Adelina Broadbridge (Management School, University of Stirling, Stirling, UK)
Sharon Anne Mavin (Business School, Roehampton University, London, UK)

Gender in Management

ISSN: 1754-2413

Article publication date: 1 November 2016



Broadbridge, A. and Mavin, S.A. (2016), "Editorial", Gender in Management, Vol. 31 No. 8, pp. 502-513. https://doi.org/10.1108/GM-08-2016-0153



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Beyond the glass ceiling and metaphors

In 1992, Davidson and Cooper commented:

Within the next decade, women will constitute around half of the total workforce in the UK [United Kingdom]. However, despite the introduction of sex discrimination and equal pay legislation, the majority of women are still concentrated in low pay, low status, gender segregated jobs (Davidson and Cooper, 1992, p. 5).

Over the past decades, we have seen widespread public commitment to equal opportunity and arguments for the commercial benefits of diverse leadership, yet a quarter of a century later, this comment from Davidson and Cooper remains largely true.

Searching for metaphors to explain women’s positions in management reveals many results (as at August 2016): glass ceiling in Google Scholar gives 369,000 results; barriers to women in management, 1,450,000 results; sticky floors, 21,700 results; glass cliff, 27,900 results; concrete ceilings, 32,400 results and labyrinths for women in management, 20,400 results. As a community of Gender in Management researchers, we have a long history of excellent research to draw upon in understanding women’s progress in organisations. Early examples of research into gendered management styles, barriers to women’s progress and challenges to gendered management theory include Schein (1975), Kanter (1977), Marshall (1984), Morrison et al. (1987), Ragins and Sundstrom (1989), Davidson and Cooper (1992), Schein and Davidson (1993), Powell and Butterfield (1994), Davidson and Burke (1994), Vinnicombe and Colwill (1996), Wajcman (1996, 1998), Simpson (1997), Ragins et al. (1998) and Wilson (1996). Despite this systematic research and the various legislation that has been passed in Western countries, it remains the case that women have difficulty in advancing their careers (Mavin, 2001; Barreto et al., 2009; Davidson and Burke, 2011) and are under-represented in managerial positions across most of the countries in the world (Office for National Statistics, 2013; Berry and Bell, 2012). Although some progress has indeed been made since the 1970s, we could argue this is relatively slow. In 1974, just 2 per cent of women occupied management positions in the UK (Equal Opportunities Commission, 2006); by 1988, this was around 12 per cent (Davidson, 1991), and now it is around a third (34.8 per cent) of managers (ONS, 2013). This is against an employment rate for women of over two-thirds (67.2 per cent) in the UK, an increase from 53 per cent in 1971 (Office for National Statistics, 2014). The gender pay gap also remains high in Europe (Eurostat, 2014).

Bruckmuller and Branscombe (2010) comment that there is clear evidence that gender discrimination still exists in higher management, albeit operating somewhat more subtly. A more recent report (Grant Thornton International Business Report, 2016) showed that globally, women hold 24 per cent of senior roles, while 33 per cent of businesses do not have any women senior managers. Eastern Europe and ASEAN countries report the highest proportions of women in leadership at 35 and 34 per cent, respectively, and just 16 and 21 per cent of firms, respectively, that had no women in senior management. The G7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan and the USA) were reported as among the worst performing regions, with just 22 per cent of senior roles occupied by women and 39 per cent of companies with no women in senior roles. Japan and Germany fare particularly badly with just 7 and 15 per cent of senior roles held by women, respectively. The UK is also below average and has 21 per cent of senior roles held by women and 36 per cent of businesses with no women in senior management. In contrast, Russia surpasses the list of individual countries with 45 per cent of senior roles held by women, followed by the Philippines at 39 per cent, where only 9 per cent businesses have no women in senior management.

