Literature Review on the Glass Ceiling

This chapter seeks to review literature by other authors and researchers. In this chapter the researcher will look at what the glass ceiling is, the definition of gender and the reasons behind the leadership gap between men and women. The researcher will also look at three main types of barriers to advancement for women which are: organisational barriers, societal barriers and individual barriers.

Statistics published by Countrymeters (2017), show that Zimbabwe’s female population marginally exceeds the male population by 1,4%; however, in the corporate world women leaders are still minimal. This comes as no surprise to many; what is surprising is that men dominate women in leadership positions across every sector in the world, i.e., corporate, non-profit, politics, government, education, medicine, military, and religion.

Facts and figures released by UN Women (2016), reveal that as at January 2017 there were 15 women holding the office of Head of State, representing 8,4% of the total number of Heads of State in the world. Almost half (seven) of the female heads of state hold the office in European countries and three are in Africa. In 2015 nine women were heads of government and only six in the beginning of 2016, lowering the percentage to 4,3%. The significance of these statistics and the implications on leadership are cause for both concern and discussion. What is causing this gap and keeping women from advancing to the top?

2.2 Glass ceiling

The notion of the glass ceiling was first coined in 1978 and back then it was recognized as an American social issue describing the invisible and unreachable barriers that women face as they approach the top of the corporate ladder (Federal Glass Ceiling Commission, 1995). The glass ceiling is not only an invisible barrier applying to an individual woman, but it applies to women as a whole. These barriers are a result of subtle, indirect obstacles due to labelling or stereotyping, thereby placing stumbling blocks in the career paths of many women. Cotter, Hermsen, Ovadia, and Vanneman (2001) argue that the glass ceiling gender disparities are more dominant at the top of hierarchies than at lower levels, and that the drawbacks become more challenging as a person’s career advances.

According to Cotter, Hermsen, Ovadia and Vanneman (2001), the glass ceiling constructs job disparity unexplained by a person’s past qualifications or achievements. Such disparities are not explained by job-related characteristics of the employee, but by gender differences. “The glass ceiling contradicts the nation’s ethic of individual worth and accountability, the belief that education, training, dedication and hard work will lead to a better life” (Federal Glass Ceiling Commission, 1995, p.24). Past experience, achievements and qualifications are rendered invalid when it comes to the glass ceiling. The glass ceiling is a reality for women, indicating that no matter how much education or experience a woman receives, there is a real chance she will never achieve her highest professional aspirations. Cotter, Hermsen, Ovadia, and Vanneman (2001, p.258) defined four distinctive characteristics that must be met to conclude that a glass ceiling exists:

1. “A gender or racial difference that is not explained by other job-relevant characteristics of the employee.”

2. “A gender or racial difference that is greater at higher levels of an outcome than at lower levels of an outcome.”

3. “A gender or racial inequality in the chances of advancement into higher levels, not merely the proportions of each gender or race currently at those higher levels.”

4. “A gender or racial inequality that increases over the course of a career.”

They found evidence of a glass ceiling for women; however, racial inequalities among men do not follow a similar pattern. Thus, we should not describe all systems of differential work rewards as “glass ceilings.” When applied to women, there appears to be a distinctive gender phenomenon. The popular notion of glass ceiling effects implies that gender disadvantages are stronger at the top of the hierarchy than at lower levels and that these disadvantages become worse later in a person’s career.

While the phrase glass ceiling is figurative, many women do not realise the intensity of its effect unless and until it is experienced. Carli and Eagly (2003), also note that the glass ceiling constitutes an invisible organisational or perceptual barrier for women and minority groups, preventing them from moving up the organisational ladder, particularly emphasizing the subordinate position of women. Demirdjian (2007), argues that throughout the long history of mankind, women have been employed as a second fiddle to men. Glass ceiling has remained a modern-day issue, with many surveys and reports being undertaken internationally (see Catalyst, 2007; Singh and Vinnicombe, 2004; EOWA, 2003).

According to  Pillai, Prasad, and Thomas (2011) the word ‘ceiling’ implies that there is a limitation preventing career growth and ‘glass’ meaning transparent and unseen. Many share a cultural belief that women are not “supposed” to be in most senior positions of power. The Federal Glass Ceiling Commission (1995) postulates that at the highest level of business, a barrier exists that is rarely penetrated by women. As men advance into senior management positions, obstacles do exist; however, men are not hindered by gender-based discrimination and stereotyping. “Despite identical education attainment, ambition, and commitment to a career, men still progress faster than women” (Federal Glass Ceiling Commission, 1995, p.23). Burton and Parker (2010) argue that it is more problematic for women than for men to be promoted to levels of senior management in workplaces. Women face more difficulty, compared to men, as they progress up the corporate ladder.

Ryan and Haslam (2005) point out that the invisibility of the constraint is problematic with restrictive organisational cultures and individual gender assumptions contributing to the existence of a glass ceiling. This is particularly evident in organisations predominated by men. When a corporation has more men than women (or vice versa) in influential positions, the culture tends to adopt attributes that favour the dominant gender (Pedersen and Whisenant, 2005). As a consequence, men (particularly those in female-orientated professions) are likely conveyed into management positions by a ‘glass escalator’ (Ryan and Haslam, 2005).

