Reflections in the Mirror: Revisiting the Glass Ceiling Phenomenon

W. David Paxton

In a combination of reports released, the federal government has made an effort to revive the debate regarding the disparity in pay and position between many men and women which is frequently referred to as the Glass Ceiling phenomenon. [1] 

  1. GAO Report. In November, 2003, the General Accounting Office reported that women earn only about $.80 for every $1.00 paid to a man, which is the same pay gap that has persisted for nearly 20 years. The report entitled Women’s Earnings: Work Patterns Partially Explain Differences Between Men and Women’s Earnings. According to this report, several key work patterns explain most, but not all, of this earning gap:
      • Men work on average 2,147 hours per year vs. 1,675 hours for women.
      • Men average 16 years of work experience while women average 12.
      • Approximately 88% of men work full-time, while only 67% of women work full time.
      • Women spend three weeks out of the labor force per year on average while men are out of the work force an average of only one week per year.

    These statistics confirm the common sense assessment that many businesses experience where women employees trade off career advancement or higher earnings for jobs that offer greater flexibility in order to better manage work and family responsibility. Nonetheless, the report contains troubling suggestions that this series of logical trade-off between work and home may not be the whole story. The report notes the following:

    On the other hand, an earnings difference may result from discrimination in the work place or subtler discrimination about what types of career or job choices women can make…

    Nonetheless, it is difficult, and in some cases may be impossible to precisely measure and quantify individual decisions and possible discrimination.

    Businesses should expect that this study will be used to spark a more careful analysis of the payroll practices of larger organizations.

  2. EEOC Reports March, 2004.Continuing this renewed focus is a report issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on March 5, 2004. In the past several years, the EEOC has become much more focused on gathering and analyzing statistical information from the EEO-1 reports that larger employers are required to submit. An EEO-1 report is required to be filed by every private sector employer that employs 100 employees, as well as those businesses with government contracts that exceed $50,000, and employ at least 50 employees. The most recent statistics (for 2002) were released, and the report noted significant differences. The report is based on data compiled from 39,000 employers employing nearly 52 million workers. The study entitled Glass Ceilings, the Status of Women as Officials and Managers in the Private Sector is accessible on the EEOC’s website at There are several notable findings from this report:
    • Women represent 48% of all jobs listed in EEO-1 employment, but only hold 36.4% of positions within the officials and managers category. In contrast, the EEOC pointed out that women make up 80.3% of the office and clerical workers category.
    • The report went on to note that women now occupy 51.7% of professional jobs – compared to the low number of officials and managers. Professionals include accountants, airline pilots, artists, designers, dieticians, editors, engineers, lawyers, mathematicians, registered nurses, HR specialists, social sciences teachers and surveyors.

    EEOC Chairman, Cari M. Dominguez specifically noted while more women are shattering the proverbial glass ceiling, and many more are chipping holes in it, unfortunately, the gains are not across the board. Disparities exist in the work force participation of women by industry. Some industries are doing a better job than others. We hope this study will assist employers and employees alike in identifying barriers to the opportunities for access and advancement.

    While there are a number of specific findings, the primary contribution of these analyses is the ability to raise important problems and questions about gender based discrimination given the wide variations and the types of firms and industries in the American economy… while it is difficult to specify the precise causes, it seems evident that management recruitment patterns in blue collar industries differ substantially from management recruitment patterns in service industries.

    The EEOC has identified the Top 10 List of those having the best opportunity for women as follows:

    • the healthcare sector;
    • retail sales;
    • legal services;
    • insurance industry;
    • property management; and
    • financial institutions.

    Among those businesses in the Lowest 10 tend to be:

    • architectural, engineering and related services;
    • general freight trucking industries (a/k/a PJAX, Inc.);
    • automotive parts industry;
    • plastics product manufacturing;
    • converting paper product manufacturing; and
    • metal fabricating manufacturing.
  3. Local Statistics. It is interesting to compare these statistics compiled at the national level to the local MSAs. In the Lynchburg MSA, there were only 153 EEO-1 reports submitted, and in the Roanoke MSA, there were 292 reports submitted. These two reports cover 94,655 employees who work in our region.
    1. Lynchburg MSA (34,348 employees). In contrast to the national average (48%), the work force in the Lynchburg MSA is comprised of 45 % women, and only 24% of women hold officials and manager positions (compared to 36.4% nationally). Consistent with the national trends, however, women comprised 50.6% of the professional category. Other statistical information of note in the Lynchburg MSA are as follows:
      • 74.3% of the Lynchburg workforce is Caucasian (compared to 70% nationally) and a 25.7% minority workforce
    2. Roanoke MSA (60,307 employees). In the Roanoke MSA, the statistical information shows a slightly different picture. Women make up 49% of the workforce (slightly more than the national average), however, women comprise only 30.8% of all officials and manager positions (as opposed to 36.4%). Women hold 58.6% of the professional category (compared to 52.1%), and 52% of the sales workforce (compared to 55% nationally). Most interesting is the Technicians category, which applies to those occupations requiring basic scientific knowledge and manual skill obtained through two years of post high school education which includes computer programmers, drafters, engineering aids, practical or vocational nurses, photographers, technicians (medical, dental, physical science and other assistants). In Roanoke, 59% of the Technicians are female, compared to 46% nationally.
      • The Roanoke workforce is less diverse than Lynchburg as Caucasians comprise 83.9% of the Roanoke workforce and minorities only 16.1%.
    3. Significance of Reports. The EEOC has made it clear by the issuance of this latest Glass Ceiling report and the accompanying statistics, which also includes an analysis of these same statistics over the previous five years, that it is carefully examining businesses that have employment and hiring patterns that fall outside the norm for what would be expected given these overall trends. It is important that every organization, but especially those that file EEO-1 reports carefully analyze their own statistical data and compare to that of the national and local MSA data to determine if they are significantly out of step. Manufacturers need to be especially concerned if a charge of discrimination is filed by an individual working in one of the industries where the EECO believes there is a statistical problem, and your workforce is out of line with general statistics. The EEOC is taking a much more heightened interest in evaluating the situation. It must be remembered that the EEOC can use the complaint by one employee to justify a more extensive review of your hiring and promotion practices and will not be limited solely to gathering information just based on the one individual who has filed a complaint, particularly if the individual complaining suggests that there are other similarly situated individuals who experience this same thing. As noted in the enforcement section, the EEOC is looking for opportunities to make cases into class actions in order to maximize their recovery. We think that there is no coincidence that the EEOC’s Baltimore office which oversees Virginia targeted a trucking company for a significant enforcement action after only one employee complained. The investigation into that complaint led to a second complaint being filed by the terminal manager who claimed that he had opposed certain practices, and this opened the door for a multi-million dollar settlement.

    [1] The term Glass Ceiling is commonly used to describe those artificial, invisible barriers that are based solely on attitude and organizational bias which prevent qualified individuals from advancing upward into management level positions. Typically it refers to barriers to women, but can also apply to racial and ethnic minorities.

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