Moreover, women continue to be under-represented in the top executive positions (Eagly and Sczesny, 2009; Catalyst, 2015a, 2015b, 2015c; Davies, 2015), and where women do hold board positions they are much more likely to be non-executive posts rather than the more powerful executive positions (Vinnicombe et al., 2014, p. 4) (see also the Female FTSE Report by gender in management scholars, Vinncombe et al., and Sealy et al.). Centre for Women and Democracy (2015) shows that 29 per cent of women in the UK are Members of Parliament, while the 2014 Sex and Power Report tells us that in the UK, women account for 14.2 per cent University Vice Chancellors, 15 per cent of elected police and crime commissioners, 24 per cent of local authority chief executives, 5 per cent of national daily newspapers editors and 15.6 per cent High Court Judges (The Sex and Power Report, 2014). As a stark reminder, in 2003, Dame Brenda Hale was the first woman judge appointed to the House of Lords in the UK since the Magna Carta in 1215. In contrast, Sealy et al. (2016) report that in the FTSE 100, 100 per cent of boards now include women – a huge turnaround from 2011 where one in five boards were all male – based on an influencing and voluntary approach rather than quotas for women on boards – but will this create a lasting cultural shift?

Much research has recognised the difficulties women have faced in advancing their careers (Kottke and Pelletier, 2013; Mavin and Grandy, 2016a, 2016b) and how they have faced the glass ceiling. Described as “a barrier so subtle that it is transparent, yet so strong that it prevents women and minorities from moving up in the management hierarchy” (Morrison and Von Glinow, 1990, p. 5), this ceiling acts as an invisible but impermeable barrier to career progression. Simpson and Altman (2000) offer three perspectives on the glass ceiling. The first is that it has been demolished as young women are progressing faster into management than ever before due to equal opportunities initiatives. Second is that it has been punctured, in that some women are able to pass through, for example young and “high flying” women, but that older women find it more difficult. The third perspective is that of a relocated glass ceiling. This relocation has enabled younger women to progress quicker into lower ranking management positions but still blocks ascension to the senior management levels of the organisation. Broadbridge and Simpson (2011) highlighted that this effect is still very relevant at present, arguing that equal opportunity initiatives have failed to impact upon the competitive and emotionally detached nature of male-dominated organisational cultures. O’Neil et al. (2008) also argued that the effects of the glass ceiling continue to disadvantage women who seek advancement, arguing that the gendered nature of organisational structures (including male defined constructions of work and career success) limits women’s access to powerful positions in the organisational hierarchy. Broadbridge and Simpson (2011) contend that current challenges persist in the form of gender denial, the concealment of gender as a source of disadvantage and privilege and the additional entrenchment of gendered hierarchies. They conclude that researchers should challenge the idea that gender discrimination is a thing of the past and continue to measure and publicise continuing and emerging gender difference; to conceptualise new and evolving forms of gendered hierarchies and to disclose the hidden dimensions of gendered power.

Myriad reasons exist for why women do not reach senior management levels in organisations. The lack of qualifications of women who reach senior leader positions has often been cited as a major barrier within the glass ceiling, along with multiple barriers which confine women managers in the middle of organisations (Mooney and Ryan, 2009; Ryan et al., 2010). Other barriers include family commitments and the organisation of work roles, and company cultures that uphold patriarchal social systems (Broadbridge, 2008). Women’s perfectionism, the need for women to be more explicitly encouraged to apply to leader roles and the issue of women’s mentors needing to be at a significantly higher level of influence, power and position than that commonly found, to increase the number of women leaders, has been well documented (Ibarra et al., 2010; Vinnicombe and Singh, 2011). Women leaders are as highly scrutinized by women below them in the paid work hierarchy, as they are by their senior men peer-colleagues, and they face on-going competition with senior women peers, as well as processes of female misogyny (Mavin, 2006, 2008). They have also suffered from the scrutiny of being placed in precarious leadership positions – the glass cliff (Ryan and Haslam, 2005). Women leaders we know are more scrutinised by the press and media for their dress, impression management and family relationships (Mavin et al., 2010; Vinnicombe and Singh, 2011), and the issue of work-life balance, and evaluation of women leaders’ masculine and feminine characteristics versus masculinities and femininities required to sustain a senior leader position is currently up for critique. (Eagly and Carli, 2007).