Hughes, Ginnett, and Curphy (2009) insist that work and life balance challenges can impact women’s advancement and, if not dealt with, may contribute to the glass-ceiling phenomenon. For many women, in addition to the roles they hold in their companies, they remain the primary caretakers for their families. Assumptions are often made regarding women’s availability to do a job without interference from family responsibilities. As the time constraints and demands of a job become more important, promotion forces many women to choose between family and career. Further, some organisations may not offer work programmes that support outside commitments, particularly for senior management positions. Jack and Suzy Welch (2006) also subscribe to the idea that very few women CEOs and women executives have children due to the effect it would have on their career. As a possible solution, women could choose to work fewer hours than men in order to spend more time with their families. On the other hand, many women have voluntarily left their jobs due to family decisions.

The glass ceiling is a controversial subject that is constantly in hot pursuit. There are many statistics and theories that come into play; so many, in fact, that people may find it difficult to reach a solid conclusion. Morrison, White and Van Velson (1991) described the glass ceiling as a transparent barrier that keeps women from rising above a certain level in corporations. They even considered it a barrier for women as a group, barring individuals’ advancement simply because they are women rather than because they lack the ability to handle jobs at higher levels. “Women have some barriers when they reach a level where they become executive: at the same time men have the same barriers as well, but the question is that women have more than twice as many barriers than men at the same level” ( Belgihiti and Kartochian 2008, p.5).

People believe that women in organisations have faced tough times because of the glass ceiling, despite that they have managed to progress from positions of secretaries to managers. Mainly the barrier preventing women seems to exist in developing countries where job opportunities are scarce and the societies are male-dominated. The males do not want a supervisor or the manager from the counter-gender to take hold of them and order them, especially in male dominating societies.

Since the notion of the glass ceiling, much debate has been carried out in favour and against the glass ceiling effect, and different researchers have different ideas. The Federal Glass Commission (1995) maintains that the glass ceiling is an invisible barrier; however, Eagly and Carli (2007) argue that it has become visible. There is also a school of thought which questions the existence of the glass ceiling and has the view point that it is not the gender or racial discrimination which prevents women and minorities to reach higher positions, but their competencies, education and commitment.

2.2.1 Variations and related terms of the glass ceiling

The glass ceiling can manifest in different forms, therefore, different terms used to refer to the glass ceiling. Terms such as:

Brass Ceiling – According to Schulz (2004), this is usually found in traditionally male-dominated fields of law enforcement and military service.  Brass ceiling is used to describe the difficulty women have when they try to rise up in the ranks. “The brass” signifies the decision-makers at the top of an organisation, especially in the military.

Stained-Glass – This is a sociological phenomenon in religious communities where it is apparently difficult for women who seek to gain a role within church leadership (Sullins, 2000).

Bamboo Ceiling- Hyun (2005) used the term “bamboo ceiling” to refer to the exclusion of Asian descendants from senior managerial roles on the basis of subjective factors such as “lack of leadership potential” or “inferior communication ability” where the East Asian descendant applicant has higher objective credentials such as education in high-prestige universities (in comparison to their white counterparts with only lower-prestige university credentials). The bamboo ceiling is a result of a combination of individual, cultural, and organisational factors that obstruct career progress.

Concrete Ceiling – According to the Catalyst (2002), the term “concrete ceiling” is used to describe the type of barrier minority women encounter. Caucasian women in the US may face the glass ceiling in the workforce, but be able to break through it from time to time; however, minority women’s glass ceiling tends to be more solid and unyielding. This ‘concrete ceiling’ is due to minority women facing both issues of sexism and racism which intensifies their obstructions in advancing within the labour market.

Glass Closet- This is the exclusion of openly gay men and women from certain jobs, especially in the media (Browne, 2014). The glass closet addresses the issue of homophobia that still permeates organisations around the world and underscores the immense challenges faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) employees.

Glass escalator – Men that enter female-dominated professions tend to be promoted at faster rates than women in those professions. While women climb the ladder in female-dominated professions, their male peers glide past them on an invisible escalator, shooting straight to the top (Williams, 1992).

Sticky floor – The term “sticky floor” is used to describe a discriminatory employment pattern that keeps a certain group of people at the bottom of the job scale. Most of the workers who experience the “sticky floor” are “pink collar workers,” such as secretaries, nurses, waitresses, women in low-wage jobs, low mobility jobs in state, or local government (Shambaugh, 2007).

Sticky Ladder – the term is used to describe women’s struggle to reach the top of the corporate ladder. This term describes the theory that women are not incapable of reaching the top; they just get “stuck” on the middle rungs of the ladder (Facchinetti, 2012).

However, Rai and Srivastava (2008) argue that no glass ceiling exists. According to them, women are paid lower salaries since they leave the jobs midway, work for lesser time and join low-risk jobs. They further argue that at the moment organisations operate globally, therefore a number of opportunities for carrier development exist. It is just a myth and a self-created issue. Their first argument is that women can hold higher positions based on their competencies, through hard work and aspirations. Their second argument is family responsibilities come into the middle of their carrier development.

