Women and the glass ceiling in South African banks: an illusion or reality?

Babita Mathur‐Helm (University of Stellenbosch Business School, Bellville, South Africa)

Women in Management Review

ISSN: 0964-9425

Publication date: 1 June 2006



Present research seeks to examine the reality of the glass‐ceiling phenomenon in South Africa's four major retail banks.


Investigates women's low numbers in their top management jobs. A total of 40 women managers were interviewed for their in‐depth responses, which were content analyzed.


Results indicate that the glass ceiling considered a myth by many, is real and is nurtured by the organizational culture, policies and strategies besides women's own inadequacies. Only the most decentralized organizations, characterized by a culture that supports women's top positions, will help in breaking down the glass ceiling, along with women's own efforts to grow, develop and empower themselves through academic and career development.

Research limitations/implications

It is limited to South Africa's four largest retail banks only and provides limited awareness about certain work practices that are insufficient tools to break down the glass ceiling, hence, future research may construct such tools and examine the extent to which the glass ceiling exists in different countries and the influence of the local culture in it is formation.

Practical implications

The paper provides clarity for organizational leaders to identify growth barriers existing in their organizations, leading their women workforce towards a glass ceiling.


It distinguishes between a glass ceiling and a job barrier and recommends organizations to practise cultural change and decentralization to break it down. This is a research paper and clarifies the difference between common career barriers and the glass ceiling by attempting to elucidate the existence of the glass ceiling.



Mathur‐Helm, B. (2006), "Women and the glass ceiling in South African banks: an illusion or reality?", Women in Management Review, Vol. 21 No. 4, pp. 311-326. https://doi.org/10.1108/09649420610667028

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