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Women and the Glass Ceiling

Everyone knows what a "ceiling" is: it's the top of the room, the upper limit, the highest point to which something can rise. In the business world, in the best capitalist sense of economic opportunity, there are no ceilings - one is free to rise to the highest heights one's abilities allow one to scale. However, as Adam Smith failed to take into account when he wrote The Wealth of Nations two hundred some-odd years ago, ability is often compromised by illogical barriers to opportunity. True, capitalism is based upon the idea that businesspeople inherently seek self-advantage, throwing up barriers to competitors, but that idea includes the premise that there is an equilibrium of interests that is generally fair to all in society (Lekachman & Van Loon, 1981, pp. 42-43). Smith and most idealists of the businessplace do not consider fully that social prejudices will create a "glass ceiling" on opportunities available to those of ability who are of minority status - particularly women.

The "glass ceiling" is a term coined only recently, and generally applies to women. It relates to the statistical phenomenon wherein almost half of the American workforce, women, account for less than 10% of the upper management in the business world. Specifically, the "glass ceiling" that women apparently face is that, no matter their ability or accomplishment, male-dominated corporate America is unprepared to let them rise above an artificial, sub-executive level of management.

As a brief aside before entering into the heart of this discussion, it should be noted that glass ceilings affect other minority groups - many of whom have a long history of participation in the business world, but have been denied executive position on the basis of race, religion or ethnicity. However, women present the best case study of the glass ceiling phenomenon, for women are a "minority" only insofar as they are treated with the habitual set of arbitrary di...

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