New Research Sheds Light On The Glass Ceiling In Corporate America

Across corporate America, the glass ceiling unfortunately remains firmly in place. But progress is being made as an interesting new research tool (hat tip to Carlisle Clifton) demonstrates. This interactive tool allows you to research the breakdown of female CEOs in the country’s biggest companies.

female executiveThe site allows visitors to get a fuller picture of the demographics of these CEOs, including the schools they attended, the age at which they became CEO, their pay, the industry they work in, and the company with which they work. The research results are sometimes unexpected. For example, the energy industry boasts the most female CEOs (four) among large companies.

The dearth of female CEOs and other executives remains in too many workplaces. And a variety of factors are tied to glass ceiling/promotion discrimination, including:

  • entrenched attitudes/stereotypes about what type(s) of people should get the “top” jobs at the company;
  • subjective/hard to define qualifications for promotions that introduce conscious or unconscious biases into decision-making; and/or
  • a lack of networking and mentoring opportunities for women and people of color.

Although the precise structure of a glass ceiling varies among companies, its discriminatory effects are undeniable and often devastating to those unable to break through it. According to one report, the average female employee loses $10,000 per year due to the wage gap between men and women.

To combat glass ceiling discrimination, some employers have used novel techniques. For example, in the 1960’s there were very few women in major orchestra symphonies. Starting in the 1970’s and 1980’s several orchestra hiring groups experimented with using “blind” auditions for musicians. In a blind audition, the musicians perform behind a screen and use other measures—taking high heel shoes off to mute their distinctive clicking sound—to help conceal the gender and race of the performer.

This puts the focus on the candidates’ abilities as opposed to evaluating whether the candidates fit the evaluators’ explicit or implicit biases about who should be in an orchestra. A groundbreaking study called “Orchestrating Impartiality,” evaluated the impact of blind auditions in symphony orchestra auditions. Using statistical analyses, they determined that the blind audition process significantly benefited female musicians and made it more likely that they would pass the initial selection rounds and ultimately be hired.

More innovative measures like this could help grow the number of female CEOs and continue to crack the glass ceiling.

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