Much of the literature on women’s career development has justifiably concentrated on the barriers women encounter when attempting to advance their careers. However, as women aspire to more senior positions, they do have to consider how their own behaviours and perceptions fit with those associated with successful careers in their organisations (Davidson and Cooper, 1992; Vinnicombe and Singh, 2002) which are most often deemed to be characteristically male. Tienari et al. (2013) showed that executive search consultants and their clients contribute to the reproduction of male dominance in top management, and Holgersson (2013) pointed to the homosociality in recruiting managing directors and the preference for certain men and the exclusion of women. As Hanappi-Egger (2015) argues, women tend to accept the social construction of masculine norms and adapt to the male gender script of managers, and so gender hierarchies in management are maintained and reproduced. While Mavin and Grandy (2016a and 2016b) argue that women elite leaders are subject to “respectable business femininity” akin to Victorian norms for their behaviours, as well as abjected – in that they have to “manage” the ambiguities of their “in-between” and “abject” status in organisations. This can be seen through how they manage their own and other women’s appearance at work. Further their abject status can lead to intra-gender micro-violence between women, as they struggle to maintain their status in organisations (Mavin et al., 2014).

Overall, Powell and Butterfield (2015) argue that factors at societal, organisational and individual level have been attributed over the years to blocking women’s progression into top management positions. Thus, the “seen” and “unseen” barriers to women’s progress require continued investigation. Some women may not even face the glass ceiling, as they encounter various issues that continue to plague their career progress lower in the organisation. In metaphoric terms, this is often described as a labyrinth (Eagly and Carli, 2007) which recognises the variety of challenges women may face as they go through their careers, and how some can reach the top of organisations while others drop out at various junctures along the way.

This Special Issue called for authors to revisit the various metaphors used to describe the position of women in the workforce presently and to reflect on the current and future position of women in management and leadership. It focuses upon successful changes, adaptations and challenges gender in management research has made to the barriers which have prevented women progressing to senior positions in organisations. Further, it engages academic discourse in “futuring” research by identifying key research areas which aim to make a difference to the experiences of women and their positions in management and leadership in organisations.

In the first paper of this issue, Linda Carli and Alice Eagly ask whether women face a glass ceiling or are held down by a sticky floor or face a labyrinth in their career development. All these metaphors, along with others, have been used to describe women’s career progression in modern organisations. They recognise that progress has been made for many women yet argues that full equality is far away as yet. They proposed the more subtle and complex metaphor of a labyrinth to describe women’s careers (Eagly and Carli, 2007). This proposed that some women not only do indeed reach their career pinnacles but also recognise that various challenges along the way can prevent other women progressing, thus arguing that “advancement is difficult but not impossible”. The paper goes on to argue that there are more women leaders now than in the past and provides the current position of women in various occupations in the USA. They attribute this rise in women leaders to educational experiences of women and changing attitudes about leadership. While Linda and Alice argue that women are earning more nowadays, she acknowledges that the gender pay gap persists. They conclude that while there is steady improvement in women’s access to leadership positions, there is still a long way to go; they continue to face various challenges, but the metaphor of a labyrinth continues to help us understand women’s career development.

The second paper by Nighat Ansari draws on previous research by Fernando and Cohen (2014) in Sri Lanka and examines the role of “respectable femininity” norms in the work lives of professional women in Pakistan. Drawing on empirical research, it investigates the extent to which these norms impact on women’s career development in the context of a clash with the traditional career management techniques of accumulating social capital and managing desirable impression management. A qualitative research strategy was adopted, with interviews being conducted with ten men and ten women occupying middle and senior tiers of the Civil Service. The findings showed that the theme of “respectable femininity” was prominent in the accounts of both men and women, with the respondents arguing there was an obligation of working women to adhere by such rules of “domesticity”, “restrained networking” and “toning down their femininity” to maintain their reputation and honour in society. As such, the working women in Pakistan felt guilty of violating the norm of “confinement to private spheres”. The study illustrates the struggles women face in becoming a “good woman” and a “successful careerist” at the same time and the subtle barriers they face in their careers. This creates a significant barrier in their career advancement by way of constraining their capacity to exploiting the career management techniques of accumulating “social capital” and using “impression management” tactics and can create a glass ceiling in their career progression.

