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The glass ceiling: what have we learned 20 years on?

Gary N. Powell (Department of Management, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut, USA AND School of Management, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK)
D. Anthony Butterfield (University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts, USA)

Journal of Organizational Effectiveness: People and Performance

ISSN: 2051-6614

Article publication date: 7 December 2015




The purpose of this paper is to consider the current status of women in management and explanations offered for this status in light of a rare empirical field study of the “glass ceiling” phenomenon the authors conducted about 20 years ago.


The authors review the study’s key arguments, unexpected results, and implications for organizational effectiveness (which have been largely ignored). The authors then review what has transpired and what has been learned about the glass ceiling phenomenon since.


The nature of glass ceilings has remained essentially stable over a 20-year period, although further explanations for them have flourished.

Research limitations/implications

More scholarly examinations of ways to shatter glass ceilings and thereby enhance organizational effectiveness are recommended.

Practical implications

Organizations, human resources directors, and internal decision makers need to adopt practices that foster “debiasing” of decisions about promotions to top management.

Social implications

Societies need to encourage organizations to adopt ways to shatter glass ceilings that continue to disadvantage women.


A systematic review and analysis of the present-day implications of an early study of the glass ceiling phenomenon has not previously been conducted.



This paper is dedicated to the memory of Matt Butterfield. Earlier versions were presented at Lancaster University Management School and at the 2015 British Academy of Management Meeting in Portsmouth.


Powell, G.N. and Butterfield, D.A. (2015), "The glass ceiling: what have we learned 20 years on?", Journal of Organizational Effectiveness: People and Performance, Vol. 2 No. 4, pp. 306-326.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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