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What Is Meant by ‘Glass’ and ‘Concrete’ Ceilings? How Are These Barriers Constructed and Manifest in Organizations?”


This paper is about managing diversity in an organization, this paper will critically examine the challenges that are faced by the HR managers in regard to managing diversity in an organization for example, barriers like ‘glass’ and ‘concrete’ ceilings are constructed and they manifest within the organization. Diversity can be defined as the difference that exists between the people like the different countries they belong too.

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Globalization plays an important role in diversity in a company. It must be remembered that creating a productive and enjoyable work environment is the dual responsibility of HR managers and HR experts. HR managers are responsible for marshalling the organization’s human and nonhuman resources to achieve the company’s business objectives. Human resource managers and professionals provide the people expertise, procedures and systems that enable the HR managers to meet their challenges.

Ultimately the company has a competitive advantage in a way that adds value to the company or it fails. Human resource management is one of the ways a company can gain a competitive advantage, which is not easily duplicated by any other company, as in the case of technology. Cultural diversity of an organization is amplified with the help of globalization; basically this requires that the members of the human resource department become increasingly aware of different cultures so that other managers can be properly advised. Managers and the human resource department further their contributions to the organization by being informed about cultural differences among the company’s international operations.

As we know that diversity in organizations is created due to globalization. Globalization can be defined as a way that the world is getting interconnected both economically and culturally. Globalization is actually the process of economic, technological, political and socio-cultural forces i.e. globalization refers to the adaptation or development of values, knowledge, technology and behavioural norms across different societies and countries around the world.

The characteristics of globalization are mostly linked with global networking (i.e. internet, electronic communication or technology etc.) with interflow of information in the economic, social, political and cultural learning areas, interflow between international alliances and competitors, international collaboration and multi-cultural integration and global village and technology. (Globalization, 2001)

Globalized HR management places a wide variety of new pressures on traditional human resource activities, but at the same time it is the manager’s ability to meet those challenges that provides an opportunity to make significant contributions to the company. For managers and the human resource department to be a source of competitive advantage, the department generally must evolve to support the organization’s transformation from a domestic to an international to a global oriented company. This evolution requires an awareness of the assumptions and employee rights that are likely to be encountered in the international arena and rethinking of the department’s structure and activities. (Powell, 2004, pg 127)

A specific area where cultural differences are commonly affect business plans is the growing cadre of women employees and managers and professionals in companies. In many cultures women are expected to assume traditional and family centred roles like taking care of the house, doing the cleaning and the washing etc. For example, developing countries like Muslim dominated regions and Japanese companies have not given women an equal employment opportunity.

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In Muslim countries like Iran and Iraq, women are discouraged from working side by side with them men; in others tradition defines the jobs a woman can hold like nursing or teaching etc. A company that is dedicated to equal employment opportunity must make international assignments available to women if they are to advance to senior level positions in the company. Awareness of cultural differences can enable succession planning and other departmental efforts to provide equal employment opportunity for women in ways that are beneficial to the employee’s needs and the company’s objectives. In fact equal employment opportunity is so central that HR departments are devoted to this challenge. (Daft, 1997, pg 578)

What is diversity? In the diversity of national origins there is an even wider range of cultures, religions, languages, dialects, educational attainment, skills, values, ages, races, genders and other variables that separates one from another. Knowledge of these variations challenges the mangers and the human resource professionals in the organizations to develop proactive policies and practices. For example, in a study it was found that workforce diversity lowered the psychological attachment of group members to the organization, calling for more proactive efforts by the human resource department in the face of increased diversity.

Knowledge about diversity comes from personal observations and from demography, the statistical study of population characteristics. For example, the workforce demographics describe its composition; education level, race, age, sex, part of the population that is participating in the workforce and other characteristics. If there are any changes in the demographics of the workforce they usually are known in advance, they occur slowly and are very well measured. (Werther & Davis, 1996, pg 35)

As globalization increases diversity would also increase, as the growing number of immigrants’ increases it presents mangers with more complex communication issues with dealing with people whose native language is not the same as that of the vast majority of their co-worker. Creating a productive and enjoyable work environment is the dual responsibility of human resource managers and human resource experts. (Werther & Davis, 1996, pg 35)

From an individual’s point of view, diversity can be defined as including people different from themselves along the dimensions such as age, ethnicity, gender or race.


