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Baker & Lightle (2001) state that "[t]he term glass ceiling was first used in a 1986 Wall Street journal article, referring to invisible barriers that impeded the career advancement of women in the American work force. In more recent years, the term has come to include underrepresented minority groups." (p.18). For years the problem of a 'glass ceiling' has been highlighted. The Equality and Human Rights Commission was founded thirty-five years ago. However, now, with the Equal Opportunities Commission responsible for the numbers, the lack of women in boardrooms remains as problematic as ever. Even though companies, especially on the FTSE 100 list, employ departments of equal opportunities officers, diversity managers and HR professionals, numbers are only shifting slowly: in 1999, seven percent of the FTSE 100 had one or more women on their board; by 2009 this number had reached only twelve percent. Most of these are not executive directors. In fact only fifteen of the FTSE 100 have a female executive director on their board, an increase from 13 in 1999. What is especially interesting is that, as McKinsey have shown, when a board is staffed with at least thirty percent women, a tangible business performance increase may be observed (Guardian online, 6.5.2010). It is thus evident that major academic research is required in order to understand, and then alleviate, the status quo. It is important to find out what lies behind the dissonance between HR efforts and HR realities. It is curious that top companies are missing out on the fact that women know female customer's mindset and would thus be a great asset for any respective company at the highest level. As McDonald quotes, "they're more detail-oriented, more relationship-oriented and they relate well to clients" (2001: 43). The structural impediments to a greater representation of women at all levels needs to be analysed in order to be mitigated and eventually transformed; this research would be motivated and guided by this operative goal.
There could be several pragmatic explanations for this circumstance. It is possible that there is only a small number of women that may potentially be recruited to fill executive director roles. All male boards will probably be likely to recruit in their image, and thus perpetuate the exclusively male business culture at that level. It would appear that women below the executive board level are less networked than their male colleagues. Many talented women will tend to stay with their employer for longer, thus restricting their networks even further. As McDonald quotes Louise Canter, senior vice president at Patterson Smith Associates in Falls Church, Va.,: "Men have their Lions clubs and other organizations, which were established by men and [are] attended by men," she says. "I believe it is the matter of a couple of [women] organizing and then motivating other women to attend." (McDonald, 2001: 43). Many women take time off from the corporate world in order to have children, and struggle finding their place back in that world when they wish to return. It is also possible that women may opt out of the traditional career path in order to start their own venture because they were unsatisfied with the status quo. However, it is also possible that the average male CEO is likely to spend more time on their career. A study conducted by The Business Roundtable, an association of CEO's, found that the average CEO works 58 hours a week, and it is likely that Fortune 500 CEO's are working even more. As Dr. Farrell states, in the book Why Men Earn More (2005), the key difference for women earning less than men is the amount of time each respectively works. Many of the women that potentially could fill CEO positions at some point, highly educated women from top universities, are likely to work part time during their child bearing years. Harvard Business School reports that only 38 percent of its female MBA graduates work full time following that time period in their life. Even though it may be seen as a cultural trope, Rhoads argues in the book Taking Sex Differences Seriously that women are biologically predisposed to crave the role of the primary family care-taker and are thus likely to want to work only part time, or not at all in order to be able to spend more time on their home and family. Central to this research study will be a focus on the precise nature and operation of the glass ceiling. It will explore both the barriers erected by men in the boardrooms and look at why women may be forgoing opportunities to be promoted within the corporate structure.
Aims of the Research Proposal
In order to conduct research into this area, it would be necessary to look at a proportion of FTSE companies and Forbes 500 companies, analyzing their organisational behaviour. Through the gathering of information from previous accessible reports, as well as new data obtained by telephone or email interviews, it would be possible to describe respective business cultures and hierarchy structures. This would require interviews of both men and women within the chosen companies in order to differentiate their respective perceptions about the correlation of gender to chances of promotion. In general, this study would provide concrete information about the nature of the 'glass ceiling' in a concrete and specific setting, with the further advantage of opening up the possibility of a comparative analysis, bringing into view the existence a plurality of glass ceilings. It is important to understand how different glass ceilings, at differing points in time and space, differ in their nature, depending on which company one analyzes and the context (social, cultural and political) in which it exists. This distinction will guide this research toward a notion of a plurality of possible obstacles to the representation of women; a major research goal will be to provide, through a clear elucidation of this problematic, new avenues for policy in this area. Defining the glass ceiling in concrete terms, then, may lead to a way of breaking down the barriers in the future. The proposed title for this study is The Glass Ceiling Effect: Why are there so few women in the boardroom?
In previous research there is controversy regarding the parameters used to detect a glass ceiling, as well as the glass ceiling is perpetuated or if it is showing cracks. Baker and Lightle concluded that even though it is still present the glass ceiling is definitely shifting. On the other hand, Daily et al. (1999) suggested that not only are women not getting any closer to being hired as CEO's, but they are not likely to make any significant progress in the immediate future. For this study, it will be important to define parameters clearly and apply them across the analyzed companies. This will enable this study to make clear judgements on whether or not a glass ceiling still persists, and if there are any signs of its disappearance in the near to medium future.
There has been research showing that there is much reason for companies to facilitate a change of the status quo. As Thomson and Graham argue in A Woman's Place is in the Boardroom (2005), with women being underrepresented in executive positions, companies are missing out on a large pool of talent and are thus sub-optimally staffed. The widest range of thinking, perspectives, experience and abilities is needed in order to aid high level decision making and the formulation of business strategy. Women and men differ in their leadership styles. A combination of both in the boardroom would enhance general leadership and success (Rigg and Sparrow, 1994; Rosner 1990, Stanford et al., 1995). A woman is more likely to lead an organisation from the centre of a network of interrelated teams, rather than from the top of a traditional command hierarchy as do most male leaders (Gilligan, 1982; Helgesen, 1990). However, women are simply not being placed in position which would appropriately develop them for ascension to the executive suite (Ohlott, Ruderman and McCailey, 1994). It is striking that women apparently do not have the appropriate skill sets to be considered for service within the executive ranks of a company, but do have the necessary qualifications to serve as outside directors (Daily, et al., 1999). Redwood (2001) states that: "[w]e do not yet live in a color blind or gender blind society. Sexism, racism, and xenophobia live side-by-side with unemployment, underemployment and poverty; they feed on one another and perpetuate a cycle of unfulfilled aspirations among women and people of color." It is not an educational issue: it appears that women, educated to the same level as men are still subject to a gender pay gap (Redwood, 2001). In fact, he concludes that "[r]esearch suggests that the underlying cause for the existence of the glass ceiling is the perception of many white males that they as a group are losing - losing competitive advantage, losing control, and losing opportunity as a direct consequence of inclusion of women and minorities". This means that in a second part, this research will focus on the advantages that arise from employing women as CEO's. Combined, both parts of the dissertation, then, should provide a thorough analysis of the status quo, but also showcase the advantages of positive and progressive change. The underlying aim is, accordingly, to create a study that may facilitate change.
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