In the third paper, Viki Holton and Fiona Elsa Dent argue that barriers to women’s careers have not changed significantly over time and that the glass ceiling remains intact in many organisations. However, they propose a blueprint for how individuals and organisations might create a better career environment for women in the future. Their paper draws on a mixed methods research approach that explored the key issues that help or block women’s careers. It included a survey questionnaire completed by 1,402 women interviews in addition to interviews with 20 senior women managers from a range of sectors and countries. Viki and Fiona outline various barriers to women’s careers including that of the glass ceiling before summarising the findings of the study. The paper illustrates the difficulties that women continue to face in the workplace and how terms such as leadership, management and team leader may be gender biased. The findings acknowledged ways women can take more control for their own careers. Among these was the importance of the support and learning from others, mentors, coaches, sponsors and role models. Women reported facing more barriers than men and being judged differently with regard to behaviour and leadership abilities. However, over half the sample felt they were judged equally to men when it came to promotion. The paper concludes with a range of advice to individuals and organisations with regard to helping create a more positive career environment for women. Viki and Fiona warn, however, that while women might take more responsibility for their own career development, in conjunction with this, there is also a need for organisations to create a better organisational culture. The findings have implications for career development structures and talent management processes within organisations, while the blueprint proposed offers a useful guide to help organisations reflect on possible gender bias in career development structures.

In the final paper, Ruth Simpson and Savita Kumra use the metaphor of the “glass slipper” (Ashcraft, 2013) to show how merit may not adhere to individuals when social identity in the form of gender, race or class fails to fit the definition and perceived characteristics of the job. In this way, Ruth and Savita note how merit for women is like Teflon – it does not stick. In so doing, they provide an explanation for the persistence of the glass ceiling and the barriers women face, as they undertake or aspire to management and/or leadership positions in organisations. In their background to the paper, they consider the concepts of a glass ceiling, glass cliff, glass walls and a glass escalator, before examining the notion of a glass slipper. They argue that the glass slipper shows how the identity of work is constructed in relation to the embodied special identities associated with it. They look at the notion of merit and offer criticisms to how this is seen as an objective measure of ability and achievement, arguing that it observes a particular hegemonic masculinity orientation. They claim that in Western cultures, merit is differentially valued according to the nature of the work and the embodied social identities aligned with it.

Their conceptual paper develops a new metaphor; that of “the Teflon Effect”, to add to our understanding of women’s position in organisations. They highlight the significance of the recognition, performance and embodiment of merit and how merit may fail to “stick” to the bodies of women in management and leadership roles. They argue that the “Teflon Effect” enables an understanding of the processes underlying merit and how a misalignment between social identity and the nature of the job may lead to persistent disadvantage. It also explains the persistence of the glass ceiling by focusing on how perceptions of merit are influenced by the fit between embodied social identities and perceived characteristics and features of the job. They contend that professionals must look beyond “objective” measures of merit in performance reviews and/or in recruitment and promotion decisions to include reflection on the significance of merit’s subjective, “performed” dimensions.

We hope you enjoy reading the conceptual and empirical papers in this special issue on the current position of women in management and leadership positions in twenty-first century organisations, and the progress made (or not) since the publication of legendary works.

A thanks to all our reviewers.

We greatly appreciate the ongoing support and contribution reviewers’ make to the journal. Their dedication and hard work to ensure that good standards are adhered to are very much appreciated.

Below is a list of all those who reviewed for the journal in 2016:

