The term “glass ceiling” is a depiction of an invisible barrier that women face in their career development, preventing them from attaining leading positions in their respective work environment. Coined by the Wall Street Journal 22 years ago, this theory suggests that even though women are able to succeed in their professional career, their accomplishment is limited to middle-management positions due to the existence of a merely unbreakable glass ceiling which prevents them from reaching the top (Carli and Eagly, 2001; Ridgeway, 2001; Townsend, 1997).
Following the improved Civil Rights Act of 1991, a Federal Glass Ceiling Commission was established in 1992. The purpose of this commission was to identify the barriers that held women and minorities from advancing into decision-making positions in the private sector (Janet Cooper Jackson, 2001). The findings of the commission’s research confirmed the existence of a glass ceiling and recognized its negative outcome to businesses (US Department of Labor, 1995a). In fact, till this date, one continues to witness the persistence of the glass ceiling for aspiring female leaders.
In 2003, according to Fortune Magazine, only 17 out of the top 1000 US companies had women CEOs (Catalyst, 2003a). Furthermore, only 68 out of the top 500 US companies had women on their board of directors (Catalyst, 2003b). This phenomenon is most evidently portrayed in behavioral, structural and cultural causes such as stereotyping and preferred leadership style; as well as corporate practices such as recruitment, retention and promotion (Oakley, 2000). It is generally recognized that men are the leaders in organizations and women are the supportive followers.
This role allocation is usually due to a self-underestimation by women in male-dominated organizations. Many obstacles that affect women’s career advancement and their ability to shatter the glass ceiling include management being associated as a “male-oriented” style (Davidson and Cooper, 1992), the balance between work and family (Maier, 1997), the lack of strong female role models (Davidson and Cooper, 1992) and traditional recruitment methods. What are the current underlying causes and consequences of the glass ceiling in healthcare and education industries?
And, despite statistics revealing a large number of women underrepresented in management positions, what justifies its persistence in those women-predominate professions? During the late 1980s and 1990s, the widespread restructuring of educational institutions, due to the demands of their stakeholders (Glatter, 1999), parental claims, school autonomy, cultural diversity, educational standards, core curricula and teacher accountability (Court, 1998), considerably reformed the understandings of the role of educational leaders (Smyth, 1993; Thrupp, 2001; Fitzgerald, 2002).
Leaders inside the education industry often note the differences between their industry and others; schools are anecdotally described as a challenge to lead because of a variety of factors, including the protections of tenure at the collegiate level, the interfering role of political stakeholders in public schools, unreasonable demands of the community in both public and private education, and faculty who rarely want to follow direction from others (Frankel, Schechtman et al.
, 2006). According to Senge (1990), Duke (1998) and Marsh (2000), respectable leaders in education are portrayed as multi-skilled, self-regulatory, facilitative, goal oriented, entrepreneurial and service-oriented males. Conversely, female leaders in education have been described as flexible, supportive, nurturing, collaborative, collegial and socially just (Tanya Fitzgerald, 2002).
In 2003, the Australian Vice Chancellor’s Committee (AVCC) estimated that women comprised over half of the population of Australian academics employed at the base level, but males dominated above the base level, with only 15 percent of professors being women. Several studies have concluded that “more women in education tend to be concentrated in the lower ranks than men” (Toren, 2001; Noble and Mears, 2000; Halpin and Johnston, 2004).
Furthermore, a study by Riley (1994, p.88) highlights that “senior educational leaders are predominantly male” in European countries and that women are in fact internationally underrepresented at managerial levels. Noticeably, “the proportion of women employed in teaching declines as the age of the students rises”. “If there is anywhere women professionals should be successful it is in the universities, as teaching is seen as a woman’s forte and universities as meritocratic institutions” (Acker, 1980, p. 81).
However, Limerick (1991, in O’Leary, 1997) argues that women have been traditionally well represented as teachers, stating that teaching is “a woman’s job but a man’s career”. Thus, the glass ceiling is illustrated by the poor representation of women in the top academic jobs (AUT, 1999), and by the noticeable difference in salaries for academic women averaging one-fifth of academic men’s salaries. Studies carried out by Curtis, a director of research at the Association of American University Professors (AAUP) indicated that women faculty members earned significantly less than men.
“At the rank of full professor, women’s average salaries were 88 percent of men’s; at the rank of associate professor, they are 93 percent, and at the rank of assistant professor, they are 92 percent”, averaging 80 percent of the salary of men. Despite the large number of women employed by the education industry, it seems that there are certain barriers that prevail and play key roles in preventing the promotion of women in educational institutions into higher administrative levels.
As Hall (1999, p.159) explains it, “analysts of education management acknowledge the disparity between women’s numbers in the teaching profession and their representation at senior levels. We have all become sophisticated in interpreting and explaining these figures. We are less proactive in rigorously thinking through the consequences of this disparity for the educational and employment opportunities of girls and boys, men and women. ” What are the barriers that prevent women from reaching senior positions in education, in a so-called woman-dominated industry?