Glass Ceiling – It’s Meaning and Causes

მედია „აპრილი“

Women play a very important role in the modern workforce and day by day they continue to break stereotypical barriers. Still, many women are a target of discrimination and are often not given opportunities to take high, leading positions in public and private sectors. This is a result of the so-called “Glass ceiling”.

What is the Glass ceiling and what is it caused by?

The term glass ceiling was coined by an American writer, Marilyn Loden in her speech at 1978 Women’s Exposition. This term stands as a metaphor for the barriers that women come across when they try to get jobs at higher positions.

“Glass ceiling is a phenomenon where women seem to have an easier time entering into organizations at lower levels, but as they advance to higher levels, their numbers dwindle. Glass ceiling refers to the idea that there is something holding women back from getting into leadership positions”, — explains Rosalind Chow, professor of organizational behavior and theory.

The glass ceiling is often caused by subconscious bias – stereotypical and discriminative perceptions that are common in society regarding ethnicity, gender, sex, age, sexuality, social class, disabilities, religion etc. These might even be unintentional.

But, sometimes, the glass ceiling can become a systemic problem – a big part of the organizational culture, towards which organizations turn a blind eye. In other cases, the glass ceiling is created deliberately and involves active discrimination, bullying and power play. Factors defining its existence include:

  • Discriminative hiring practices for example, discrimination towards potential mothers, when in case of men, them becoming a father is not discussed. Also, discrimination towards ethnic and religious minorities, LGBTQ+ community, persons with disabilities, and others. There might also be intersective discrimination towards people, who are members of multiple non-dominant groups.
  • Sexist stereotypes – for example, a false belief that women are always emotional and unfit for leadership.
  • Homosociality of relationships and being excluded from them – often, relationships at the workplace are homosocial (exists between people of the same sex, mostly men), both in formal and informal environments (for example, going somewhere after work and decisions made there). Women are excluded from these relationships and outings, which makes it harder for them to meet new people or develop their careers.
  • Discrimination towards investing in human capital – staff trainings are one of the most important components of gaining work experience and career development. If the organization prefers to invest in men, this limits women growing their human capital
  • Hostile work environment – when a boss or a colleague harasses a coworker in verbal, physical, or different ways, this has a bad effect on their health, mood, working ability and does not allow them to express themselves at work, or even want to do so.
  • Underestimation and invisibility of work – for example, when work done by women stays invisible, or when employers praise and appreciate men more for the same work done than women.
  • Unequal division of home labor between men and women – existing gender roles often make women responsible for unpaid home labor (such as taking care of children or other kinds of housework), because of which many women are held back from career development.

In these instances, people “at the top” may deny that a glass ceiling exists because they haven’t experienced it themselves. Or they fear that acknowledging it would threaten their positions.

► One more term that expresses unfair treatment of women at the job market is glass escalator, which refers to the situation when in fields dominated by women, men are still prioritized by managers, colleagues, or clients, which makes their career development easier than women’s.

Not so long ago women’s role in the workforce was not this major. For example, in 1950, only 30% of women were involved in the job market in the US. Their involvement in 2023 makes up 57.4%. It is clear that the number of women in the workforce has significantly grown over the last few decades. Still, they are not well represented in executing positions.

“We come across the glass ceiling mostly in the fields that are dominated by men, and compared to the fields dominated by women, make more profit. For example, management positions in private companies, or management positions in the public sectors. It should be mentioned, that in the public service women mostly work at positions that require supporting abuse victims, or collaborating with organizations that work on defending human rights. There are fields where, statistically, more women are employed, but only at so-called low ranks, while men work in management. This can be seen in healthcare, where women mostly work at low positions, such as nurses or assistants of doctors, while men are the surgeons, heads of clinics, and the decision makers”, — says Elene Kaikhosroshvili, a feminist activist.

In 1991-1996, the “glass ceiling committee” of the US studied the phenomena and how it affects women and minorities. In 1995, the committee discovered that the workforce was divided and white men were mostly employed at management positions of corporations, while women and minorities were given less opportunities to take them.

In the sense of education, more women graduate college than men and play crucial part in the workforce. Still, they are hired at executive positions less often. For example, a research carried out by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that in 2021, among the number of CEO’s in the workforce, only 29.1% were women. And a data report from 2021, Women CEO’s in America showed that in Fortune 500 companies (500 biggest corporations in the US according to Fortune) only 41 women were working at executive positions, which was only 8.2% of the whole number.

Glass Ceiling and Georgia

Challenges caused by the glass ceiling are noticeable in Georgia in more than one field. In this subsection we will discuss a couple of fields, in which career developments of women and minorities are held back by the barriers caused by different stereotypes or misbeliefs.

Politics and Public Work

There are not many women acquiring leading positions in the spheres of politics and public life in Georgia, whether we are talking about governmental positions, public service, or the legal system.

This inequality is made clear by international gender equality indexes. In 2021, Georgia took the 49th place out of 156 countries according to the Global Gender Gap index. As for the number of women in the parliament, according to the data of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), Georgia is on the 113th place out of 188.

Representation of women in the Parliament of Georgia was always low, between 7-15%. This number grew in 2020, when changes were made in gender quotas of the election code, according to which political parties are obliged that at least every fourth person is of different sex in their proportional party lists. From this year’s elections, 29 women were elected to be members of the parliaments, which is 19.3% of all the members.