Asst Prof Jouharah Abalkhail

Dr Sue Abbott

Dr Nurwati A. Ahmad-Zaluki

Dr Hussain Alhejji

Dr Valerie Antcliff

Dr C Steven Arendall

Dr Seema Arif

Dr Alpha Ayande

Mr Erhan Aydin

Dr Mary Barrett

Assoc. Prof Jyotsna Bhatnagar

Assoc. Prof Tiina Brandt

Dr Adelina Broadbridge

Dr F. Buchanan

Dr Merridee Bujaki

Prof Ronald Burke

Dr Norma Carr-Ruffino

Prof Francesca maria cesaroni

Dr Arti Chatrapathi

Asst Prof Lynn Chin

Dr Siong Choy Chong

Dr Catherine Chovwen

Dr Edel Conway

Dr Wendy Cook

Dr Aliaa Dawoud

Asst Prof Maria Cristina Diaz Garcia

Dr Michael Dunn

Ms Susan Durbin

Dr Marlese Durr

Dr Carole Elliott

Mr Mohamed Elmi

Dr Christina Evans

Dr Andre Everett

Assoc. Prof Souha Ezzedeen

Dr Josiane Fahed-Sreih

Dr Seemab Farooqi

Dr Rodney Farr-Wharton

Dr Emilia Fernandes

Dr Sandra Fielden

Prof Ian Fillis

Dr Erica French

Dr Wilma Garvin

Assoc. Prof G. Gilbert

Dr Susobhan Goswami

Dr Gina Grandy

Dr Heidi Grappendorf

Dr Angela Grotto

Ms Charity-Ann Hannan

Dr Yannis Hatzikian

Miss Rosanne Hawarden

Dr Angela Henderson

Dr Karen Hughes

Dr Carrie Hunt

Dr Dene Hurley

Dr Christiana Ierodiakonou

Dr Meltem Ince

Miss Metlem Ince Yenilmez

Prof. Maimunah Ismail

Miss Neera Jain

Dr Maria Jarlstrom

Prof. Akhilesh K. B

Dr Saleema Kauser

Dr Britt-Inger Keisu

Dr Linzi Kemp

Dr Sue Kinsey

Dr Jodyanne Kirkwood

Dr Angelina Kiser

Prof Kim Klyver

Dr Venkat krishnan

Ms Roxanne kutzer

Dr Caprice Lantz

Prof Jacqueline Laufer

Dr Nirmala Lee

Dr Usha Lenka

Dr Lesley Levin

Dr Bassem Maamari

Dr Hilka Machado

Dr Susan Madsen

Dr Terrell Manyak

Prof Patricia Martin

Ms Maggie Matich

Dr Mary Mattis

Prof Sharon Mavin

Dr Esra Memili

Dr Miral Metawie

Ms Cindy Millman

Dr Maura Mills

Ms Asma Mirza

Prof Silvia Monserrat

Dr Lucas Monzani

Dr Mark Moore

Dr Agneta Moulettes

Dr Aybike Mutluer

Assoc. Prof Christine Naschberger

Dr Mehran Nejati

Dr Faith Ngunjiri

Mrs Josiane O’Brien

Dr Barbara Orser

Dr Lilian Otaye-Ebede

Dr Lori Paris

Prof Liz Parsons

Dr Paulo Pereira

Dr Sara Poggesi

Dr Elizabeth Pollitzer

Dr Effi Raftopoulou

Prof Ajitava Raychaudhuri

Dr Martha Reeves

Assoc. Prof Cristina Reis

Asst Prof Célia Ribeiro

Dr Sarah Robinson

Dr Michael Romanowski

Dr Julia Rouse

Dr Santanu Roy

Dr Cristina Rubino

Dr Jose M. Sallan

Dr Kate Sang

Dr Natalie Sappleton

Dr Virginia Schein

Dr Marion Schulmeyer

Dr Ruth Sealy

Dr Zakia Setti

Dr Zachary Sheaffer

Dr Yusuf Sidani

Asst Prof Rajshree Singh

Dr Victor Sojo Monzon

Dr Eloisio Souza

Dr Jaya Srivastava

Dr Rakesh Srivastava

Dr Brenda Stalker

Dr Val Stead

Dr Peggy Stockdale

Prof Joyce Tang

Miss Wendy Ming Yen Teoh

Prof Janne Tienari

Dr Marina Tomas

Dr Frances Tomlinson

Ms Mary Tucker

Dr V Vijayalakshmi

Dr Laura Visser

Dr Athena Vongalis-macrow

Dr Barbra Wallace

Dr Jill Walls

Dr Izzy Warren-Smith

Dr Jannine Williams

Dr Hans-Joachim Wolfram

Dr Helen Woolnough

Dr Diane Wright

Dr Huiping Xian

Miss Ting Yao

Dr Sara Zaeemdar


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