For the purposes of this study, the glass ceiling will be discussed regarding Zimbabwean women, with a focus on opportunities for advancement. Even though previous circumstances and consequences of the glass ceiling occurrence have been well documented in developed countries (Vianen and Fischer, 2002), little is known about this in developing countries, such as Zimbabwe.

In summary, all these ideas show that the glass ceiling is both a visible and an invisible obstacle which supresses the professional and organisational hierarchical level for women. In particular, women who believe that the glass ceiling phenomenon will operate to their disadvantage may be less likely to apply for open positions than equally qualified men. However, a smaller number of female applicants may also lead to a smaller number for promotions of women to top management positions.

2.3 Gender

According to England and Browne (1992, p.78), “Sex refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women. Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.”   Gender refers to the way a society encourages and teaches the two sexes to behave in different ways through socialisation. Gender also refers to the attitudes, feelings and behaviours that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex.  It varies from society to society and can be changed. Gender cuts across all spheres of society: economic, social, political and cultural. While most people are born either male or female, they are taught appropriate norms and behaviours, including how they should interact with others of the same or opposite sex within households, communities and work places.

Holmes (2007) defines gender roles as behaviours of men and women that are considered socially appropriate. Gender roles are passed on through generations. From a young age, children are able to start becoming aware of the differences between girls and boys based on the actions of the parents and the nature of their environment. Traditional gender roles are those behaviours seen from men and women in old movies. According to Basow (1992) men were considered responsible for taking care of the family financially. They took their jobs as sole providers very seriously. They also had the responsibility for guiding the family. While they may listen to what their wives had to say, they made the final decisions. Men did not do household duties or childcare. They felt the need to be strong and refrained from showing too much emotion or sharing too many personal feelings, especially with those outside of the family. Women were expected to be in charge of running the household. Mothers did the laundry, cooked the meals, and cleaned the rooms. They also took care of the children, giving them the care and attention that was required.

However, in recent years, gender roles have shifted; men may choose to be a full time stay-at-home dad and move into traditionally female jobs, such as nursing (Bardy, 2014). The role of men in society is changing and so is the power shift towards women at work places. What is more, women generally do not have to choose just one role for themselves. A woman can be wife, mother, entrepreneur, professional, career-minded, and any number of other things all at the same time.

2.3.1 Gender equity

“Gender equity is the process of allocating resources, programs and decision-making fairly to both males and females” (CAAWS, 2017), while gender equality requires equal enjoyment of socially-valued goods, opportunities, resources and rewards by women and men.  The Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) (2014), revealed that out of 160 countries ranked, they all had to do more to fight gender inequality as illustrated by Figure 2.1. The Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) is a new composite measure of gender equality, based on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Gender, Institutions and Development Database. It complements and improves existing measures in several ways; the SIGI focuses on the root causes behind these inequalities.

Figure 2.1 The 2014 SIGI rankings

Source:, 2017.

Gender equity implies that women and men should not only be given equal access to resources and equal opportunities, but women should also be given the means of benefiting from this equality. Gender equality implies that the interests, needs and priorities of both women and men are taken into consideration, recognizing the diversity of different groups’ women and men (UNFPA, 2017). Workplace gender equity is achieved when women are able to access and enjoy the same rewards, resources and opportunities as their male counter-parts.

The goal of gender equity in the workplace is to attain generally equal outcomes for both women and men, not necessarily outcomes that are exactly the same for all. To achieve this requires:

Organisations to provide equal pay for work of equal or comparable value

Removal of barriers to enable full and equal participation of women in the workforce

Access to all professions and industries, including leadership roles, regardless of gender

Elimination of discrimination on the basis of gender, particularly in relation to family and caring responsibilities.

Achieving gender equity is important for workplaces not only because it is ‘fair’ and ‘the right thing to do’; but because it is also linked to a country’s overall economic performance. There is ample evidence that when women are able to develop their full labour market potential, there can be significant macroeconomic gains (Loko and Diouf, 2009; Dollar and Gatti, 1999). Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita losses attributable to gender gaps in the labour market have been estimated at up to 27% in certain regions (Cuberes and Teignier, 2012).

Gender equity has been a topic of debate. It has been an issue of concern and sociological significance. Gender equity is important because it is also a matter of human rights, social justice, economic efficiency and sustainable development. Gender-based discrimination against female children is prevalent across the world. It is seen in all the divisions of society and exhibits in various forms. The inclusion of young girls and women in education has helped challenge gender discrimination. Educated women are essential to ending gender bias; the longer a girl is able to stay in school, the greater her chances to pursue worthwhile employment and higher education.

2.3.2 Gender equity in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe has always strived to achieve gender equity since its political independence in 1980. The government recognises the need for full participation of men and women in development processes at all levels in order to ensure sustainable development and attainment of equality between both sexes. It is also cognisant of the existence of social, economic and cultural factors that create gender imbalances and prevent women from fully participating and benefiting from the development process.

In line with gender equality commitment, the government has approved a number of gender-related international and regional instruments. These include the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA); the African Charter on the Rights of Women and the Southern African Development Community Protocol on Gender and Development.