Several important dimensions of diversity are shown in the above figure. The inner square of the chart shows the primary dimensions of diversity. The primary dimension has inborn differences or differences that a person has and which will leave an impact on one’s life. These dimensions include: age, ethnicity, race, physical ability and sexual orientation. These dimensions are considered to be the main elements that will shape a person’s self image and world view. Secondary dimensions of diversity are shown in the outer square of the chart; these elements can be developed or changed by a person throughout his or her lifetime. These dimensions tend to have an impact on a person’s self definition and world view (Wilson, 2003, pg 42).

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Glass Ceiling & Concrete Ceiling

Glass Ceiling

Glass ceiling is a metaphor that separates women and minorities from the top management positions in the firm. They can look up through the ceiling and can see the top management, but the prevailing attitudes are still invisible obstacles to their advancement in the organization. For example, a study was study conducted and it suggested that the additional existence of ‘glass ceilings’ serve as an invisible barrier to important lateral movement within the organization. Glass walls usually stop women from experiences in areas like the supervisory line positions, what happens is that it stops the women to climb vertically within the organization. (Toussaint, 1993)

Why does the glass ceiling persist? The explanation to the persistence of glass ceiling is the monoculture at the top levels in the organization. The top level corporate culture usually revolves around white, heterosexual, the males (whether they are in America or United Kingdom) and these people usually hire and promote those individuals who look, act and even think like them, because they do not like change. Of the people who are moving or climbing the corporate ladder are usually white males because they tend to be more compatible (in all the mentioned reasons) to the people at the top level of the corporation. (Stockdale & Crosby, 2004, pg 35)

Another reason for persistence in the glass ceiling is the regulations of women and minorities to less visible positions and projects so that their work fails to come in attention of the top level management/ executives. Stereotyping by the male middle – manager population in the organization usually leads to the assumption that a woman’s family life will interfere with her work or that they lack competence for important tasks and projects.

Women and as well as minorities often believe that they have to or must need to work harder and perform at higher levels than their white male counterparts in ordered to be noticed, recognized fully accepted within the organization and as well as promoted. Even when the women are promoted into the supervisory positions within the organization, they often fail to move further up the hierarchy system of the organization because due to subtle sexism and racism in the working environment of the top level management (Davidson & Cooper, 1992, pg 11).

Evidence of the glass ceiling is actually the distribution of women and minorities who are usually grouped together at the bottom of the organization for example, a study was conducted it was fund out that in United States of America 97 percent of the top managers are white and out of those approximately 95 percent of them are males, who are working at the top level of the hierarchy of the organization. (Baxter & Wright, 2000, pg 278)

Hypothetical Example Showing How There Can Be Very Few Women Top Managers and Gender Discrimination without a “Glass Ceiling”
Number of people in a level
Managerial Level Men Women Percentage of Women
Constant intensity of discrimination up the hierarchy
Top Managers 100 1 1
Manger level 4 200 4 2
Manager level 3 400 16 4
Manager level 2 800 64 7.5
Manager level 1 600 256 14
Line supervisor 3000 1024 24
Non – management 6400 4096 42

Concrete Ceiling

Concrete ceiling describes the term where the minority women are faced with a type of barrier within the organization. The thing is that women who are Caucasian are also faced with a glass ceiling in the work place but what happens is that they are sometimes able to break through the glass ceiling which has been erupted by the men in top level positions in the corporation but here the problem is that the women from the minority are not able to break through the glass ceiling hence the name ‘concrete ceiling’ because it is very solid and completely unyielding.

