Glass Ceiling Effect at the workplace for African American Women

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A significant increase in female employment in the corporate sector has been noticed around the world. As a consequence, women have made substantial progress in achieving the middle-level managerial position in formal businesses, but encounter challenges while their way towards leadership posts (Sabharwal, 2013; Ricucci, 2009; Bowling et al., 2006).Various metaphors such as “sticky floors”, “a glass ceiling”, “a glass wall”, “a glass escalator” have been cited to describe prevalent difficulties.“The Glass ceiling” phenomenon describes those hurdles and blockades that females face within their journey towards leadership positions (Kabir, 2020; Baxter and Wright, 2000); whereas, the “Glass walls” points to those hurdles which let the females work in specific agencies conventionally recognized to be more feminine (Ng and Sears, 2017; Kabir, 2020; Baxter and Wright, 2000). “Glass escalators” points at the professional separation based on gender (Kabir, 2020). Similar to this, ‘Sticky floors’ try to hold the women at jobs of lower-level and prevents females to advance into higher hierarchy posts (Kabir, 2020).  The glass ceiling phenomenon has often been linked with employed, and studies have traced that in contrast to males, women have 18% less chance of promotion into the top-level managerial posts (Parker, 2018).

This essay highlights the experiences of employed African-American females while advancing towards top management ranks. Many studies have been done on female leaders andmanagers to recognize the main reasons for success and failures (Morrison, White & Van Velsor, 1982).  Many studies on women have been completed in small organizations (Davis and Maldonado 2015). According to Bell (1992), research on women and particularly on women of colour are ignored by the researchers. On the other hand, Waring (2003) points out that if there is any research or scholarship on women and management, it represents the standpoint of one group only while ignoring the impact of gender and race on African-American females.

This essay has been divided into four parts. The first part discusses ‘the glass ceiling effect’ in detail followed by the factors encouraging women to advance at the higher-level management positions. The next part highlights leading factors contributing to ‘the glass ceiling’ at the workplace in American Context in general with the help of theories notably Feminism and the Critical Race theory and relevant literature on the focal topic. The penultimate part discusses the evidence of ‘concrete ceiling’, particularly in the context of African Americans[1]followed by the factors causing them to face these effects. The final section provides the conclusion of the essay.

Accurate history of the ‘glass ceiling’ concept has not been found; however, its evidence can be traced back to the United States in the late 1970s (Wirth, 2001; Eagly and Carli, 2007). ‘Glass ceiling’ has a negative connotation and it refers to those hurdles and barriers which a woman confronts in her attempt to advance at top leadership positions (Kabir, 2020; Baxter and Wright, 2000; Saleem et al., 2017). It happens by restricting the eligible women by creating invisible hurdles to prevent them from being promoted  (Sabharwal, 2013; Kiaye and Singh, 2013),and to be chosen for analytical roles because of the typical workplace belief of encouraging men at top posts (Acker, 2009; Kiaye and Singh, 2013; Schein, 2007).

Although the participation of women in the corporate workforce reached to 57% in 2016 as compared to 34% in 1950 in the United States (Weinstein, 2018), they are still facing invisible hurdles that are restricting the women to process at the top-level positions. This can be echoed in the scholarship publishing on the focal topic. The scholarships have pointed out the existence of ‘occupational discrimination’ in the United States, and it is generally believed that women are more suitable to work in industries particularly teaching, nursing, and other social work (Weinstein, 2018) while men are suitable for law enforcement bodies and others professions. This occupational separation between men and women resulted in a difference in their wages. It has been noticed that women-dominant profession was less paid as compared to the male-dominant professions. The wage gap reduced following the1980s, but the concept is evident still (Graf et al., 2018). Research reveals that in the United States men’s annual earnings ($50,442), on average, are almost twice as compared to women’s earning ($28,683) (Pierre, 2019). These gender pay differences and occupational segregation reflect the perception of the society about the role of females and their value to the companies.

The women underrepresentation has been noticed in large corporations also. Catalyst (2019) shows that men lead most of the Standard & Poor’s 500 companies, while women lead only 24% of companies. Thus, extremely less females end up in high-level positions informal businesses. Women, who reach this level often, appear to complain of being isolated at the organization. This structured alienation proves to be harmful to female wellbeing and limits them to utilize their full potential to progress in the top managerial posts, and it has been noticed that in the United States a small percentage of women (5%) appear to occupy top management (Catalyst, 2020). This reflects the clear division in leadership positions based on gender in top-level roles in companies. This, further, reflects thatin the United States women will be less likely to be hired at higher hierarchy management posts due to employers’ perception that men are good in performing certain tasks that women generally do. In addition to the above, it has been noticed in the literature that in the beginning of the career,as compared to women, men are getting rapid (30% higher) promotion; the likelihood of women to spend about five years in the stagnancy of Job to be promoted to next cadre is more than men (Fierre, 2019).

