Glass ceiling syndrome, in its simplest definition, is the invisible boundaries that prevent you from rising in front of your potential. It defines the barriers based on gender inequalities that especially women experience in business life today. In this article, we discuss what is the glass ceiling syndrome and what are the effects of glass ceilings in women’s business life.

What is Glass Ceiling Syndrome?

Scientists observe that fleas can jump to different heights. Thereupon, they set up an experimental setup and put a few fleas in a glass jar with a height of 30 cm. First of all, the metal floor on which the fleas are located is heated. It is observed that the fleas, which are disturbed by the heat, jump to escape, but crash into the glass ceiling and fall.

Since fleas do not know what glass is, they cannot fully understand what is holding them back. However, after repeatedly banging their heads against the glass, they gain the instinct to jump lower after a while. Fleas no longer jump higher than 30 cm.

After observing that the fleas no longer hit the ceiling, the second stage of the experiment is started and the glass bell jar is removed. At this point, those who think that the freed fleas will jump again as before would be wrong. As a result of the experiment, it is observed that all fleas jump 30 cm even if there is no glass ceiling. There is no obstacle now, fleas can jump to the heights they want, but they do not jump because they don’t have the courage to do so.

This limiting life lesson, taught as it were by slapping fleas on their heads, always conditions them to jump below their potential. The ceiling, that is, a real obstacle, does not exist now, but the obstacle is now in their minds. This experiment shows how living things accept what they cannot achieve.

The glass ceiling syndrome, named after the experiment on fleas, has also proven its existence in human psychology. Today, it is considered as a concept that defines the invisible barriers that prevent especially women from rising in business life.

Why Do Women Rank Less Despite Having Necessary Competencies? What are the Effects of Glass Ceiling Syndrome in Business Life?

Although many organizations around the world always advocate gender and equality of opportunity, both in their visions and in their advertisements, women in the business world face invisible obstacles that cannot be clearly expressed every day. The situation where women have the necessary qualifications, but are placed on unfair boundaries in promotion is shortly called glass ceiling syndrome.

In the mentioned glass ceiling discrimination, glass is a metaphor and represents the invisibility of obstacles. In other words, although there is no obstacle with ethical and logical approaches, they are only problems encountered due to gender discrimination, social taboos and prejudices.

At the center of the glass ceiling concept; concepts such as prejudices, discriminations and especially racism and sexism. Today, not only women but also minority groups or sometimes men are exposed to this unfair situation in business life. However, in our article, we will talk about the glass ceilings that women face, as they are the group that encounters this situation the most.

Gender, Inequality of Opportunity and Glass Ceiling Syndrome

As a result of the researches, it has been observed that the managers prefer male candidates twice, regardless of whether they are male or female. However, when the name and gender information in the applications are hidden, the rate of preference for women increases by 25-46%. This difference is so significant that when asked to the people who participated in the research and who were in the lens of the decision, 40% said that they noticed a discrimination against women, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

Considering the data from business life, it is possible to observe this discrimination more clearly. “For example, in companies where 90% of the management units are men, 50% of the employees believe that women are adequately represented in their companies, and in such companies, men reach leadership positions 30% more often than women. Indeed, for example, there are only 38.6% of women in leadership positions in the US; Only 23% of C-level (CEO, CFO, COO, etc.) positions are women and 4% are minority women. The proportion of women on the Fortune 500 list declined to 4.1% in 2016. Only 3% of companies that can enter this list have members from minority ethnicities on their boards of directors. Although there are perceptions that certain groups occupy positions of power, in the United States, for example, only 14% of executives are Asian or Asian-American.” (source)

Not All Discrimination Is A Glass Ceiling. When Does Glass Ceiling Syndrome Occur?

In the previous parts of our article, we talked about the glass ceiling syndrome. In this section, we would like to mention a very important point that needs attention. Not all discrimination is the glass ceiling effect. In order for glass ceiling discrimination to be mentioned, the following conditions must be in question.

  • There must be discrimination based on gender or racial differences that cannot be explained by the employee’s personal competencies and job-related skills,
  • A certain gender or race should be dominant in senior position employees compared to those in lower positions,
  • There must be gender or racial inequalities in the likelihood of reaching higher positions,
  • Later in the career, there should be more favourites, based on gender or race, than in the early stages,

Glass ceiling syndrome is not only the barriers to promotion of women in business life; it also includes access to education, lower wages for the same job, or the inability to enjoy necessary individual rights and freedoms.

Today, many women are exposed to glass ceiling discrimination in many different sectors. This issue, which is a reflection of gender discrimination, needs to be highlighted and struggled together.


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Deniz MEHTER

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