The term ‘concrete ceiling’ was created because women who belong to the minority are mostly faced with issues like racism and sexism which prevents and intensifies their obstructions in their advancement within the organization and as well as in the labour market. (Jet, 1999)

The concrete ceiling has been perceived by the minority women in a study as a social barrier, this prevents them from getting top level positions in organization of the corporate world especially in America. While all the companies are diversifying themselves, but there have been no gains for the minority females who are working in an organization. In a report of 1997 it was shown that the minority women in the corporate world make up approximately 10 percent out of 127 million workforce and out of those 7.5 million management jobs they hold approximately 5 percent, it was also said that 86 percent of the females managers are while, 7 percent are Afro – Americans, 5 percent are Hispanics and 2.5 percent are Asian – Americans. (Jet, 1999)

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For example, these days in United Kingdom there are now few women are being appointed as MPs, police chief and senior judges then in the past few years ago, they are even less then from last year as well. the number of female holding a top level job have decrease due to the Equality and Human Rights Commission list which was complied and the progress has slowed down quite a bit because even now most employers believe that the place of a women is to stay at home and raise children even though these days women are getting an higher educated and are very particular in having careers in the corporate world. (Beckford, 2008)

It has been accused that the employers put up barriers like concrete ceilings which stops or prevents the furthering advancement of a women within the organization, they do that by preventing them from working extremely late hours and this does not help them at all with their promotions. It has been pointed out by the employers that women are not employed in senior positions because they usually take long breaks from their career because they have to raise their families and when they are doing that their male counterparts are gaining more and more experience in the corporate world, which makes the women completely unsuitable for a senior position. (Doughty, 2008)

Construction & Manifestation of Barriers to Glass & Concrete Ceilings

There are different barriers to the construction and manifestation of glass and concrete ceilings within the organization. Some of the barriers to glass and concrete ceilings are as follows:-

  • There are no friendly policies in the workplace
  • All kinds of discrimination (for example, sexual, ethnic, religious and harassment) in the workplace (Doughty, 2008)
  • The wage gap between the women and the men in the organization


In particular women who leave the corporate world to care for the young children have a difficult time moving up the hierarchy when they return back to the corporate world. There is a term that helps to describe this is called the ‘mommy track’ this implies that the women’s commitment to their children limits their commitment to that of the organization and they start to lack in their ability to handle rigors of the corporate management. These women risk being treated as beginners when they return to the corporate world, it doesn’t matter to the management whether they are highly qualified, have a great deal of experience or that their skills are vastly to those of the males, these women continue to lag behind in everything for example, salary, responsibility and as level as positions and titles in the organization. (Strauss, 2007)

For example a 55 year old male, an MBA from Oxford and the father of 2 grown children, who is a vice-president of a Fortune 500 company, may be perceived very differently from a female clerical worker, age 25, who is a single mother of 2 children and is attending evening classes to earn a college degree. Based on this information a person can predict the personal priorities and career expectations each person may have of the organization? The challenge for all kinds of institutions would be today is to recognize these differences and use the unique strengths of the individuals. (Stockdale & Crosby, 2004, pg 35)

Another challenge related to this is the homosexuals in the workplace. Many gay men and lesbians mostly believe that they will not be accepted as they are and risk losing their jobs or any chances of advancements for better positions in the organization.

For example, the director of a large mid – western hospital in the USA would like to be honest that she is a lesbian but she says that almost at her level of the corporate hierarchy no one has taken such a step and that it would jeopardize her position in the corporation and that she could lose her job. Therefore gays and lesbians usually fabricate themselves as heterosexual identities so that they are able to keep their jobs or positions or even avoid running into concrete or glass ceilings in the organization, especially when they see other employees faced such kinds of ceiling especially the women, whether they are Caucasian or Hispanic. (Ely, Scully & Foldy, 2003, pg 158)

Another way a barrier is erupted is through the gender wage gap. The gap actually is the difference in the wage of male and female population who might be holding the same job, training experience, education and profession as well.