Although women in Zimbabwe have seized the opportunities and benefits of education and participation in the labour force in the recent past, they still face challenges in getting full access to such opportunities. Women are confronted with numerous gender-related challenges in the political, economic and social sectors which inhibit them from attaining their full potential. According to Zimstats (2017), women are less likely than men to be in paid employment, they tend to engage more in unpaid care work than men and, overall, they work more hours than men in non-economic activities.

Zimbabwe Country Analysis Report (2014), also notes that the exercise of women’s rights is negatively impacted by harmful cultural and religious practices, subordination in the public and private spheres, patriarchal attitudes, lack of skills, and power imbalances in all spheres of life. Human Development Report (2014), shows that Zimbabwe is not doing very well in various development indicators, including gender equality. Zimbabwe had a ranking of 0,544 and was ranked 116 out of 148 countries. The Human Development Report (2016), revealed that the gender index rating of Zimbabwe had improved to 0,710 and the country had been ranked 56 out of 144 countries. However, looking at ratings alone may be deceiving as on the ground statistics illustrated in Table 2.1 show that as a country Zimbabwe still has a long way to go in achieving gender equality.

Table 2.1 Participation of Women and Men in Selected Decision Making Positions

Institution/Area Women Men Total % Share of Women

Parliament-Lower House 86 184 32%

Parliament-Upper House 38 42 48%

Cabinet Ministers 4 22 15%

Provincial Ministers 4 6 40%

Boards of Parastatals /State Enterprises 29 71 29%

Chief Executive Officers of Parastatals /State Enterprises 23 77 23%

Vice Chancellors of State Universities 3 8 27%

Ambassadors 10 31 24%

Consulars 0 5 0%

Source:, 2016.

2.4 Legislation to assist employment equity in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe passed a new Constitution in 2013, which provides a strong legal framework for the promotion and attainment of gender equality and women’s empowerment. The Constitution also elaborates provisions on gender equality and women empowerment. The Zimbabwean Constitution, in Section 17, also states that there must be full gender balance and the full participation of women in all spheres of Zimbabwean life on the basis of equality with men.  Despite the legal commitment to gender equality at the international, regional and national levels, women and girls in Zimbabwe continue to face a myriad of challenges in the political, social and economic spheres as a consequence of gender inequalities and imbalances.

The Constitution requires the State to ensure that all international conventions, treaties and agreements to which Zimbabwe is a party are incorporated into domestic law, thus creating a legal platform for accountability. The announcement of the new Constitution in Zimbabwe saw women celebrate the inclusion of provisions on gender equality and women’s rights in the supreme law of the land. Since its political independence, Zimbabwe has made significant strides in amending and ratifying legislation to assist women empowerment and has passed out several pieces of legislation to advance the gender equality and equity objective. Some of the legislation include:

• Equal Pay Regulations (1980)

• Minimum wages stipulated (1980)

• Labour Relations Act (1984)

• Matrimonial Causes Act No 33 (1985)

• Public Service Pensions (Amendment) Regulations (1985)

• Deeds Registry Amendment Act (1991)

• Constitutional Amendment Act (1996)

• Sexual Offences Act (2001)

• Education Act (2004)

• Domestic Violence Act (2007)

• Regulations on Fair Treatment (2013)

The Constitution of Zimbabwe adopted in 2013 is widely acknowledged for its firm commitment to gender equity. The affirmative action provisions further decree the new Constitution’s resolve for gender inequality amends. The Constitution regurgitates earlier commitments shown by the 2005 Constitutional Amendment (17) which prohibited discrimination on the grounds of sex. Chapter 2 on National Objectives spells out gender balance as one of the objectives to guide the state, all institutions and agencies of government. Throughout the statement of 26 national objectives, equality is emphasised and, where appropriate, women and girls are specifically mentioned. The Bill of Rights in Chapter 4 of the 2013 Constitution recognises that men and women have a right to equal treatment, including the right to equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social spheres.

2.4.1 Affirmative action

Government affirmative action policies are those in which a country aggressively engages in efforts to improve opportunities for historically excluded groups in society (Kellough, 1992). Affirmative action policies often emphasize on employment and education. In institutions of higher learning, affirmative action refers to admission policies that provide equal access to education for those groups that have been historically excluded or underrepresented, such as women. Controversy surrounding the constitutionality of affirmative action programmes has made the topic one of heated debate. Lombardo (2015), expressed these concerns on affirmative action:

It can serve as reverse discrimination. More qualified and hardworking men can be passed over strictly because of historical advantages.

It can generate unfavourable results for businesses and schools. Workers and students, who are put into a position through this policy, are often not fully ready for the task.

It can lower the accountability standards that are needed to push employees and students to perform better. It is important to reward discipline, hard work and achievement; to not do it simply because a student is a member of a group, nor punish her because she is not.

It can be a costly programme. To create an equal opportunity, someone taking advantage of affirmative action may need to have supplemental vocational training or educational opportunities to bring them up to speed.

It can potentially create a stigma that minorities and women obtain positions in a company based on gender, race or ethnicity, rather than through achievement and qualifications.

It is clear affirmative action was not some sinister plan invented in Zimbabwe and has been widely used in many countries such as USA, India, Nigeria, Canada, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Brazil and South Africa (Debatepedia, 2017). Affirmative action can, oddly, enough, feed rather than suppress the flames of sex bias in organisations. However, the potential benefits and the results that it can create in the workplace should not be underestimated.

