A chart illustrating the inequality in wages between men and women of the same educational level (USA 2006)
A glass ceiling is a political term used to describe "the unseen, yet unbreakable barrier that keeps minorities and women from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, regardless of their qualifications or achievements."
Initially, and sometimes still today, the metaphor was applied by feminists in reference to barriers in the careers of high achieving women. In the US the concept is sometimes extended to refer to obstacles hindering the advancement of minority men, as well as women.
David Cotter and colleagues defined four distinctive characteristics that must be met to conclude that a glass ceiling exists. A glass ceiling inequality represents:
"A gender or racial difference that is not explained by other job-relevant characteristics of the employee."
"A gender or racial difference that is greater at higher levels of an outcome than at lower levels of an outcome.
"A gender or racial inequality in the chances of advancement into higher levels, not merely the proportions of each gender or race currently at those higher levels."
"A gender or racial inequality that increases over the course of a career."
Cotter and his colleagues found that glass ceilings are correlated strongly with gender. Both white and African-American women face a glass ceiling in the course of their careers. In contrast, the researchers did not find evidence of a glass ceiling for African-American men.
The glass ceiling metaphor has often been used to describe invisible barriers ("glass") through which women can see elite positions but cannot reach them ("ceiling"). These barriers prevent large numbers of women and ethnic minorities from obtaining and securing the most powerful, prestigious, and highest-grossing jobs in the workforce. Moreover, this effect may make women feel they are not worthy to fill high-ranking positions or as if their bosses do not take them seriously or see them as potential candidates for advancement.
The term was first coined in March 1984 by Gay Bryant, the former editor of Working Woman magazine who was changing jobs to be the editor of Family Circle. In an Adweek article by Nora Frenkel, Bryant was reported as saying, "Women have reached a certain point—I call it the glass ceiling. They're in the top of middle management and they're stopping and getting stuck. There isn't enough room for all those women at the top. Some are going into business for themselves. Others are going out and raising families." Also in 1984, Bryant used the term in a chapter of the book The Working Woman Report: Succeeding in Business in the 1980s. In the same book, Basia Hellwig used the term in another chapter.
In a widely cited article in the Wall Street Journal in March 1986 the term was used in the article's title: "The Glass Ceiling: Why Women Can't Seem to Break The Invisible Barrier That Blocks Them From the Top Jobs." The article was written by Carol Hymowitz and Timothy D. Schellhardt. In 1991 the US Labor Department's chief, Lynn Morley Martin, reported the results of a research project called "The Glass Ceiling Initiative" formed to investigate the low numbers of women and minorities in executive positions. This report defined the new term as "those artificial barriers based on attitudinal or organizational bias that prevent qualified individuals from advancing upward in their organization into management-level positions."
The gender pay gap is the difference between male and female earnings. In 2008 the OECD found that the median earnings of female full-time workers were 17% lower than the earnings of their male counterparts and that "30% of the variation in gender wage gaps across OECD countries can be explained by discriminatory practices in the labour market." The European Commission found that women's hourly earnings were 17.5% lower on average in the 27 EU Member States in 2008. The female-to-male earnings ratio was 0.77 in the United States in 2009.
^Nevill, Ginny, Alice Pennicott, Joanna Williams, and Ann Worrall. Women in the Workforce: The Effect of Demographic Changes in the 1990s. London: The Industrial Society, 1990, p. 39, ISBN 978-0-85290-655-2.
Leila Schneps and Coralie Colmez, Math on trial. How numbers get used and abused in the courtroom, Basic Books, 2013. ISBN 978-0-465-03292-1. (Sixth chapter: "Math error number 6: Simpson's paradox. The Berkeley sex bias case: discrimination detection").