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The Glass Ceiling: Definition, History, Effects, and Examples


The “glass ceiling” is a metaphorical term used to describe an invisible barrier that prevents a certain demographic, particularly women and minorities, from rising beyond a certain level in a hierarchical structure, particularly in corporate and governmental organizations. Historically, it references the restrictions that have impeded groups from accessing higher management levels. The effects include inequality in pay, lack of representation in leadership positions, and potential hindrance of socio-economic growth.


The Glass Ceiling: /ðə ɡlɑːs ˈsiːlɪŋ/ Definition, /ˌdɛfɪˈnɪʃən/ History, /ˈhɪstəri/ Effects, /ɪˈfɛkts/ and Examples /ɪɡˈzæmpəl/

Key Takeaways

Sure, here are the main takeaways on The Glass Ceiling, written in HTML format:

  1. Definition: The Glass Ceiling refers to the unseen barrier that prevents women and minorities from progressing to senior level roles, despite being suitably qualified. This metaphorical barrier impedes equal opportunities in the workplace.
  2. History: The term “Glass Ceiling” was first coined in the late 20th century. Women’s groups and various individuals reported on the phenomenon far earlier, but the Wall Street Journal popularized it in 1986. It has since become a significant focus in discussions about workplace equality.
  3. Effects: The Glass Ceiling has significant societal and economic impacts. It limits the career progression of individuals based on gender or ethnicity, perpetuating wage gaps and power imbalances. This barrier can also marginalize certain groups, leading to decreased job satisfaction and underutilization of talent.
  4. Examples: The Glass Ceiling is evident in various sectors and industries. Women are underrepresented in high-level executive positions across most industries, particularly in tech and finance. In politics, the lack of female representation in leadership roles is another example of this barrier.


The term “Glass Ceiling” holds significant importance in the realm of business and finance as it metaphorically represents the unseen, yet unbreachable barriers preventing women and minority groups from ascending to top leadership roles or reaching their full potential in their workplace, despite their qualifications and achievements. The concept, rooted in historical and sociological contexts, highlights persisting disparities and implicitly discriminatory practices in professional environments. It has a profound effect on various facets of a company, including its culture, employee morale, diversity, and productivity. For instance, companies with a pronounced glass ceiling might witness higher attrition rates, decreased job satisfaction, and lower creativity due to a lack of diversity. Notable examples include the absence of women and minorities in C-suite positions and boardrooms in numerous corporations. Understanding the glass ceiling effect is crucial to formulate strategies for more equitable and inclusive workplaces.


The term “glass ceiling” is predominantly used in the business environment to depict the unseen, yet unbreachable barrier which keeps minorities and women from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, irrespective of their qualifications or achievements. The purpose of the term is to draw attention to the discriminatory practices prevalent within organizations inspite of advancements in gender equity regulations and diversity initiatives. The glass ceiling serves as an instrument for bringing forth discussions on biases and prejudices that obstruct equal opportunities in workplaces, thereby facilitating steps towards creating a more inclusive work environment.The glass ceiling is not explicitly used for some definitive purpose, but rather, its categorization aids in the identification and discontinuation of prohibiting practices in the workplace. For example, the glass ceiling phenomenon has necessitated actionable measures in many organizations like instating women and minority representation requirements in leadership roles and implementing programs that encourage gender equality and diversity. To break through this metaphoric glass ceiling, considerable efforts have been made globally, including workplace reforms and equal opportunity laws. Despite such efforts, instances of glass ceilings still exist, demonstrating its inherent complexity and the immense work needed to completely eradicate it.


Example 1: Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg – Although Facebook has a prominent woman leader, Sandberg herself has admitted that the tech industry has a long way to go in terms of gender equality. Being one of the few women at the executive level in Silicon Valley, she has faced a glass ceiling effect, despite her achievements. She has taken steps to address the issue by launching Lean In Foundation, which supports women to achieve their goals.Example 2: Ursula Burns – Ursula Burns made history as the first Black woman to run a Fortune 500 company, Xerox, from 2009 to 2016. Although she reached the top, she continually faced obstacles because of her gender and race throughout her career. Her achievement is remarkable but also highlights the prevalent glass ceiling in the corporate world that prevents other capable women and people of color from reaching such positions.Example 3: Wall Street – Traditionally male-dominated, Wall Street is often cited as a prime example of the glass ceiling in action. Despite women making up more than half of all financial services employees, they only make up a small fraction of executive positions, according to the US Government Accountability Office. This shows the prevalence of the ‘glass ceiling’ in the finance sector.These examples demonstrate the ‘glass ceiling’ effect, where despite qualifications and abilities, women and minorities face unseen barriers preventing them from reaching high-ranking positions in various fields.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is the definition of the Glass Ceiling?

