So, you banged your head again, huh?

You spent x amount of years dedicated to a company that promoted some young, inexperienced man over you and your impressive portfolio. You’re not alone. We’ve known about the achievement gaps between men and women since Adam was credited for Eve’s creation. Even those woman who get exactly the right breaks at exactly the right time end up hitting a wall (or ceiling) in their career. The glass ceiling is persistent because for so long it has gone unmentioned and unchecked.

This phenomenon didn’t start when Hilary Clinton mentioned it during her 2008 presidential run. No, the glass ceiling has been preventing talented, educated, and tenacious women from reaching the upper echelons for centuries. Women’s professional potential has even been dismissed in fields where we represent the majority! A 2004 gender-based study of social work salaries found that men earned over $3,600 more than women annually even though there were more women in the field. Men were also more likely to be supervisors and directors. Since then, the glass ceiling continues to impact women’s careers.

Recently, the New York Fire Department settled a discrimination suit where the organization was accused of passing over qualified women to hire less qualified men. The settlement paid $1.3 million…that says a lot. It means that rather than take responsibility and begin to dismantle the oppressive structure that allows such practices to thrive. By avoiding a trial, they successfully avoided accountability.

The glass ceiling is unacknowledged because keeping it invisible helps fuel discrimination. Power concedes nothing—including its own existence. Look back to Peggy McIntosh’s “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” (1989). Although she discusses white privilege and its implications for women of color, the same logic is analogous to themes involved in the maintenance of the glass ceiling. McIntosh wrote her work with a white female audience in mind because that was the group she identified with AND because that was the group with the agency to change the behavior. Acknowledging and confronting the problem is the only way to eradicate it. In this instance, what group has the power to create change? What does that change look like?

It is disheartening to think that the only group with the political capital to deconstruct the glass ceiling is the very group that benefits from it most—wealthy white males. Thankfully, that is not necessarily the only route to changing the status quo. The group with the power to change the state of affairs is women. The change looks like women claiming personal and professional agency. The glass ceiling most directly affects women, so there is no viable solution that can come from any other source. Part of the problem is that many female employees expect the very people and companies who benefit from the glass ceiling to destroy it.

Never going to happen.

The next steps include continuing to network and support women-led businesses, holding discriminatory behaviors accountable through reporting and activism, and educating ourselves as well as our male counterparts on different laws and statutes regarding gender equality in the workplace. No one can fight this battle for us. Unless and until we start to rely on ourselves, we’ll have to start wearing helmets to work.

Koeske GF, Krowinski WJ. 2004 Apr; 49(2):309-17. “Gender-based salary inequity in social work: mediators of gender’s effect on salary.” School of Social Work, University of Pittsburgh, PA 15260, USA.

Mcintosh, P. 1988. Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.