In the 1980s and 1990s, researchers tried to find out the lost links between the oppressed groups with the construction of, race, gender, nationalism, and social class (Collins, 2003). “Social class” is defined “as a descriptive, static system of individual classification” (Collins, 2003; Eagly, 2005), and these boundaries give the men more opportunities to have easy availability of top posts with increased power.  In this essay, the glass ceiling effect on African-American females is demonstrated by the help of two theories, i.e. the Critical Race Theory and Feminism. The critical race theory and feminism both have a common point of view regarding the marginalized commodities of society.

Racism is a dynamic and organized concept whereby certain influential racial groups  have privilege and benefits, on the other hand, it also dis-empowers and removes resources from the inferior group (Gee, G.C., Hing, A., Mohammed, S., Tabor, D.C. and Williams, D.R., 2019).For example, in the United States, the whites are an influential racial people. This concept works in multifaceted ways such as bad treatment by social institutions, prejudices, stereotypes, and discriminatory behaviors towards inferior group. The Critical Race Theory (CRT) was emerged in 1970s with the study of race, racism and power by many activists and scholars (Crenshaw 1988). The main focus of the CRT is the liberation of social groups, economic empowerment, and justice (McCoy and Rodricks 2015). The CRT tries to encounter theWhite dominancy, White power, and makes statements of just appointment of pupils in the light of “color blindness”  (Matsuda et al. 1993). On the other hand, Feminism is a movement for the rights of women and the person that talks about the women’s rights is referred as a Feminist.Gloria Bowles, Mary Belenky, Sandra Harding, and Liz Stanley (Wadsworth, 2001) are some key researcherson feminist discourse that emphasizes on women rights. Theories of feminism have highlighted the women oppression and gender inequality (hooks, 1984; Eisenstein, 2004). Feminists have different point of view regarding social groups/class. According to Hook (1984), this belief helps females in the US to unite against social discriminations and sexist oppression that paves a path to calibrate a united sense of women’s social status (Davis, D.R. and Maldonado, C., 2015). “Feminist theory addresses among other things, theconditions for the actuality of men and women – historical,political, economic, and ontological along with the virtualforces this actuality contains and through which it can betransformed” (hooks, 1984, p. 101). The main researchfocus were the White females and some women of colour (Collins, 1990; hooks, 1994;Parker, 2005). According to Collins (2003), Feminists scholarship challenged the concept of centrality of gender. Its main focus was on gender equality but it neglected the effect of race on oppression of women. Conversely, theories of Black Feminism gave novel angles and frameworks for analyses on leaders amongst African-American women (Davis, D.R. and Maldonado, C., 2015). As per Hooks 1994, Black females’ interest in Feminism is double i.e. women and Black “which continually perpetuate the belief that the self is formed in opposition to another” (p. 34).


The theory of Black feminism opens the door of experiences of Black females to other men and women. Black feminist theory covered the area of marginalization, where Black women are different not only from men but also from the other marginalized and white women (Collins, 2000). These women have distinct growth, developmentand power experiences. The underrepresentation of females at top management position in the United States is clearly visible. It can be argued that societal behavior and cultural factors at the United States are causing ‘glass ceiling’ effect for women at the workplace. This is not the case that such kinds of barriers have similar effect for the women of different races in the United States. The scholarships have echoed substantial disparity in the USin workplace experiences of African-America women and white women. Thus African American females are heavily affected by the hurdles of  the“glass ceiling” because of the preexisting feelings against the race African American. For instance, there is strong evidence of the phenomenon in the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) office as the statistics reveal that only 3.8% of 4662 employees consist of African-American females.


