The glass ceiling: gender stereotypes in the workplace
When a woman starts her professional career, she knows that she faces not only the challenges that come with her chosen profession, but the stereotypes that follow her when she joins her profession as a woman.
What comes to women’s mind when we hear the expression ‘gender stereotypes’? “rejection” it’s probably the first word to appear on the long list, and it’s a direct result of the way society categorizes women. The social construct of women’s roles has been focusing on our biological roles of mothers and spouses and imply inferiority when it comes to participating in public and professional life.
This article tries to contextualize the ways in which women are discriminated in the workplace and the way that gender stereotypes are based on the assumption that men are more than women in management positions, (cited in Flanagan, 2015).
Gender stereotypes in the workplace represent an invisible barrier that gets in the way of women in relation to men. It puts men on the top in high level positions, and relegates women to medium or low-level positions. When combined with a gender gap in terms of salary, all this together is known as ‘the glass ceiling’.
Defining threats: how gender stereotypes affect the perception of women in the workplace
A stereotype is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as a “widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing” (cited in Bordalo, Coffman, Gennaioli and Shleifer, 2016).
When gender stereotypes are based on biological features (Aragón Álvarez, 2011) turn out determinist, they have pejorative connotations for women. In this sense, Donna Bobbit-Zeher (2011) states that gender discrimination is the product of a combination of cultural ideas about gender, structural policies that affect women and men differently, and decisions to apply or enforce those policies on workers by gender.
Within the context of a patriarchal society, we often tend to normalize discrimination as part of the systematic violence that women face every day in public and private spaces. Discrimination re-enforces ideas that limit women and prevent them developing their potential, putting a ‘glass ceiling’ between men and women. The term ’glass ceiling’ was conceived during the 1980s by Ann Morrison. This term implies that there’s a limit, preventing career growth, which is ‘glass’ and so transparent and ‘unseen’ (Shabbir, Ashar Shakeel and Ahsan Zubair, 2016).
In terms of their professional careers, women are programmed to work harder than men and assume more roles including ‘traditional roles’ This puts them at a disadvantage and implies that our male counterparts are more ambitious, more competent and skilled, (cited in Shabbir, Ashar Shakeel and Ahsan Zubair, 2016).
The theory of biological determinism relates to gender theory. It argues that there are features which can be attributed to men and women biologically. It also creates a social construction around this to determine behaviors and gender roles that men and women have in society, and the social construction deems other perceptions of gender roles unacceptable. This is one of the main factors that contributes to maintaining the gender gap, (Ortega, Torres and Salguero, 2001).
Reasons behind the lack of women at top level positions in the workplace
According to a 2017 BBC News report ‘A glass ceiling – or a broken ladder?’, women hold one in four senior leadership roles worldwide. In Mexico, through data provided by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), we found that only 10% of administrative council’s positions are occupied by women. The wage gap is also a relevant obstacle, with women’s salaries are 16.7% less than men (Forbes, 2017).
Beyond the reticence of enterprises to hire women for top level positions, we find the social construction of gender roles assumes women are responsible for domestic roles, a responsibility that in many cases they are forced to accept. In Mexico, domestic roles assumed by women involve about four hours more work than men per day, based on OECD information (Forbes, 2017).
The gender pay gap: the most important barrier to tear down in order to achieve ‘equal pay for equal work’.
In terms of salary, there’s a persistent gender pay gap between men and women carrying out the same kind of work, this is due to the lack of gender equality in the workplace (cited in Bobbitt-Zeher, 2011).
Based on historical data from the USA during the 1950s, the pay gap hovered around 60 cents per dollar and it was caused by several factors. These factors included lower education rates of women (not attending college for example), women not being in the workforce in big numbers, and because it was perfectly legal to pay women less therefore, discrimination was legal (VOX, 2018).
According to Pew Research Center analysis “the gender gap in pay has narrowed since 1980, but it has remained relatively stable over the past 15 years or so. In 2017, women earned 82% of what men earned.” (Forbes, 2018). Instead of progressive achievements in terms of closing the wage gap, this gap persists as well as occupational segregation by gender (Gibelman, 2003). We need to take measures to address the change that we want to see in the future.
