Is The Glass Ceiling Finally Breaking?

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Robin Wright, actor and currently the most famous House of Cards character, just recently publicly exposed the barriers she has faced in her acting career. As a character on the show, she is equal to her male counterpart Kevin Spacey and yet is not even remotely paid the same as he is.

That was a moment that once again highlighted a very important and still almost invisible topic: the inequality of Women in business. According to the available statistics (BLS 2015), researching women in leadership positions, only 24 per cent of CEOs are women, and they earn 87.9 per cent as much as male CEOs. They work the same amount of time as men, their education is as high or higher compared to their male counterparts, and their leadership skills are on the spot. What is the barrier that makes them unequal?

Men apparently dominate the world of work and almost inevitably, out of nowhere, “the glass ceiling” appears above a female’s head. “The glass ceiling” expression first appeared in the United States in the 1970s. It appeared as a metaphor for invisible obstacles, which in women’s professional lives boils down to a point where there is no objective reason that prevents them from reaching a top company position.

In this context the word “glass” doesn’t stand for something that can be broken, but stands for something transparent and invisible on the outside. Because of the glass ceiling, educated and professionally very well experienced women weren’t and still aren’t equally represented in many professional groups and industries, which are still considered as very much male-dominated.

However, a lot has changed since the 1970s, and before claiming that the glass ceiling is still very much present, we have to turn to women in business. When speaking to different women from different industries such as software programming, event management, tourism, and the automotive industry, it is noticeable that their views differ. 

Katha from Germany was honest: “I work in a small software company where people in the leading positions such as CEO, CIO, CTO, are male. That has a lot to do with the product we sell, which in the first place needs good developer skills. On the one hand I see the glass ceiling above me as it relates to the salary, but on the other hand there are no limitations of getting promoted or having a more responsible role in the company. The reason for that might again be our small team with just two or three people in the same department.”

Speaking from experience, Barbara, a senior events coordinator in London, states: “In my company there is actually an imbalance between men and women where the majority of the employees are women. I can say with confidence that here gender does not play a role in someone’s progression or their salary nor is it a factor in the way that staff are treated by top level management.” 

Dutch senior marketing manager Lynn, working in the automotive industry, has noticed a difference between male and female roles in the company: “Our whole management consists of male counterparts. I notice that they see themselves as being the representatives of the company, going out to the meetings and greeting the most important clients, while females are more likely required to sit behind their desks. It’s quite hard, and I think it takes a lot more effort for women to be promoted, than it does for males.”

According to the Global Report on Women in Tourism 2010, women are almost twice as likely to be employers in the tourism industry than in other sectors, and often tourism companies would rather employ women than men. In general, women are very desired employees in tourism due to their ability to empathise, their kindness, and so-called maternal instinct. However, the report also says that even though women are well represented, they tend to work at a service rather than a professional or decision-making level. 

Emma, from Switzerland, works in tourism and sees that the industry is women-oriented, but they are not so often found in top roles: “Well, I work in a tourist agency and as we all know, the tourism industry is very female-friendly. We are 11 female and 3 male employees, plus two female managers and a male director. I think women in my company are definitely not underrepresented, on contrary, we rule the office. And also, I never feel like there would be a glass ceiling and that I couldn’t get promoted because I’m a woman.” 

Women do fight with guilt and sometimes also shame, especially when they notice that they are not represented equally. Katha states: “In my opinion, it really depends in which field you are working in. Selling software definitely brings the importance of male developers to the forefront. But when I realise I am learning just as fast as they are, whilst doing the same amount of work, I get a feeling something should be said about it.” Lynn agrees: “I have found myself doing more important work than my supervisor and implementing important decisions, but I still feel like that’s the way it should be, even if I was paid less for it or not recognized enough for it.” Robin Wright’s experience after raising her voice was positive: “I was like, ‘You better pay me or I’m going to go public’ … And they did.” She has also encouraged women to fight for gender equality. 

It’s fair to claim that the business world is changing, and women are becoming much more recognized than they used to be. But it also needs to be clear, that they shouldn’t be treated a bit better, but completely the same as their male counterparts.


This article was originally published in Youth Time print edition, 36th issue. Subscribe here, purchase one issue here.

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