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Article

Carol T. Kulik and Belinda Rae

The “glass ceiling” metaphor represents the frustration experienced by women in the 1980s and 1990s who entered the workforce in large numbers following equal opportunity legislation that gave them greater access to education and employment. After initial success in attaining lower management positions, the women found their career progress slowing as they reached higher levels of their organizations. A formal definition of the glass ceiling specifies that a female disadvantage in promotion should accelerate at the highest levels of the organization, and researchers adopting this formal definition have found mixed evidence for glass ceilings across organizations and across countries. Researchers who have expanded the glass ceiling definition to encompass racial minorities have similarly found mixed results. However, these mixed results do not detract from the metaphor’s value in highlighting the stereotype-based practices that embed discrimination deep within organizational structures and understanding why women continue to be underrepresented in senior organizational roles around the world. In particular, researchers investigating the glass ceiling have identified a variety of obstacles (including glass cliffs, glass walls, and glass doors) that create a more complete understanding of the barriers that women experience in their careers. As organizations offer shorter job ladders and less job security, the career patterns of both women and men are exhibiting more downward, lateral, and static movement. In this career context, the glass ceiling may no longer be the ideal metaphor to represent the obstacles that women are most likely to encounter.

Article

In light of the growing number of women in the upper echelons, it is necessary to integrate and synthesize research on women at the top of corporations. The extant literature occurs in several disciplines—appearing in the fields of management, strategy, finance, economics, organizational behavior, ethics, sociology, and industrial relations—and is disparate and fragmented. A large and growing set of scholars provide various theoretical perspectives and empirical findings addressing organizational demographics, supply side factors, and outcomes. A number of theories are employed to understand the issue of women in the upper echelons, including resource dependence, tokenism and critical mass, glass cliff, social identity, human capital, social capital, and signaling theories. Most articles use U.S. data and tend to deal with the effect of female CEOs or that of female representation on corporate boards and top management teams (TMTs) on various firm-level outcomes. The majority of the studies investigate a potential relationship between gender diversity and financial performance. Research on this topic can guide policy and practice, improving the performance of organizations and the individuals who work within them.