed in the above discussion, most females are being held in junior or mid-level positions and less powerful. Various theories have been put forward to explain this problem in the society and the main ones are social role theory and congruity role theory. Gender stereotypes, organization’s practices and perceived and real responsibilities of women contribute to glass ceiling effect.
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