Women and the Law: Glass Ceilings

Women comprise 44% of executives and managers but only 5% of top executives.

What is the "glass ceiling"?

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Answer The glass ceiling is a level beyond with women and minorities are unable to advance in a work-place. In some workplaces, the glass ceiling blocks access to top jobs; in others, whole categories of jobs may be considered off-limits to female or minority employees.

Source: A Women Employed Fact Sheet: The Glass Ceiling

What evidence suggests that a glass ceiling is in place in American workplaces?

Answer In 1996, women constituted 44 percent of the workers in executive, administrative and managerial occupations, up from 39 percent in 1988. But women account for less that five percent of top executives; 95 percent of senior managers (vice presidents and above) of Fortune 1500 companies are men.

But women are most likely to be managers in female dominated fields. Women held 75 percent of all managerial positions in medicine and health, for example, and half of the jobs in finance, personnel and labor relations, accounting and auditing, and buying.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment and Earnings, January 1997; U.S. Department of Labor, Women's Bureau, Facts on Working Women, Women in Management; A Women Employed Fact Sheet: The Glass Ceiling

Does education explain the differences in the numbers of male and female managers?

Answer When men and women of equal education are compared, there are still disparities in the percentages of male and female managers.

Women managers were less likely to have bachelor and graduate degrees than male managers, and more likely to have a high school diploma, "some" college, or an associates degree. In 1996, 24.3 percent of women managers were high school graduates with no college, 22.1 percent had "some" college, and 9.9 percent had an associate degree, compared to 17.5 percent, 18.5 percent and 7.4 percent of male managers, respectively. But when managers with college and graduate degrees are compared, the relationship reverses. In 1996, 36.2 percent of male managers had a college degree, 14.2 percent had a masters degree, and 3.2 percent had a professional or doctoral degree, compared with 29.7 percent, 10.2 percent, and 1.5 percent of women, respectively.

These trends may be a reflection of the concentration of women in lower-paying managerial positions.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Women's Bureau, Facts on Working Women, Women in Management

Does marital status affect a woman's management opportunities?

Answer In 1996, married women and men with a spouse present were most likely to hold executive, administrative and managerial occupations. However, a higher percentage of men (74 percent) were married than women (61 percent). Nearly twice as many women managers (20.2 percent) as male managers (10.6 percent) were divorced.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Women's Bureau, Facts on Working Women, Women in Management

Are women represented on corporate boards in proportions equal to men?

Answer In 1997, women held 10.6 percent of the board positions at Fortune 500 companies -- 642 out of 6,081. In 1996, they held 10.2 percent of the Fortune 500 board seats -- 626 out of 6,123. Some 419 corporate boards -- 84 percent -- now have at least one women director, up from 416 in 1996. Ninety-six percent of Fortune 100 companies have at least one woman board member. For the first time since the group Catalyst began tracking women's participation on corporate boards in 1993, one Fortune 500 corporation -- Golden West Financial based in Oakland, Calif. -- had an equal number of men (five) and women (five) on its board, along with a female chief executive.

Source: Catalyst, Catalyst 1997 Census of Women Directors, 1997
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