► Usually, gender quotas are a temporary measurement. According to the opinions of the opponents of this change, gender quotas are discriminative, they give an advantage to politicians because of their gender and their professionalism. While people who support gender quotas believe that they are not a form of discrimination, but compensate for artificially created barriers that do not allow women to acquire deserved positions.

“Political parties mostly use women to do so-called unskilled labor. They make them track data of the voters, make them work as coordinators, have them actively involved in the electoral campaigns, but do not give them opportunities to develop. We do not see these women in media, their visibility does not increase. We do not see them in electoral lists, or on advanced positions” — says Elene Kaikhosroshvili.

There is significant gender inequality in public service too. For example, according to the 2020 data of the Civil Service Bureau, only 30.4% of the members of their employees are women, and 36.4% of the employees at first or second level management positions. The main reason for this is that one of the biggest establishments, Ministry of Internal Affairs is dominated by men. The reason for this domination might be that society strongly believes the stereotype that “this is not women’s business”, alongside possible employment barriers in this type of establishments and so on.

Women are also not enough represented in local governments. According to the data of Election Administration of Georgia, after the 2021 local government elections, from members elected in the local assemblies with the new, proportional system, 68.59% were men, and 31.41% were men. In first and second voting, carried out with majoritarian voting system, only 7.56% and 7.14% were women, so, only 3 women were elected among 64 municipality mayors.

As for the legal system, according to the 2019 ACT study, “The main factors contributing to the underrepresentation of women judges in the management of the common courts in Georgia“, in October, 2018, the number of female judges amounted 53.3% of the whole number, but the representation of women on decision-making positions in the legal system was much lower. For example, there were only 4 women out of 26 chief justices (15.4%), and only 2 women (22.2%) took chairman positions in the chamber out of 9. As for the Supreme Court, the portion of woman judges amounted 36% in the third instance, in 2019.

► As a result of the 2018 presidential elections, Georgia elected its first female president. But, even then, during the election period, instead of Salome Zurabishvili, male politicians of the Georgian Dream were shown on promotional banners. Georgia has never had a female prime minister, and only 2 out of the current 12 ministers are women (16.7%).


According to the gender statistics by the National Statistics Office of Georgia, in the years of 2013-2021, female-owned businesses amounted less than one third of the new enterprises registered yearly. A study carried out by the Economic Policy Research Center in 2021 also shows that women are less represented in high-paid business startups having high financial circulation. Starting a business for them is associated with a couple of problems. One of them is the lack of finances and resources, because in Georgia women own less property than men. Unpaid home labor which is a result of gender roles and stereotypes also adds to this and makes it harder for women to participate in business.

Education and Academic Work

A 2021 report, Gender Equality Profile of Georgia carried out by UN Women, women in Georgia averagely have completed higher education levels than men. Women also actively participate in research and academic work. In the school year of 2019-2020, a part of women in establishments of higher education equaled 60%. Although, the division of professors according to their rank is notable. According to the data from 2020-2021, women are represented less as full professors (38%), and more as assistant professors (68%).

There are also more women researchers – 52% (according to the data from 2019), but their number is less on hierarchically higher positions. They are less represented in the highest, A level category of researchers – 35.8% (according to the data from 2018), but their number is much higher in the lower ranks of researchers (57.4% in category B, 66% in category C, 53.9% in category C), which makes hierarchical inequality and the glass ceiling very noticeable.

This can also be noticed in schools. According to the data from school years of 2018-2019, the part of chief female teachers was 95%. Most of the school principals were also women, but their number compared to female teachers is little – 62%.

► High representation of women in the field of education can be experienced with many different reasons. For example, taking care of children, including being a teacher, is stereotypically considered “a woman’s job”. Also, comparatively lower salaries over the years and so on.

► It’s interesting that the higher education a woman has, more likely it is that she is not married. This is likely because women are forced to choose between a family and a career.

Impact of the Glass Ceiling on Women

Theoretically, employers should be giving their employees equal opportunities, but many women have experienced the true nature of this kind of a change of career development. This is why the glass ceiling is such an important concept. It shows the “invisible” reasons that often come from sexism and other stereotypical, discriminative perceptions, that do not allow women access to the same opportunities as others. The glass ceiling also forces them to choose specific roles that can not be advanced because of the existing barriers, and also affects their financial situation.

Because of the glass ceiling, women’s potential income might be reduced and financial progress might become less accessible. This reduces chances of financial independence and raises risks of economical harassment.

When talking about financial states of women, alongside discussing the unavailability of high-paying jobs, it’s also important to talk about Georgia’s wage gap. According to the 2020 report by UN Women, men get paid 17.7% more hourly than women. These factors affect women’s financial state greatly and reduces both their income and savings.

But, the impact of the glass ceiling is not restricted only to the finances. It also affects many different aspects of people’s lives, such as physical or mental health.

Work environment affects a person’s health and well-being directly. Career suspension and impossibility of the increasement of salary can cause a person to doubt their abilities and feel excluded, as well as anger and irritation. A 2019 study also shows that the glass ceiling has a direct effect on stress levels of woman employees. Chronical stress affects one’s physical health negatively. According to a 2016 research, gender-based discrimination in a work environment, including the existence of equal opportunities and the wage difference can be one of the reasons why depression and anxiety are more common between women.

► The glass ceiling affects women’s career development and financial state, as well as their physical and mental health. It is true that the situation has improved in the last decade, but the issue is still with us.

► The glass ceiling affects both individuals and society in general. In companies and organizations it can be broken by establishing healthier, more inclusive and non-discriminative practices and being impartial towards all employees. It is important that both men and women speak up about workplace discrimination.