2.4.2 The Backlash Effect

Korolczuk (2014) defines “backlash” as an opposing reaction to something which has gained popularity, prominence, or influence. Backlash effects are defined as social and economic reprisals for behaving counter stereotypically (Rudman and Phelan, 2008). The term is commonly applied to gender and racial discrimination and religious discrimination against minority groups, as well as in response to certain events or circumstances. The notion of ‘backlash’ is often presented as a simple reaction by men against a growth in women’s rights

Brenner, Tomkiewicz, and Schein (1989) and Jackson, Esses and Burris (2001) agree that women may face subconscious discrimination due to the female stereotype assigned to them as being caring and nurturing. On the other hand, female managers who display so-called ‘masculine’ qualities and behaviours such as aggressiveness, tough-mindedness, confidence and self-assurance, are negatively evaluated as they have violated their gender role (Heilman, Block, Martell, and Simon, 1998). Although such women are typically seen to be more competent than their more ‘feminine’ peers, it has also been demonstrated that they are less skilled socially and are, therefore, less likely to receive promotions (Rudman and Glick, 2001). Kanter (1977) agreed that women who attempted to emulate male management traits were regarded as being too aggressive, leading to male and female colleague hostility, leaving these women very isolated and therefore in a difficult position.

Male backlash has effects on women, men and organisations. Male backlash affects the interaction of men and women, resulting in increased tension between them. It also solidifies the bonds between some men as they share the emotion that they are a threatened species and that they are now being discriminated against. Male backlash also has an effect on organisations in a variety of ways. Considerable energy may be dissipated in tension, anger, resentment and frustration. Men may rebel against and undermine organisational efforts to support women’s career advancement (Burke and Black, 1997). The potential for affirmative action backlash is especially great in instances of promotion where women are given preferential treatment (Rosen and Jerdee, 1979). Organisations need to develop strategies to deal with male backlash.

2.5 Barriers to women advancement to senior management position

Traditionally, women were usually put in charge of low-ranking positions with repetitive tasks. Mostly, they performed their duties in staff positions or as assistant line managers and rarely did they hold the responsibilities of line managers (Yazdani, Roshanzade, and Seyed-Javadin, 2007). Although this has changed, women still face barriers when advancing to senior management positions. According to Tanton (1994), the barriers women face as they advance to senior management positions are very grave. While these barriers have blocked women aspiring to break the glass ceiling, they have kept the symbolic representative already in the glass ceiling very lonely. These barriers are shown in Figure 2.2 and are organisational level barriers, societal level barriers and individual level barriers.

Figure 2.2 Gender barriers when advancing to senior management

Source: Developed by researcher

2.5.1 Internal Organisational Structural Barriers

At the organisational level, certain workplace practices have been reported to be obstacles for women’s career advancement. According to the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission (1995), institutional or organisational barriers are barriers within direct business control which include outreach and recruitment practices that do not seek out or reach out to recruit minorities and women. Institutional barriers could be a result of policies, processes, practices sustaining an organisation by excluding certain people or groups; an obvious example being what has been called the ‘glass ceiling’, a ceiling which exists beyond which women find it very difficult to progress.

Schwartz (1992) reported that organisations can be arranged into a hierarchy of levels according to their support for women and their career aspirations.

1. Zero level organisations are those who take no action in developing women.

2. Level one is an organisation which wishes to keep ahead of the law (legislative) change but takes no initiative in levelling the playing field.

3.  Level two organisations want to do the right thing and have formulated a few policies such as part-time work and unpaid maternity leave. However, they are still essentially male domains despite some progressive policies.

4. Level three organisations couple their passion for developing women with a strategic plan for implementing change.

5. Level four organisations are ‘mythical’ ones, who think the level playing field will become a reality.

6.  Level five organisations are ‘off the charts’ in their support for women.

A Canadian study using this typology found that most organisations could be classified in levels one and zero (Burke, 1993). Given the lack of progress for women generally in senior positions, it can perhaps be safely assumed that the Canadian experience is also repeated in Zimbabwe. Organisational culture

The ‘glass ceiling’ could be reflected in organisations’ culture, organisations’ practices, and organisations’ climate. Randlesome (2002) described the notion of organisational culture as the attitudes, values and norms of an organisation; these have a major impact on the behaviour of people in organisations. It is common to find that organisational cultures strengthen the lower participation of women and minorities as they struggle for equal opportunities (Strachan, French and Burgess, 2010).

Itzin (1995, p.49) argues that discrimination based on gender is embedded in the culture of organisations. She develops the concept of a “gender culture” (Itzin, 1995, p.30), which is an organisational culture where gender plays a role in every attitude, belief and behaviour within the organisation. The gender culture is not explicitly stated within the organisation, but instead it is integrated in the way that things work (Itzin, 1995). When organisations have a male culture, it makes it difficult for women to move past low or middle-level management positions and reach senior management positions. In such cultures different organisational practices can indicate to women that they are not regarded as full organisational members. For example, female employees might be left out from networking events that are rooted in what Itzin  (1995, p.47) calls “male-oriented activities”, that the motivation language in the organisation consists of “male-oriented metaphors”, or that it is a culture where long hours are expected of senior management, which can be harder for women due to domestic responsibilities.

