The Glass Ceiling

Gender-Icons-1717334The gender gap seems to be closing fast in developed countries or so it looks on the surface. Figures from the latest Global Gender Gap Report say that the situation is still somewhat fluid, with the United States dropping to 23rd place out of 136 countries, from 22nd last year. Another thing these figures show is that the glass ceiling, or perceptions of it, seem to be still in place, but the reasons are anybody’s guess. The percentage of women sitting on boards of listed companies in the USA was just 10% this year, and the men/women ratio for senior government positions was 73/27. Also, the ability of women to rise to a leadership position within a corporate structure was estimated at 5, on a scale from 1 to 7, by participants in the study. So, is it the glass ceiling itself that’s preventing women from getting to the top spots in business and politics, or is it a question of traditional values?

As is most often the case, more than one factor is probably at play. There are still areas of employment where women are in a seriously dominant position, such as primary and secondary education, and areas where men are the dominant gender, such as politics and manual labor. Research evidence has identified a number of objective factors that contribute to the difference in pay for men and women but even this data can’t quantify this difference entirely. So, setting aside measurable stuff like type of industry and work experience, it looks like what’s left is the difference in priorities and traditional gender roles based on, let’s face it, biology.

Women are the ones who bear children and usually look after them, sacrificing their career, at least for a time, while the men work, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, one could easily argue that kids and careers are perfectly compatible today for the women who don’t want to miss out on professional opportunities. There are scores of women in high places in business and government who are living proof of it. So, it may turn out that the glass ceiling is at least partly in our minds — after all, it’s 2013 and gender-based discrimination is illegal, right? Could it be that many of us feel compelled to break the ceiling because we believe we have to, pressured in a way by decades of feminism, feeling we owe it to those who worked passionately to achieve gender equality? Could be. Or maybe some need the professional success to feel complete in the same way others find completeness in devoting themselves to their family.

We’re all so different and the great thing today is that we are allowed to pursue our different goals with hardly any limits or meaningful opposition. Running for Senate is fine if that’s where your passion lies. Quitting your highly paid job in aGlass-Ceiling-231510 financial advisory firm to have kids and raise them the way you feel best is equally fine. Both paths unquestionably require sacrifice and it’s up to you to decide which sacrifice you’re prepared to make. You want to break the glass ceiling with a bang? Go on, smash it, and be prepared to pay the price of long hours and fierce competition. If you’re up to it, and there’s no doubt that many of us are perfectly capable of flying high with the big boys, do it, no regrets. Conversely, if you’re not the flying type or you’re already flying high but it feels like the right time to settle and discover the innumerable joys and also innumerable pains of being a mother, do that. You’ve already broken the glass ceiling, haven’t you?