The term “glass ceiling” has been part of our corporate and political vocabularies since Hymowitz and Schellhardt introduced it the mid-1980s in a Wall Street Journal report. This invisible barrier hovers beneath the top of the corporate ladder and obstructs most women from reaching its highest rungs. A more accurate metaphor for this challenge that women face in their careers is Eagly and Carli’s “labyrinth” because it describes the concept as an intricate journey toward a goal which requires persistence, cognizance of one’s advancement, and analysis of approaching problems (Quast, 2011). Regardless of the terminology used, women around the world face similar barriers to top management positions. These barriers may be organizational, interpersonal, or personal in nature, and below is a brief account of how American women compare with our foreign counterparts (Pennsylvania, 2014). A Glass-ceiling index of 26 countries can be found here, which takes five indicators into account: number of men and women with post-secondary education, female labor force participation, male-female wage gap, proportion of women in senior-level jobs, and net child-care costs in relation to the average wage (The glass ceiling index, 2013).
According to the above-referenced index, the United States ranks 12th highest among the 26 countries examined. Part of the reason behind this middle-of-the-road rating could be due to U.S. companies not offering paid maternity leave. Many other countries offer new parents part-time, flexible or telecommuting schedules without consequences, and Germany and Spain require employers to keep positions open for employees on parental leave for up to three years. Also, career paths become varied for many American women because they tend to take on more responsibility than men when trying to balance work and home life. Despite these hindrances, American women now share equal opportunity for managerial positions as men; there are just less women in the labor force overall (Rampell, 2013). Still, very few women are reaching the top of the corporate ladder. According to some female execs, the reasons are: job segregation, the “old-boy network”, sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and lax enforcement of anti-discrimination laws (Empowering women, 2014).
In Norway, the highest-ranked country on the index, the law has helped women shatter the corporate glass ceiling. A quota law was introduced in 2003, and since that time, all of Norway’s publicly traded companies are in compliance with securing a minimum number of women, 40 percent, on their boards. Any corporation in violation would be shut down. In addition, Norway has a tradition of shared parenting, so there is less strain on women struggling to balance both work and parenting roles (Harman, 2011). Well over half post-secondary students in Norway are female, and the country consistently scores in the top five regarding gender equality. Two-thirds of college-educated women work in the public sector, and the growing visibility of these women could encourage younger women to pursue similar career paths in business; however, there is still room for improvement beyond the boardroom, such as senior-level management and tenured professors in academic settings (Sihvola, 2011).
Due to the combination of several detrimental factors, South Korea lies on the bottom of the index. This country has the longest work day in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which makes balancing work and parenting particularly challenging for mothers. Also, there is a lack of daycare centers, and many women choose to leave the workforce due to Korea’s male-dominated business culture. Compared to Norway’s obligatory 40 percent female board members, South Korea’s female board representation is a mere one percent. Despite matching their male counterparts in educational attainment, the female labor force participation rate is only 55 percent. This is largely due to the immense pressure on Asian women to become full-time mothers once they begin having families. So, it seems South Korea is struggling to employ females, let alone to push them through the corporate glass ceiling (Jung-a, 2013). It is essential for this country to first amend its business culture before women can make any significant strides through the corporate labyrinth.
While the U.S. performs reasonably well in its attempt to breach this invisible barrier, we still have quite a road to travel to become as successful as the Nordic countries. I was surprised to see that Canada ranks fourth on the index. Although they are placed considerably higher than the U.S., they face similar struggles as American women. A majority of female Canadian business leaders admit that men are paid more and are more likely to be promoted. Most of these leaders also feel that a woman’s appearance plays a large role in climbing the corporate ladder (Canadian women, 2013). Despite one’s country of origin, women around the globe face similar obstacles in their ascent to the top of the corporate ladder. I believe the U.S. could improve its index rating if men were to contribute more help in childrearing, and if a quota law such as Norway’s was enacted in the states. These two delimiting factors appear to be consistent among several countries.
Canadian women business leaders feel underpaid. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/canadian-women-business-leaders-feel-underpaid-1.2054440
Empowering women in business. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.feminist.org/research/business/ewb_glass.html
Harman, S. (2011, April 13). Europe takes note as Norway smashes the glass ceiling. Retrieved from http://www.dw.de/europe-takes-note-as-norway-smashes-the-glass-ceiling/a-14987093-1
Hymowitz, C., & Schellhardt, T. D. (1986, March 24). The glass ceiling: Why women can’t seem to break the invisible barrier that blocks them from the top jobs. The Wall Street Journal, D1, D4-D-5.
Jung-a, S. (2013, June 12). South Korean women face glass ceiling in workforce. Retrieved from http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/50242166-ce60-11e2-8313-00144feab7de.html#axzz2zZ4h1CTS
Pennsylvania State University World Campus. (2014). Lesson Commentary 13: Leadership and diversity. Retrieved from https://courses.worldcampus.psu.edu/sp14/psych485/001/content/13_lesson/01_page.html
Quast, L. (2011, November 14). Is there really a glass ceiling for women? Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/lisaquast/2011/11/14/is-there-really-a-glass- ceiling-for- women/#./?&_suid=139794990289203370375045683845
Rampell, C. (2013, April 2). Comparing the world’s glass ceilings. Retrieved from http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/02/comparing-the-worlds-glass- ceilings/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_php=true&_type=blogs&_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=2
Shivola, E. A. M. (2011, April 12). Hitting the glass ceiling. Retrieved from http://harvardpolitics.com/covers/women-in-the-world/hitting-the-glass-ceiling/
The glass ceiling index. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2013/03/daily-chart-3