The next term is called the ‘Concrete ceiling’ (Clay, 1998). Concrete ceiling is also called ‘Black Ceiling’ (Sepand, 2015). Discrimination on the basis of racism and sexism remain consistent in formal businessesand the like thereof (Gaetane, Williams &Shermaine, 2009). Vaughn & Miller (1997) emphasized, “the twin guise of racism and sexism still imposes great restraints on the utilization of the competence and talents of African American women” (p. 179).The Socio-cultural perspective includessocial class, race, and gender in the analysis of the nauances of power where it can be used as an oppressive tool (Merriam &Caffarella, 1999 as cited in Byrd, 2009). The oppressed African-American women are knitted in the system of race and gender which disempowered them in organizations exhibiting White supremacy (Stanley, 2009). According to Stanley (2009), “the lived experiences of African American women are not located within separate spheres of race, gender and social class. Rather, these spheres intersect and shape social realities that are not captured within traditional feminist discourse” (p. 552).


The presence of African-American females is scarce in the top-level posts of the businesses dominant with Black people. About merely six out of the “Black Enterprise Magazine’s top 100 businesses” have African American Women as CEOs (Williams, 1995, p. 65). This underrepresentation can be attributed to various individual and organizational factors that create hurdles for a woman to advance at higher management level positions. At individual level, factors such as: gender socialization role (Schweitzer et al., 2011), reducedself-esteem, and self-efficacy of women  (Matthews et al., 2010), life and work issues (Coronel et al., 2010), and the deficient social familial encouragement (Aycan, 2004), deficient mentors (Sealy and Singh, 2010) and deficient environment factors (such as, career sponsors and mentors) imperative for growth and advancement (Hersby et al., 2009; Metz, 2009) hamper female progress towards achieving professional goals. In the organizational level, aspects including, organizational surroundings (such as, unfavorable attitude and lack of objectivity towards females; Aycan, 2004; Broadbridge and Weyer, 2007), a deficiency of systematicand structured encouragement (Aycan, 2004), gender stereotyping attitude towards management posts (Schein, 2007), and non-supportive Human Resourcelaws and policies with regards to females (Hamel, 2009) are contributing towards women’s progress into management.

The black women have experienced substantially different kind of experience than white women in terms of the wage gap, high-level involvement in formal businesses, and access to opportunities (Fierre, 2019). Further, the studies have reported that black women, as compared to the white females, repeatedly endure barriers and stagnancy in the mobility of their careers and are also differentiated due to their race as well as their gender (Fierre, 2019). The studies have reported that black females occupy less senior, upper level management jobs in companiesas compared to their white female colleagues (Fierre, 2019). Further, there exist substantial incomedifferences between black and white women (Lockhart, 2018; National Women’s Law Centre, 2018). It has been reported that black women appear to earn $23,653 less than a white woman on annual basis (Lockhart, 2018; National Women’s Law Centre, 2018). The literature has reported that none of the black women occupy leading position in the Standard & Poor’s 500 companies (McGregor, 2018). In addition to the above, it has been noticed that black women have underrepresentation on the corporate board and, further, they are experiencing lack of mentorship for acquiring top leadership position in the corporation (Beeson and Valerio, 2015).

There are numerous factors which are contributing to concrete ceiling in the United States. A major reason that black females are experiencingthis isthat the black females who reach higher-level position in the organization are alone and have litter or no mentoring support (Clay, 1998).  Research on the twenty African-American females on top posts showed that guidance is the most important part in their lives. Further, they do not have familiar faces around them who encourage or motivate them to acquire top level positions in the organizations (Clay, 1998).

Along with substantial contribution of women to the corporate sector, working women appear to experience negative consequences. Firstly, working women appear to have little time for child birth and care (Wirth, 2001), thus, resulting in falling fertility rates in the country. Secondly, women working in the corporate sector appear to face the issue of burn out due to the increasing demand from the workplace and family (Jacobs & Schain, 2009). Finally, active participation of women also cause imbalance among family and work.

Based on the aforementioned facts, it can be concluded that, based on culture biases and societal behaviors, African American women still continue to experience barriers to acquire leading positions (glass ceiling) in the companies not only stemming from their gender but race as well (concrete ceiling). These systematic intuitions have impacted the values for all genders in the society and will continue to impact their role in the society. Therefore, black women are required to put extra efforts to prove others regarding their ability to prove and hold top hierarchal positions (Eagly and Carli, 2007). Further, the government needs to ensure black women representation, through legislation, in top level managerial posts in the organization to go beyond the issues of “glass ceiling” in general and “concrete ceiling” in particular.




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[1]This termrefers to the US-born African origin women (Goddard, Haggins, Nobles, Rhett-Mariscal, & Williams-Flournoy, 2014).


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