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The Glass Ceiling
Any woman or person of color denied promotion for questionable reasons knows about the “glass ceiling.”
This invisible barrier discriminates against employees based on factors unrelated to their ability. Whether based on age, gender, or race, such discrimination not only limits an employee’s career options but also renders the workplace less productive by failing to make the best use of talent.
UW–Madison education professor Jerlando Jackson directs Wisconsin’s Equity and Inclusion Laboratory. He recently examined how the glass ceiling operates in the academic world and, in particular, how race and ethnicity continue to prevent the advancement of some women and people of color into the upper levels of power and responsibility. He studied teaching faculty and academic leaders at American colleges and universities.
Jackson had observed that, in educational institutions, people of color in professional positions are not equal in terms of power, decision-making, and authority. African American women often experience the “double whammy” of both sexism and racism.
Prior to Jackson’s study, glass-ceiling criteria have not been used to understand employment disparities in the academic workforce. But Jackson realized the glass-ceiling concept could be useful in understanding race-based discriminatory hiring practices.
Jackson’s approach and findings provide new perspectives for understanding employment disparities by race and ethnicity. His study looked at variables of social capital, human capital, and ability. He measured glass-ceiling effects using data from six employment groups: assistant-, associate-, and full professor, and low- mid-, and upper-level academic leader.
Jackson found that the negative effects of the glass ceiling vary for different groups at different stages of their careers. This is particularly important because his study reveals that senior-level positions—positions of institutional control—seem to be accessible for those minorities who had the appropriate professional background and were able to successfully jump over professional hurdles as they moved up the ranks.
Using data from The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) 1999 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty, Jackson simulated career progression through the ranks of the academic workforce for teaching faculty and for academic leaders. He modeled variables that institutions use in hiring and promotion—two points at which glass ceiling effects could be observed.
Although the magnitude of these variables was small, Jackson did find statistically significant results for each model. He draws five conclusions:
First, Asians, in comparison to Whites, are most likely to hold positions as teaching faculty and academic leaders.
Second, people of color are least likely to have access to entry-level positions in the academic workforce, when controlling for social capital, human capital, ability, motivation, and institutional characteristics.
Third, for people of color who are able to persevere through the initial stages of their career, gratification appears to be possible at the senior level.
Fourth, outcomes change from negative to positive if a person of color manages to progress through the ranks. At the entry level, race and ethnicity can be hindrances, but they become neutral starting at the middle stages of the career and becomes positives at senior level positions.
Fifth, the type of institution at which a person of color is employed shapes career success and professional advancement. The fit between the person and institution is a key factor in persistence and success.
Implications for Policy, Research, and Theory
Jackson found that discrimination for people of color is highest at the point of entry and during the early years of one’s career.
Institutions could reduce the glass-ceiling effect on people of color early in their careers by providing mentoring, support networks, and socialization to assist them as they transition into the institution and begin to assume greater levels of responsibility. For those already in senior-level positions, graduate school and early career socialization seems to have been an important component of their success.
Early career professionals benefit from receiving clear expectations about what activities are valued most in terms of career trajectory. Barriers to early career success may be lowered for graduate students of color, for example, who are exposed to the values and expectations of the academic workforce.
In the long run, institutions would benefit by investing in training and professional socialization experiences for students, faculty, and academic leaders of color.
Adapted from the article, “Understanding Employment Disparities Using Glass Ceiling Effects Criteria: An Examination of Race/Ethnicity and Senior-Level Position Attainment Across the Academic Workforce.” The Journal of the Professoriate, 2011.