Negotiating Tensions between Theory and Practice
Edited by Julie Wolfram Cox, Tony G. LeTrent-Jones, Maxim Voronov and David Weir
Chapter 16: The Trouble with the Glass Ceiling: Critical Reflections on a Famous Concept
Yvonne Benschop and Margo Brouns INTRODUCTION The glass ceiling has become a central notion in the field of gender in organizations. It is part of organizational practice in the sense that organizations wanting to increase the number of women in higher functions have formulated remedies against the glass ceiling. It is embraced as a metaphor in the popular business and management press to account for the lack of women in top positions, and it also frequently appears in the scientific literature, where it refers to ‘a transparent barrier, that kept women from rising above a certain level in companies’ (Morrison, White and Van Velsor 1987, p. 13). According to this concept, the glass ceiling is not simply a barrier to individuals because of their inability to handle a higher-level job. Rather, the glass ceiling applies to women as a group who are kept from advancing higher because they are women (Morrison et al. 1987, p. 13). The glass ceiling obviously is a powerful and influential image, and has been for over twenty years now. It has connected scholarship, policy strategies and practices. It is easily mobilized in political rhetoric. It is striking that there is little critical reflection on the glass ceiling and that this metaphor has come to live a life of its own. To our knowledge, Calás and Smircich’s overview of feminist approaches to organization studies (1996) is the only piece in which the concept, its meaning and its importance are critically questioned as an example of...
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