Glass Ceiling Effect

The glass ceiling effect has been reported in many organizations. Highly cohesive groups that are very salient may consolidate organizational prototypes that reflect dominant rather than minority cultural attributes and thus exclude minorities from top leadership positions. Research suggests that in Western societies, demographic minorities (e.g., people of color, ethnic minorities, women) can find it difficult to attain top leadership positions in organizations - there is a "glass ceiling" (e.g., Eagly, Karau, & Makhijani, 1995). If organizational prototypes (e.g., of speech, dress, attitudes, interaction styles) are societally cast so that minorities do not match them well, then minorities are unlikely to be endorsed as leaders under conditions where organizational prototypicality is more important than leadership stereotypicality; that is, when organizational identification and cohesion are very high (Messick & Kramer, 2005, p. 67) (Messick & Kramer, 2005).

In 1991, the first major government study of the glass ceiling revealed that women and minorities are held back not only from top executive positions, but also from lower-level management positions and directorships. The study revealed that women and minorities are frequently excluded from informal career development activities such as networking, mentoring, and participation in policy-making committees. In addition to outright discrimination, some of the practices that contribute to their exclusion are informal word-of-mouth recruitment, companies’ failure to sensitize and instruct managers about equal employment opportunity requirements, lack of mentoring, and the tooswift identification of high-potential employees (Gómez-Mejía, Balkin, & Cardy, 2012, p. 287).

The glass ceiling is not a problem unique to the United States. For example, whereas approximately 51 percent of working women hold managerial jobs in the United States, only approximately 8 percent of working women in South Korea hold management-level jobs. 13 In the United States, approximately 15 percent of seats on the boards of directors of Fortune 500 firms are filled by women. In contrast, Norwegian women comprise 29 percent of board memberships for the 300 major Nordic firms. 14 Norwegian companies may be ahead of many others in terms of the percentage of women who are on boards of directors due, in part, to government intervention. Norway passed legislation that calls for fining companies in 2010 that don’t have board membership that is at least 40 percent female. Spain recently passed a similar measure with a 2015 target date. 15 Recent survey work indicates that women in Singapore and Malaysia experience a glass ceiling barrier in their careers (Gómez-Mejía, Balkin, & Cardy, 2012, p. 288). 


Gómez-Mejía, L. R., Balkin, D. B., & Cardy, R. L. (2012). Managing human resources (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Messick, D. M. & Kramer, R. M. (2005). The psychology of leadership: new perspectives and research. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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