What happens is that the females are paid less than the men when compared to them. “It has been found out that if men are making a dollar then the women will be making approximately 75 cents from the same titled job (this was recorded and derived from the statistics which are kept by the United States Census Bureau in 2003)”. (Howard, 2005, pg 18). This wage gap is always present in all the fields of the professional life for example, in the blue collar positions as well as in the managerial positions and professional occupations as well. (Seelig, Paul & Levy, 2002, pg 18)

Women are usually are enforced for low – ranked and low – paid jobs in any given job or occupation. And by chance in the women are in any management position they would be in the personnel department rather than the marketing one, it has been found out that the average salary of a woman is between $48,048 and $56,940 per year. Let’s pick up another example and that of a medical field; a female doctor is encouraged to practice in the family practice or paediatric specialties, and making an earning between $130,000 and $126,000 per year, whereas the male doctors are encouraged to become surgeons or highly specialized medical practitioners, and making an earning between $240,000 or more per year. (Seelig, Paul & Levy, 2002, pg 18)

Another barrier is created for the women (white, black or Asian) through sexual harassment, sexual harassment can create a disturbance or can affect an individual’s work performance and can create a hostile or offensive environment within the working place and it would also create poor employees morale, low productivity and lawsuits against the company. And if an individual does not submit to this conduct it is used against him or her regarding their employment decisions. (Wilson, 2003, pg 42)

Sexual harassment is not actually about sex but rather about power but more to the point, abuse of power. Harassment is not just sexual but also includes harassment based on race, religion or disability etc. But the most common kind of harassment found within the working place is sexual harassment. There are other kinds of harassment as well which create barriers, for example, if a woman becomes pregnant with a child she is either demoted or laid off because she becomes useless for the company and she comes back from her leave she is not given the same job but an inferior one and has to start from all over again. (Klenke, 1996, pg 283)

Solutions to the Challenges

To overcome these problems is to breakdown down the barriers that have been erupted and the best way is do it by recognizing cultural difference and to overcome ethnocentrism.

  • Recognizing Cultural Differences: The management can improve intercultural sensitivity by recognizing and accommodating four main types of cultural differences. They are 1) contextual difference; it is one of the ways where individuals assign meaning to a message in accordance to cultural context, message stimuli and implicit understanding, 2) legal and ethical differences; cultural context also influences legal and ethical behaviour of the employees. When a company is conducting its business, the management has to keep it messages ethical by applying 4 principles; seek mutual ground actively, send and receive messages without any sort of judgment, send those messages which are honest and lastly show some respect for cultural differences. 3) Social differences; social behaviour is another distinguishing factor among all of the cultures. In any culture rules of social etiquette may be formal or informal. And in case if formal rules are violated for any reason, the members of the culture will be able to explain why they are upset about it and if informal rules of any culture are violated for any reason, the people of that culture will feel uncomfortable and will not be able to tell the person who violated those rules why. (Daft, 1997, pg 578)
  • Overcome Ethnocentrism: when the management is communicating overseas and across cultures, open mindedness is consider very important and it is very effective for communication. To overcome any sort of ethnocentrism the management must remember to acknowledge distinctions, avoid any sort of assumptions and it not suppose to make any sort of judgments. (Daft,1997, pg 578)


It has become important that the need of breaking down glass ceilings if the company wants to change its corporate culture and to become a success. Because the increase in diversity within organizations is very important due to social cultural changes and changing of the work force. As we know that diversity in the work place usually reflects diversity in the larger environment. Organizations that ignore diversity reduce their productivity, suffer tarnished images in the market and suffer financial losses as well.

Women believe that they need to work very hard to that they can be noticed, accepted and recognized just like their male counterparts and as well as promoted like them. Even though when the women are promoted to the supervisory positions they often fail to move further up the hierarchy system, this happens due to subtle sexism and racism in the working environment of the top level management, which does not allow a woman to be promoted. (Chawla, & Renesch, 2006, pg 57)


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