The Glass Ceiling is a metaphorical term in business and finance that represents an invisible barrier preventing women and minorities from getting promotions, rising to top management positions, and achieving equal opportunities within organizations.

Can you describe the history of the Glass Ceiling?

The term Glass Ceiling was first used in reference to the corporate world in a 1986 Wall Street Journal article. It described the invisible limits that women and ethnic minorities experienced in their career advancement, despite having the necessary qualifications and experience.

What are the effects of the Glass Ceiling?

The effects of the Glass Ceiling are multifaceted. It restricts the career growth and earning potential of women and minorities, creating income disparity. Additionally, it has a negative impact on business diversity, inclusivity, productivity, and innovation, as it denies businesses the varied perspectives and ideas that these marginalized groups can bring.

Can you give me an example of the Glass Ceiling?

An example of the Glass Ceiling is when a minority or woman has time and time again been passed over for a promotion in favor of a less qualified candidate. This lack of upward mobility, despite having qualifications and experience, serves as evidence of a Glass Ceiling effect.

How can businesses lower the Glass Ceiling?

Businesses can lower the Glass Ceiling by promoting diversity and inclusivity in their hiring and promotion practices. This can include unconscious bias training, diversity initiatives, and implementing fair and transparent promotion processes. Affirmative action is another method used to correct historical disadvantages experienced by marginalized groups.

Is the Glass Ceiling a global issue or just in certain countries?

The Glass Ceiling is a global issue. It is present in numerous cultures and societies around the world, although its severity may vary. Even in countries noted for their progressive gender rights, like Sweden or Canada, there still exist discrepancies in the highest levels of leadership in corporations and governments.

Can the Glass Ceiling be completely eliminated?

While it’s challenging to completely eliminate the Glass Ceiling, significant progress can be made. This involves continual attention, effort, and changes to organizational policies and social attitudes towards gender and minority equality. Legislation can also play a key role in combating the Glass Ceiling.

Does the Glass Ceiling only impact women?

While the concept of the Glass Ceiling is often associated with gender inequality, it’s not only women who are affected. The Glass Ceiling also applies to racial and ethnic minorities, and in some cases, other marginalized groups, irrespective of gender.

What are some known studies about the Glass Ceiling?

There have been various studies conducted on the concept of the Glass Ceiling, including those by notable institutions such as Harvard Business School, Pew Research Center, and The U.S. Department of Labor. These studies typically examine the impact of the Glass Ceiling effect on pay disparities, promotion gaps, and socio-economic progress of marginalized groups.

: How does the glass ceiling affect the economy?

The Glass Ceiling, by restricting the career advancement of women and minorities, can limit economic growth. When a large segment of the population’s earning potential and productivity are suppressed, the economy as a whole suffers due to lower income levels and reduced consumption. It also results in an inefficient allocation of resources, as businesses aren’t fully utilizing the talent and skills available to them.

Related Finance Terms

  • Gender Wage Gap: This refers to the average difference between the remuneration for men and women who are working. It is often interconnected with the concept of the glass ceiling as they both involve gender discrimination in the workplace.
  • Leadership Roles: These are positions that involve guiding and directing a team towards achieving a common goal. The lack of women in these roles often highlights the presence of a glass ceiling in organizations.
  • Career Advancement: This term refers to the upward progression in one’s career, often through promotions and additional responsibilities. The glass ceiling can prevent this progression for women and minorities.
  • Affirmative Action: An action or policy favoring those who tend to suffer from discrimination, especially in relation to employment or education; positive discrimination. Could be used as a measure to break the glass ceiling.
  • Discrimination in Workplace: This involves unfair treatment of an employee based on their race, gender, age, or other protected characteristics, rather than their job performance. The glass ceiling is an example of this for women and minorities.

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