A study by Kakabadse, Bank and Vinnicombe (2004) found that when people think about or discuss managers, leaders or power, they are always thinking about males. So this suggests that there is an attitude that it is right and appropriate that males be in leadership posts, as opposed to women. Job evaluation and promotions were originally designed by men, and at that time they hardly understood the pressure of family obligations (Crampton and Mishra, 1999). In addition, organisational cultures often fail to acknowledge women as managers, and women are often rejected for networking opportunities (Tokunaga, and Graham, 1996).

Another barrier to women’s advancement, which is also linked to a male-dominant organisational culture, is that workplaces and management tracks are based on a traditional way of life, where the male is viewed as the breadwinner and woman as housewife (Bilimoria, 2007). Women say that the dominance of male values in corporate culture, combined with a belief that women do not make good leaders, are the main barriers to their advancement, ahead of conflict with family obligations (Wirth, 2001; Catalyst, 2007). There is an assumption that senior management positions are normally fulltime and usually involve long working hours, which conflicts with strong social norms for women to be the primary caregivers (Eagly and Carli, 2007; Gratton, Kelan and Walker, 2007b).

Rutherford (2001) argues that an organisation’s cultural barriers would need to be changed in order to overcome the situation of female exclusion. However, he further states that this might be difficult as there usually is a lot of resistance towards changing an organisational culture. The view that it is difficult to change an organisational culture is shared by Beer and Nohria (2000, p.15). They argue that organisational culture is difficult to change because it consists of belief systems and values that have developed over time. Simply changing structures or systems will therefore not change the culture itself. Role of human resources department

In human resources the term glass ceiling refers to an artificial barrier based on attitudinal or organisational bias which stops qualified women or other minorities from advancing upward into senior management positions. It can also refer to situations where the advancement of a qualified person within the hierarchy of an organisation is stopped at a lower level because of some form of discrimination, most commonly sexism or racism; but since the term was coined, glass ceiling has also come to describe the limited advancement of the deaf, blind, disabled, and aged. Discrimination is a familiar experience for women and ethnic minorities in many organisations, and the glass ceiling is a common barrier for ethnic minorities and women who press forward to reach the top level of organisations (Apea, 2010).

Many companies rely on word-of-mouth and employee recommendations for senior management positions. Since the bulk of senior management positions are held by men, networking among males is likely to result in the awarding of more jobs to men. Corporate climates sometimes alienate and isolate minorities and women. Sometimes the informal nature of the interview process can be a barrier to women; many senior management interviews are held in non-traditional, male-dominated venues, such as hotels, bars, or golf courses, which can put women at a disadvantage.

Another internal structural barrier that the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission (1995) classified under human resources department was lack of opportunity for women to contribute and participate in professional development. Individuals with potential are often identified by senior management early in their careers and given opportunities, such as additional education, development programmes, mentoring, high profile positions and choice assignments, which facilitate their movement up the career ladder.  The Federal Glass Ceiling Commission also reported that women were rarely included in these programmes which hindered their ability to advance in an organisation.

Senior management usually creates goals for minorities and women as part of a succession planning process. Succession plans ensure business continuity and leadership through identifying in-house talent. Support and progression of all employees is a key function in succession planning. Employers can help women break through the glass ceiling by looking closely at the women they currently employ who demonstrate both interest and skill in moving up in the organisation. Identifying talent is the first step in providing opportunities to employees, regardless of gender. Organisational structures

Organisational structures can impede female advancement. These structures include male dominated “old boys networks,” increased ambiguity about advancement, and glass cliffs. Existing networks in organisations can often be similar and established. They are difficult for women to break into as women are often uncomfortable with networking in the social context of these settings and are also unable to commit the extra time outside of work hours due to their home commitments (Broughton and Miller, 2009, p.17).

The old boys’ network can be defined as a system of social networking and perceptions alleged to exist usually among certain communities and social strata.  According to Taylor (2001) members of this old boys network attempt to shield themselves from performing with opportunistic or incompetent individuals by rarely dealing with unconfirmed non-members. Gransmark (2010) described the old boys’ network as a situation where the main group is over-represented among the recruiters for executive jobs and prefer to hire employees with a similar background as themselves as well as act as gatekeepers, reducing the possibilities for others to obtain the high-status jobs.

Many organisations still have patriarchal structures, as a result such structures have been termed corporate patriarchy. Corporate patriarchy creates a class divide — they/them vs. we/us — and thus erodes connectedness. The higher a man climbs the corporate ladder, the more he is expected to conform to the patriarchal expectations within the good old boys’ network. The old boys’ network also includes the difference in leadership style. Green and Cassell (1996) suggest that women are seen to lack masculine qualities and are characterized as relatively submissive, nurturing, warm, kind and selflessness. Thus, women tend to be grouped in departments such as human resource, credit, and secretarial, with the majority of women concentrated at entry level positions in the organisation (Jamali, Safieddine and Daouk, 2007).