Making changes and taking on leadership
How much are we as women responsible for perpetuating these behaviors? We need to make things different to achieve different results. We need to move forward and close the gender gap. We need to empower ourselves and make difficult decisions that will remove stereotypes and change the way we are perceived in society.
We must stop being afraid of assume high levels of responsibility, like top level positions as CEOs or any kind of management positions we aspire to. At the end of the day, if we as women assume our responsibilities and assume the leadership in our professional careers in the workplace, we’ll be able to tear down the gender stereotypes and determinist ideologies. Furthermore, we can redesign the way we’re perceived in a society that needs substantive changes to achieve gender equality and parity between men and women.
Aragón Álvarez, A. 2011. Men are warriors and women peacemakers? The gender stereotyping in the international security field. Prisma Social. Available at: https://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/articulo?codigo=3806212[Accessed 18 December 2019].
BBC News. 2017. A glass ceiling – or a broken ladder? BBC News. Available at https://www.youtube.com/: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yk1K1dHgXi4[Accessed 18 November 2019].
Bordalo, P., Coffman, K., Gennaioli, N., & Shleifer, A. 2016. Stereotypes. The Quarterly Journal of Economics131, no. 4, 1753-1794
Bobbitt-Zeher, D. 2011. Gender discrimination at work: Connecting Gender Stereotypes, Institutional Policies, and Gender Composition of Workplace. Gender and Society, 25(6) December, 764-786.
Flanagan, J. 2015. Gender and the Workplace: The Impact of Stereotype Threat on Self-Assessment of Management Skills of Female Business Students. Advancing Women in Leadership, Vol. 35. September, 166-171.
Mackenzie, D. 2017. Mujeres mexicanas ocupan menos puestos directivos que hombres: OCDE /Mexican women hold fewer managerial positions than men: OECD. Forbes. Available at: https://www.forbes.com.mx/: https://www.forbes.com.mx/las-mujeres-mexicanas-ocupan-menos-puestos-directivos-que-los-hombres-ocde/[Accessed 17 November 2019].
Allen, T. 2018. Six Hard Trust for Women Regarding the Glass Ceiling. Forbes. Available at https://www.forbes.com/sites/terinaallen/2018/08/25/six-6-hard-truths-for-women-regarding-that-glass-ceiling/#2f72fc66427f. [Accessed 15th November 2019].
Gibelman, M. 2003. So, how far have we come? Pestilent and persistent Gender Gap in Pay. Social Work, 48(1) January, 22-32.
Shabbir, H., Ashar Shakeel, M., & Ahsan Zubair, R. 2016. Gender Stereotype, Glass Ceiling, and Women’s career advancement: an empirical study in service sector of Pakistan . City University Research Journal, 236-246.
VOX (Producer). (2018). Explained: Why women are paid less?[TV Series]. Season 1 episode 3. Netflix.
Irelyd is a mexican internationalist researcher who has been working in projects of sustainability and food security for UN Agencies as FAO and UNDP.
She’s a passionate for gender issues and international affairs. She discovered her vocation for gender issues when she was working for UNDP where gender issues have always been a priority when it comes to implement projects with a high social impact in order to promote gender equality between the target population as well as increase the way that women participate inside society.
She has a BA degree in International Relations from Autonomous University of Puebla and she just finished her Master in International Affairs in Anáhuac University in Mexico city specialized in International Security. Currently she is developing her Master thesis about the participation of women in political and statebuildingprocesses in Bosnia and Herzegovina in Post-Dayton era basing her research lines on women empowerment, deconstructing gender stereotypes, Agenda 2030 United Nations as well as closing the gender gap in post-conflict scenarios. She will love to replicate their knowledges through initiatives ad hoc in Mexico and contributing to create a more inclusive society with gender approach closing the gender the gap salary according to the principles of “equal pay for equal work”.
You can follow Irelyd on Twitter and Instagram as @ir3lyd
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