The idea of a glass ceiling in corporate American has hung round us like plug-in air freshener for a few decades. There is, it is widely believed, a barrier that keeps women from rising to higher than a certain level of leaderships/authority within organizations. (In some discussions, ethnic minorities are also impacted or limited by said ceiling, but at the moment I’m thinking specifically about women.)
I’m not going to debate whether or not this ceiling exists, I’m just mulling around a few things I’ve been reading about this phenomenon which I think has existed and still does exist, but in an evolving form and with lessening impact. My opinion.
If a whole community of people have been living by a defined limiting space for generations, the removal of the fences (or ceilings) will not result in immediate expansion for all individuals in that community. Think about slaves in America after the Emancipation Proclamation who stayed on plantations in the South, for example. Lots of reason that happened, but the fact that it happened at all is something to be considered.
As women have been released from the parameters of what is possible both through legislation and by changes in expectations and attitudes in the culture, they have begun to expand into new spaces — but it didn’t happen all at once. A generation raised to see boundaries in a certain place – a generation raised to believe that women are not only bound to wear but worthy to wear glass slippers – may not be the generation which can move beyond those boundaries & expectation, even when they are removed.
The early adopters, the renegades, the movers and shakers will. They were climbing over the barriers before they came down. They’d long before begun using the glass slippers as jello molds and moved on to more practical footwear. Cultural change takes time.
Anyhow, that’s one phenomenon I’ve been pondering.
I’ve also been pondering the studies (including one by Pew Research Center) that suggest that the greatest contributor (today) to the stats which would support an idea that women are not yet moving beyond the boundaries of the old ceiling (whether or not the ceiling still exists) might be CHOICE. This is not the only contributor, but it may be the most relevant. When we look beyond structures to why people do what they do, we find women choosing not to climb so high on the corporate ladder because they like the freedom they have where they are. Or, as some might suggest, are avoiding the lack of freedom of the “top.”
Pondering that one, too.