Ragins, Townsend, and Mattis (1998) reported that if women adopt a feminine managerial style, they run the risk of being viewed as ineffective, and if they adopt a masculine style, they will be criticized for not being feminine. Therefore, women at an executive position try so hard to develop a professional style by creating a comfortable working atmosphere around their colleagues and other male managers. Oakley (2000) reflects that women in senior positions may also be viewed as a threat by their male counterparts due to their propensity to challenge the status quo.

Catalyst and Kraft General Foods  (1990)  research suggests that corporate initiatives are most likely to succeed where (1) the CEO and senior managers recognize and articulate the business case for advancing minorities and women and strategies for advancing minorities and women are embedded in the organisation’s strategic business plan; (2) research is embarked on to identify the specific barriers in the culture and working environment that obstruct minorities’ and women’s progress; (3) managers are held responsible for the development and advancement of minorities and women, results are measured and reviewed by executive leadership of the organisation and incentives or rewards are tied to successful performance in this area; (4) training is implemented to address stereotypes and preconceptions about minorities’ and women’s abilities and suitability for careers in business and to equip managers to coach and develop minorities and women who report to them; (5) a system is implemented to identify and monitor the progress of high potential minorities and women and to ensure that they acquire a broad range of experience in core business areas so that they will be able to compete with men for leadership positions in the organisation.

It is important to note that organisations are often a reflection of the society in which they exist, changing employment policies and practices cannot totally solve the barriers that women are facing to advancement. As a result, the effect of even the most promising strategies may be limited by outside forces. However, changes in organisations to eliminate barriers to advancement may well be a first step towards breaking down these barriers on a societal level.

2.5.2 Societal Barriers

Social barriers are barriers to advancement faced by women. These are created by the culture of the community. Research conducted by Kolb (2013) and Robin, Herminia, and Kolb (2011) shows that women face subtle gender bias in the society which disrupts their ability of becoming a leader. Gender Stereotypes

A stereotype can be defined as a broad generalisation of a group, which may, or may not, be representative of an individual (Hall and Carter, 1999). Gender stereotypes are generalised beliefs about the qualities and characteristics attributed to men and women in society (Eagly, 1987). Men are generally characterised as risk takers, aggressive, self-sufficient and decisive while women are characterised as kind, humble, caring and relational. These characteristics and qualities often dictate the type of jobs considered appropriate to them, resulting in a situation in which the essential characteristics for some jobs are defined in terms of gender (Heilman, 1997). For example, we hear more of male engineers and female crèche teachers than vice versa; gender stereotyping strengthens the idea that crèche teachers require characteristics associated more with females, rather than males.

Generally, leadership evaluation in organisations has been reported to be discriminatory and prejudiced due to the absence of clear guidelines in the evaluation process (Heilman, 1997). It has been suggested that the insufficiency of women in senior management may be a result of gender bias in evaluation. These stereotypes may contribute to the under-evaluation of women’s abilities and delay the recognition they are entitled to receive, especially when women perform well in domains that have been seen as male-oriented. Such stereotypes are capable of influencing evaluation of female workers.

Research conducted by Eagly, Makhijani, and Klonsky (1992), shows that men and women also differ in “task orientation”,  i.e., a leadership behavioural approach in which the leader focuses on the tasks that need to be performed in order to meet certain goals, or to achieve a certain performance standard. Women are rated more highly in task orientation and therefore less favourably for advancement while men are rated lower in task orientation and therefore more favourably in advancement for decisive roles (Eagly, Makhijani, and Klonsky, 1992).

The Social Role Theory (Eagly, 1987) argues that behaviour is strongly influenced by gender roles when cultures endorse gender stereotypes and form firm expectations based on those stereotypes. People develop expectations for their own and others’ behaviour based on cultural beliefs about what is appropriate for men and women. For example, if a woman were to open a car door for a man before she walked around to get in the car herself, we might find her behaviour odd based on what we know of men and women’s typical behaviour. Social Role Theory suggests that individuals might question the capability of women in certain positions, such as leadership roles. As a result, men who are regarded as argentic often occupy leadership roles.

However, Sczesny and Kuhnen (2004) revealed that social stereotypes do not always affect the decisions and behaviour of individuals. For example, when recruiters and managers consider their decision carefully and methodically, they become more inclined to correct or adjust these stereotypes. In other words, cautious, systematic recruiters and managers do not perceive males as more suitable leaders than females.

2.5.3 Individual barriers

Research carried out by CEDA (2013) indicates that at an individual level women lack confidence to succeed, often leading them to making decisions that affect their career prospects. Research by Trinidad and Normore (2005) shows that individual barriers often result in women choosing consciously or subconsciously not to participate or present themselves for CEO positions, either permanently or even in a temporary or acting capacity. Individual mind-sets are the most significant barrier for women when advancing to senior management positions. Individual mind-sets are the thoughts and behaviours that women might have, resulting in them not reaching out for senior positions. Lack of ambition

For men, ambition is considered a necessary and desirable part of life. Most women, however, associate ambition with egotism, self-glorification, or manipulation. Research conducted by Ryan, Haslam and Bellenca (2015) indicates that many women are just as ambitious as men when they begin their careers, but become so wearied by fighting against multiple structural and experiential barriers to their success that this ambition often wanes. Psychological glass ceiling

