Understanding the glass ceiling

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Implications to understand

Browne (2000) argues that though organizations have three type of resources; financial, physical and human capital, yet only in recent years that human resources have been given attention as a core competitive advantage. However according to Bogan (1994), human resource (HR) should be given more recognition as they could be more valuable than other competitive advantages such as technologies and production as there's high barrier to imitation. Both statements by Bogan and Browne clearly illustrate the importance of human resource in an organization which links us to the need or importance of understanding the concept of glass ceiling. Operating in the era where globalization is at its peak, it is crucial for organization to understand the concept of glass ceiling and human resource (HR) professionals are one of those that need to have sufficient knowledge on the concept of the glass ceiling. This is due to the nature of their duties outcomes which may directly or indirectly impact the organization's growth potential, reputation, diverse skill sets and customer loyalty (The Glass Ceiling: Domestic and International Perspectives, 2004).

Understanding the glass ceiling is important to retain the talents in the organization where human resource from different minorities' group are now more mobile to job-hop for career advancement and women are no longer living under the precarious promotion. Unlike women in the past where their education has always been compromise, women today are highly educated and more literate. Take the United States (U.S.) for example, The US Department of Education, NCES (2003) has provided a statistics showing that in 2001-02, 57.4% of all bachelor's degrees, 57.1% of all master's degrees, 43% of “first professional” degrees, and 47.1% of doctorates in all fields are earned by women. Therefore, unlike two decades ago where women would easily be retain through ambiguous or precarious promotion instead they are now more likely taking chances by breaking intro entrepreneurship on their own. Grasping the glass ceiling concept can be altered into an organization's competitive advantage. CIGNA, a global health service company, has invested $2 million annually into grooming and retaining female leaders. The result of increased female senior managers and lower female managers turnover has been claimed by CEO Edward Hanway as “the best way to operate strategically and to gain a competitive edge in a tough marketplace” (The glass ceiling, 2006).

Consequences of Failure to Understand Glass Ceiling

Though the concept or idea of glass ceiling has been around for years, yet the implications to understand the issue has not been taken into consideration in most organizations. Failure to understand the glass ceiling would eventually leads to a few significant unfavorable outcomes which are cost associated. The most common issue which is unknown to most organizations is the high turnover cost. Catalyst's proprietary research within organizations and professional firms prove that firms are experiencing turnover of women disproportionate to that of men. This turnover cost would easily reach 150% of the annual salary of a manager or professional and 75% of the annual salary of a lower-level employee according to the study done by Families and Work Institute (1993). The high cost incurred by organizations for the turnover is usually the cost they have invested such as recruiting and training employees and the cost of retraining and recruiting the new replacements. But the cost does not end here, instead the hidden cost maybe more overwhelming such as the impact on the morality and productivity of the departing employee's work unit, loss of intellectual capital and the risk of departing employee joining the competitors' firm, and the possibilities of discontinuity in clients that the employee attended to (Levin & Mattis, 2006).

The next issue that would arise as a consequence of not understanding the glass ceiling would be legal actions taken against the organization by the employee. This usually happens in developed countries and some developing countries where there are proper law and constitution to protect discrimination against women and minorities in the labour market such as barriers to career advancement. Though the glass ceiling issue is identical however different country has different laws and different government bodies for their workplace to curb the issue. For example in U.S., the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) oversees and investigates complaints linked to discrimination such as race, color or gender and filing suits on behalf of the alleged victim(s) against the employers and act as an adjudicatory for claims of discrimination brought against federal agencies (The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2004). The EEOC goals of ending the glass ceiling can be seen when big names such as Morgan Stanley, a global financial services firm was charge with a lawsuit for sex discrimination for the amount of $54 million in the 2004 (EEOC Press Release, 2004) and AT&T, a telecommunications giant in U.S. was slapped with a fine of $411,339 after they racially discriminated against a worker in 2008 (Burns, 2008). The lawsuits happen is due to the organization's failure to facilitate suitable environment for minorities as well as gender such as appropriate and fair hiring practices, training and development, and promotional opportunities (The Glass Ceiling: Domestic and International Perspectives, 2004).

Overcoming the Glass Ceiling

HR managers or professionals should have a proactive role to identify the existence of the glass-ceiling phenomenon operating within their organization and should provide resolution to hinder the issue from lingering. The first step is for HR managers to understand the organization's culture, values and norms. When women leave, organizations often assumes that they chose family priorities over career however in confidential interviews, many women has reported that they had left in order to seek brighter career advancement and flexibility rather than solely on family obligations (Levin & Mattis, 2006). Therefore HR managers must first review their HR policies and practices to determine their fairness and suitability to break the glass ceiling. Matters such as pay differences, hiring practices, history promotions to senior positions, affirmative action plans are all very well linked to the ability of a firm to retain their best talents (The Glass Ceiling: Domestic and International Perspectives, 2004). Then they must also examine the organization's informal culture such as subtle behaviors, traditions and norms that may have been working against women. Many ambitious and proactive females felt that older men find them intimidating in some ways which sometimes lead to men's preference to promote and work alongside with other men. For example, in Westpac, female staff felt that they are portrayed as “dominatrix, wicked witch, power maniac” or simply “a Rottweiler with lipstick” (The glass ceiling, 2006). If this culture continues, then women will still be oppressed and they will struggle in the environment which might drawback their performance.

Next the HR professionals need to educate and support the women in career development. There are a few ways which the HR professionals can adopt to ensure the success in this recommendation. They could emphasize the importance of women acquiring line management, create and implement leadership programs for women, encourage mentoring via informal and formal programs and also acknowledgement of successful senior-women as role models (The Glass Ceiling: Domestic and International Perspectives, 2004). Cigna for example propose emerging leader development programs for their female managers whereby the chosen employees are immerse in seminars and training for a grace period of three years. Westpac, a financial Australian company gave birth to training and development programs, merit-based selection processes, succession planning that focuses on women with potential, and other equivalent initiatives. As a result, both companies female manager turnover are greatly reduced and more women are being promoted to senior managers and their efforts earned them a series of awards (The glass ceiling, 2006). With proper training and development strategy, the organization will be able to retain and improve their human resource capital which can assist in the organizational goal.

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