How we create glass ceilings for ourselves

Joan F. Marques - MBA, Doctoral Student
Burbank, California

Just recently I received an email from a person who wanted to comment on another work from my hand. The article in question was about Denzel Washington and Halle Berry receiving Oscars for movies in which they did an awesome job playing a bad person, thereby unintentionally feeding the stereotypical impression that "black is bad." This person generally agreed with the article. However, the reader asserted, the fault of stereotyping cannot entirely be blamed to others, since too many people of color deliberately seem to utilize every opportunity to portray themselves in a scary, negative way. After a brief evaluation I could not find any reason to disagree. So let's now take a look at how different groups are maintaining the stereotypical status quo, thus creating glass ceilings for themselves.

As you may know, the glass ceiling is a term used for the "invisible barrier [that limits] the advancement of women and minorities" (Shermerhorn, 2002, p.9). Although there are numerous examples out there of occasions where women and minorities are deliberately withheld from making career progress or obtaining financial gain, we cannot deny that oftentimes the ceiling is pulled over our heads by no one but...ourselves!

Before continuing, it might be relevant to affirm that the perception on glass-ceiling as a problem that only women and minorities suffer, is disputed by some men, who stress that all people can create glass ceilings for themselves. Having taken careful notice of that, the analysis of self-built glass ceilings in this article will nevertheless be limited to the groups mentioned in the official definition of this phenomenon.

Let's start with people of color. Of course there are many, who do whatever is in their might to portray themselves correctly, dress appropriately, show up in time for appointments, and be clear in their communication. But then there is another group that seems to hold on to beliefs that the scarier you look, the better. They continuously seem to find ways to emphasize the negative impression that lives among others about them. They dress offensively, wear their hair in extreme ways (and I'm not indicating that you should walk around with a dull, conservative hairdo), speak in a way that is hard to understand, and listen to music with words of which you wonder how they ever made it to the vinyl! I have been speculating what the psychology might possibly be behind this trend, and I did not really find an answer yet. Someone presented me the conclusion that it might not so much be a psychological - but rather a cultural issue: my parents, cousins, uncles, aunts, neighbors or peers do it, so I do it. Yet, if there is a reader who has a different explanation, I would like to hear it. Maybe it will be an eye opener.

My point is, that no one can blame you for anger you may feel inside – for whatever reason. As a comment to this statement I was told, by the way, that youngsters of today - unlike their forefathers - have too much offers to accept and changes to establish if they really want to. Therefore, there can be no reason for anger other than a personal one. All the same, if you go through society in a way of which you know beforehand that it is simply not accepted, no matter what you may think about the reasons for that refusal to acceptance, is the most elementary way of creating a glass ceiling for yourself! In this case you should never wonder why there don't seem to be any "cool" jobs available for you, even if you know that the company where you are applying is hiring aggressively!

As for women, I have touched on the element of glass ceiling establishment by themselves before. In the first place women have a tendency to minimize the entrance of other women within a company where they are working, probably because they know – from self-examination - that their own kind is very competitive. They may, hence, keep other women out because they are scared of being surpassed by the one they helped into a position in the first place!

Another tendency we often see within women is, that they don't seem to be very understanding toward their sisters in the same workplace. Wherever you have a large number of women working, you will have a lot of merciless gossiping and cat-fighting going on. Next: many women have a tendency to use every reason to emphasize their vulnerability, and demand greater understanding for their "specific" circumstances. Therefore they are often gone from work to take kids to the dentist, take parents to a function, or simply because of monthly "personal issues" that they (mis)use to stay away.

From the male point of view - which I could only incorporate here after a member of that guild explained it to me - there is great confusion on how to treat women properly in the workplace without running into trouble. Here’s a little peek at how men perceive the problem with female colleagues at work:

"Men are backward thinking pigs if they hold the door for a women, but they are thought of as rude if they walk in ahead. From a man's point of view, this wears on you after awhile. Therefore in order to avoid confrontation, men take the easy way out, and avoid the possibility. If the woman is the least bit aggressive, men shy away from working with her, thinking, "We have been burned by her kind before." However, if she is not aggressive, yet in a position of authority, she is not listened to. If she is aggressive, and in a position of authority, she is constantly trying to prove herself, to the point of micro managing people so that the work environment becomes uncomfortable to work in. Finally, when faced with production problems, instead of sitting back and analyzing what is taking place, she writes the problems off with the thought that people do not respect her because she is a women."

Let me hurry to stress here that not all women are like that. Thank God. But many are! And since we, human beings, carry the weakness of stereotyping (among many other weaknesses), we tend to think that hiring a woman will, like the 99 before her, result in frequent absences and numerous issues to deal with. So we prefer to hire the strong white male, clean-cut, politely spoken, well dressed, and listening to non-aggressive music.

Believe me, I will be the first to explain why diversity should be encouraged in the workplace. But how can it ever be fully implemented and taken full advantage of, if the groups that personify diversity create glass ceilings for themselves? This is the other side of the coin: the vicious cycle of the why, how and where in our current global workplace.

Funny world...

Schermerhorn, J. (2002). Management. New York: John Wiley Sons, Inc.

Special thanks to:
Clark, G. (2002). Managing Director - The Small Business Coaching Group,