The Glass Ceiling – whose face doesn’t fit?

This week Lord Davies will be reporting on gender equality in the board room and as a precursor to its publication, the Institute of Leadership and Management has published the finding of its research on the glass ceiling. They make interesting but sadly unsurprising reading.

They surveyed 3,000 managers; 73% of the women agreed that the glass ceiling still exists, whereas only 38% of men did – wherein the problem lies. The rest of their finding, interesting though they are need go no further than their basic starting point. Men do not see that women are held back, but women do – a direct pointer to gender inequality.

When working with a large international company a while ago, I was astounded by the level the glass ceiling had been set at and was being maintained at, despite laudable rhetoric. Blatantly, the senior management recruited to ‘their club’ not just from a gender perspective, but also race, culture and class; looking for their own cultural fit. How do they get away with it in today’s supposedly egalitarian world of recruitment?

They gave me the standard justification; in the past they had looked for people who would fit into their social, as well as working relationships.

The all male board asked for help in opening the door for women in their company to climb the ladder through management and into the board-room and in so doing “smash the glass ceiling”. However, their request was based not on a moral or social imperative or even a drive for equality, but rather being seen to be doing the right thing “and I’m sure” I was told by one board member “that there will be some long term benefit for the company as well”; words but little action. They had not even taken the time to think through what the benefits might be.

The male board was a club with restricted access. All their actions presented as a male environment that women were peripheral to and not a part of. Their language and their actions were exclusive, but they did not realise it. Even their monthly board meetings were conducted out of the office, in a hired room at their golf club. If weather permitted a round was also on the cards. They actually thought their request to open up their company to women was genuine. I asked them whether they thought women would want to join. Not very likely, I mused.

I would be very surprised if Lord Davies’ report will come out with any new or astounding findings. We only need to view a few statistics to see where women fit in management hierarchies – not senior enough, for sure!

Someone suggested to me yesterday that “we still have another ten years of fighting for gender equality, even though we have been on the journey for forty years”. Nothing will change until men at the top, those in power, really commit to making change. It’s time to see action back up words.

About equalityedge

I run Equality Edge and its unique and creative "Working with Difference" project. It supports employers and managers in gaining a competitive and cost saving advantage from meeting equality and diversity best practice obligations. Coaching and workshops are used to deliver organisational, team and leadership development, assisting in improving communication and the understanding of the impact difference has on workplace behaviour.
This entry was posted in beyond diversity, discrimination, Equality & Diversity, Equality Act, gender equality, glass ceiling, inequality, management, Prejudice, Sexism. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Glass Ceiling – whose face doesn’t fit?

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  2. Alan Og says:

    Another most interesting post.

    In my working experience, I haven’t seen that much strong evidence of a glass ceiling existing, I worked for several female bosses, and always recruited people based on their ability rather than their age/sex. Across the organisation, we had female board members who were there I believe because they deserved to be, and not just to balance the equality scorecard. I would accept however that I have seen evidence in other organisations that I have worked with.

    It is a dilemma, but I read last week with interest plans to promote a quota system. I disagree entirely with this approach, as it promotes something that is essentially unfair to try to resolve an unfair/unequal situation, almost two wrongs don’t make a right. I prefer a world of true meritaucracy where people achieve positions based on their performance and worth, not merely to balance the scorecard. Now the debate that ensues will be interesting, as it is that which will help to add more fuel to bring the glass ceiling down, so if that is the intention then fine, but I doubt is somehow.

    So how do we break the glass ceiling. Well, I think we are gradually doing that through the natural process of change, but it takes time. Statistics can be misleading and should be taken in context, but if improvements continue at the same rate, then we will be in a more balanced position in five/ten years time. Momentum will build and this will be helped if the subject is kept in the public/business eye, so I applaud regular surveys, publicity etc. because it helps people challenge their own “inner resistance” if they have it. Its wrong in my view to pidgeon hole genders (women can’t read maps, blokes can’t multi task ….) but I firmly believe that a boardroom that contains a spread of genders and backgrounds is likely to be more effective than one where people are recruited to fall in line with type. It is this message that needs to be promoted so that people see the true value and benefits associated with removing the glass ceiling. Its coming down, but piece by piece rather than being smashed to bits

    • equalityedge says:

      Hi Alan

      Thanks for your reply.

      I tend to ask a lot of questions in my blog, rather that offer answers. I agree that the situation is improving for women at work and in particular at higher levels of management. But things are still slow and certainly there is not yet full equality of opportunity. I am not necessarily in favour of quota systems, but do like fast-tracking programmes for women into management.

      As time goes by, there will be continued improvements, I am certain, but I have so many concerns about it. Listening last night to a debate on the radio to mark International Women’s Day, I was astounded by how many women in the studio and on phone-in who were accepting of the role that society places on them. There was almost unanimous agreement that if a woman takes time out of work to raise a family, she should expect to return to work at a lower grade than when she left. “It’s my choice” one caller suggested “and I’ll take responsibility for the consequences”. No-one offered the alternative, that a women who takes years out of her career for family duties and responsibilities, comes back to work with new skills and strengths she did not have before; like raising a family and associated duties are not developing and growing experiences.

      I was also shocked by how many men were unable to see the value or importance of a day dedicated to women’s achievements and equality. How sad! Indeed, the loan feminist in the studio was made out to be a radical extremist. Fifteen years ago her views would have been mainstream.

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