Glass Ceiling – Definition

Cite this article as:"Glass Ceiling – Definition," in The Business Professor, updated December 15, 2019, last accessed October 24, 2020,


Glass Ceiling Definition

The glass ceiling refers to a barrier that makes professional advancement difficult for a section of employees. The glass ceiling often affects women and the minority section of employees. This term is a metaphorical term that denotes an invisible barrier shielding a given section of employees from being promoted to managerial positions or executive levels.

The glass ceiling restricts employees who are qualified from rising above a specific hierarchical position of a company. Such barriers are not company policies but sheer biases that prevent a particular demography of employees, usually women and minorities from rising to the peak of their career.

A Little More on What is a Glass Ceiling

The term “glass ceiling” first appeared in 1986 Wall Street Journal article in 1986 describing the difficulties women face in obtaining certain positions. When it was first used, it was a feminist term that reflects the invisible barriers that block women from rising to the top or making professional advancement. More recently, the glass ceiling has been studied to not affect just women but also minorities.

Studies have also revealed that such barriers do not exist due to corporate policies but rather exist as a result of implicit biases created by sex, race, ethnicity, religion, age and political affiliation. Despite that there is no law of any country that approves of the glass ceiling, these barriers exist in organizations around the world.

Companies and organizations have however started paying attention to the glass ceiling by ensuring that qualified employees are promoted accordingly and participate in the decision-making process of organizations.

The Glass Ceiling in the United States

There are also cultural beliefs that contribute to the glass ceiling in many countries. Many cultures believe that women should do more indoor activities than be allowed to participate actively in the workforce. The women are then relegated to household chores than taking professional positions.

In a 2005 report, women make almost half of the workforce in the United States but less than 10% of the women rise to managerial roles or executive positions. A 2017 study also showed that in about 500 big companies in the US, only 24 of them have female CEOs.

In order to identify and tackle the barriers that prevent qualified women and minorities from being promoted to managerial and executive positions in the U.S, the United States Department of Labor established the Glass Ceiling Commission in  1991.

References for “Glass Ceiling” › Humanities › History & Culture › Women’s History…/glass-ceiling-effect-its-impact-on-women/


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