Nietzsche, the German philosopher in the 19th century said that the worst enemy of a person is himself or herself. In the children’s folk tale “Cinderella”, if Cinderella had not gone to the ball and met the Prince there, her wicked and evil stepmother would have never become a barrier to her happy-ever-after life. Austin (2009) suggests that women have the real ability for career advancement but they do not have faith in themselves. He argues that women can reach the top in their profession. He further states that some women even find it impossible to be successful in private and professional life simultaneously. All in all, the highest and hardest ceiling that women have to break are the barriers they create themselves. Cox (1996) states that women need more examples of strong and successful women to see themselves as strong but they are just surrounded by influential examples of men and fragile ones of women. Additionally, the limited number of women in senior positions also leads to the insufficiency of female role models (Castano, Martin, Vazquez and Martinez, 2010). Work-Life Balance

Traditionally, women have been the caregivers of their families and are considered the nurturers and the men as the breadwinners that go out to work and support the family (Sundaresan, 2014). However, the nature of the workforce has transitioned and the number of women in the workforce has increased. Women assume the role of two full time jobs – one at home and the other at the office (Sundaresan, 2014).

Work-life balance is defined as the amount of time one spends doing their job compared with the amount of time they spend with family and doing things they enjoy. Work-life balance is experienced when pressures from work and family roles are mutually incompatible, such that involvement in one role makes it difficult to participate in the other (Twomey, Linehan, and James, 2002). Women continue to take accountability for household tasks and child nurturing, regardless of how many hours they work outside home. Burke and McKeen (1994) note that working women experience more stress than working men. Furthermore, in terms of family responsibilities, women may be disadvantaged beyond a certain level in the hierarchy where 100% commitment to the organisation may be expected. For women, work-life balance includes taking care of children and old parents and usually women’s thoughts focus more on becoming a good mother and wife before becoming a successful manager. Hoobler, Wayne and Lemmon (2009), state that women generally continue to bear most of the burden of child care and household chores compared with men.

Women with caring responsibilities are aware that devoting time to family demands will have negative career consequences (Thompson, Beauvaisa and Lyness, 1999). Women have a greater conflict in the family-work conflict than men, resulting in the assumption that women are incompatible with the job and organisation, and therefore unsuitable for promotion (Hoobler, Wayne and Lemmon, 2009). However, Lyness and Heilman (2006) note that men are viewed as fitting in with the job and organisation as they are perceived as having less family responsibility, hence they are favourable to advancement.

However, a study by McGinnity and Keane (2009) revealed that the benefit of employment for women outweighs any of the family-work conflict. In countries like Finland, at the societal level, women’s involvement in working life is assisted by extensive childcare support and maternity and child allowances, which enable Finnish women to combine work and family responsibilities and permit them to have professional careers (Crompton and Lyontee, 2006). Similarly, in Zimbabwe women are given paid maternity leave and in Japan, to keep women in the military workforce, the country introduced childcare and laundry facilities to facilitate working mothers and their return to the workforce. Lack of mentors

Another barrier to women in leadership is the lack of a critical mass of senior or visibly successful female role models and mentors. Irby (2014) defines mentoring as a relationship between two people in which the senior mentor is offering guidance to a junior protégé. The arrangement generally involves a person in a leadership position providing guidance and assistance to an individual in a more junior position. Garvey, Stokes and Megginson (2014) state that mentoring is a resource that can be beneficial to the success of someone building his or her career. Women face gender-related barriers that prevent them from developing the interpersonal relationships and career guidance that is inherent in mentoring (Lyness and Thompson, 2000; Ragins and Cotton, 1991). Cross-gender mentoring relationships have been hampered by fear from men that the relationship may be perceived to be improper. Mentors and sponsors may play a key role in encouraging women to pursue leadership positions, particularly during the vital early career period. Mentors are vital, as they act as advisers who offer career guidance and assistance in manoeuvring organisations’ hierarchy.

In summary, the understanding of gender should be put in the social setting. Gender inequalities are widely noted in all aspects of life. The number of male executives still significantly exceeds the number of their female counterparts, and there are many reasons leading to this situation. This could be a result of visible factors, such as the lack of experience, gender stereotypes and invisible factors such as the psychological glass ceiling that women build themselves. Incremental and significant changes in the attitudes and activities of both corporations and female employees may help to provide women with more opportunities for career progression.

2.6 Conclusion

Gender inequalities can be observed in many cultures and societies, in the labour market and executive level positions despite the level of development. The common opinion of the glass ceiling as an invisible or artificial barrier to women’s career advancement has been established in most research on this topic. Researchers generally note the insignificant number of female executives in comparison with that of male executives in all the fields throughout the world despite the increasing number of females in the workforce and in managerial positions (Bell, McLaughlin, and Sequeira, 2002; Daft and Pirola-Merlo, 2009).

Scholars such as Northouse (2013) agree that it is imperative for organisations to diversify the workforce to ensure the organisations’ competitive advantage and effective performance. The barriers that prevent women from advancing can be categorised into three groups: organisational barriers, societal barriers and individual barriers. The first two groups are the external factors while the last one is the internal factor from women themselves. In the end, it is women who choose to confront the glass ceiling or accept it as an excuse to give up on career progression (Carnes and Radojevich-Kelley, 2011).

After the literature review, the focus will now be on the research methodology.

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