Even Internet companies, supposed to be based on meritocracy, have an overwhelming number of men in the top positions. Hamm-Greenawalt (2000) reports that of 49 new chief technology officers "not one was a woman" (p. 70). Among 129 new CEOs in Internet companies, only one is a woman. In the top 50 Net companies, only two have female chief executives. Jones (2001) also points out that companies are failing "to position women in the pipeline to become CEOs in the near future, as measured by the decline in the number of female corporate officers with line, or profit-and-loss, responsibilities" (p. 15). Clearly, there is a glass ceiling, cracking or not, which has significantly slowed down women's progress in business.
What is the Glass Ceiling?
Women define the glass ceiling as conditions at work where their contributions are not recognized or valued; nobody takes them seriously; they feel isolated as either the only woman or just one of a few; and they feel like a minority. Women complain that they are excluded from informal networks and socializing, such as going to lunch and playing golf -- and this is important because "The golf course is where strategic alliances can be formed -- relationships with co-workers, supervisors, and executives who can further your cause" (Jenkins, 2004, p. 86). Sometimes women are even excluded from training opportunities. They are left out of locker room conversations and the Old Boy Network.
Furthermore, many women have complained that they are facing inhospitable corporate cultures. Sometimes, the hostility of a corporate culture is subtle and unintentional, but women are still faced with overcoming the stereotypes that are holding them back (Solomon, 2000). Lack of mentors, role models, and networking opportunities are also barriers to women's success.
Women who do become leaders continue to face obstacles even when they reach the top. They often point out the difficulty of securing capital. Venture-One, a company that provides information on venture-backed companies and investors, reports that in 1999 venture-capital firms funded only 57 women CEOs (or 6%) out of 961 Internet companies. Venture-capital firms tend to be run by men who prefer to fund men. Not everyone believes they intentionally discriminate against women-owned companies, of course. It has been suggested that "Old Boy's Networks" are formed primarily back in business college where there were not enough women students. However, the U.S. Department of Education reports 58,000 men and 35,000 women earned master's degrees in business and marketing in 1996, so the argument doesn't really hold. No doubt today those numbers have increased. Others have suggested that "Old Boy Networks" favor men simply because the networks are composed of men who have worked together for a long time (Hamm-Greenawalt, 2000). Whatever the reason, Jones (2001) states: "Until 1999, only 2% of all venture capital raised went to women-owned companies. In 2000, during the Internet boom, the figure doubled to 4%.
When women describe barriers and obstacles to their advancement, they frequently say that the higher up a person goes, the more who you know makes a significant difference" (p. 16). Snyder (2002) in her article aptly titled "The Glass Boardroom Ceiling," comments, "Women quickly have discovered that chief executive officers and nominating committees often recruit based upon a 'whom do you know' and 'who knows you' culture....the vast majority of these women...fail to garner the visibility necessary to cross the radar screens of CEOs and nominating committees" (p. 21). The shortage of women sitting on Boards affects the policies companies enact toward women, such as maternity leaves, women's health benefits, and flexible hours, benefits that tend to be more woman-friendly when there are more women on the Board.
Visibility is a big problem for women trying to break through the glass ceiling.
Some women say the glass ceiling is more like cement -- impermeable and difficult to see through clearly. Jenkins (2004) explains the visibility problem by stating, "While women are doing the grunt work, men are building their careers." Women are frequently found in positions where their activities are not readily seen or appreciated. They don't get the high profile assignments. They work hard and diligently, but nobody notices. For women the path to upper management is filled with pitfalls, detours, and dead ends.
The problem of favoring man over women is deeply-rooted in our society. Our patriarchal socialization is so great and so complete, that gender discrimination is frequently unconscious. It can readily be seen that discrimination is not usually a matter of one person hating another person because of her gender. Legally, sex discrimination is about one person having power to exercise excessive control over another person and having the power to adversely affect her because she is female. That is what we see happening to women in the workplace. Probably, discrimination will continue for some time into the future, but if women make as much progress in the next 40 years as they made since the 1960s, conditions in the workplace will be much better for them.
Gibelman, M. (2003). So how far have we come? Pestilent and persistent gender gap in pay. Social Work, 48 (1), 22-33.
Hamm-Greenawalt, L. (2000). Babes in boyland, Internet World, 6 (6) 15 Mar., 70-82. Retrieved from WilsonSelect database 2/25/06.
Jenkins, M. (2004). Getting the corner office. Black Enterprise, 35 (1) Aug., 78-80, 82, 85-86. Retrieved from WilsonSelect database 2/25/06.