"The glass escalator explains why men out-earn women, even in predominately female professions like nursing and teaching."
This week on Ask a Woman
our guest expert, Professor Christine L. Williams
, Chair of the University of Texas at Austin’s Sociology department, explores the phenomenon of the “glass escalator.” Dr. Williams studies gender, race, and class inequality in the workplace. She is the author of Inside Toyland: Working, Shopping, and Social Inequality
(2006), which exposes how these forms of inequality are embedded within consumer culture through an examination of low-wage retail workers. She is currently studying the careers of women scientists in the oil and gas industry. Dr. Williams teaches courses on gender, sexualities, labor, and qualitative research methods. She recently published a study on gender and team structure, the results of which were detailed in an article
put forth by Stanford University’s Gender Institute.
My team at work is made up of mostly women, and I've noticed that I've been getting greater visibility and praise than my equally skilled female teammates. How can I ensure that the women I work with get equal treatment?
This sounds like a classic case of the “glass escalator
.” We have all heard of the “glass ceiling,” the hidden barriers that women face in male-dominated work settings. The glass escalator refers to the hidden advantages that accrue to men when they are in the minority. Stereotypes about masculinity, such as the beliefs that men are naturally more intelligent and make better leaders than women, tend to enhance men’s careers, whether or not they are in the minority. Consequently, men make more money than women do, even in predominately female professions like nursing and teaching.
The team structure provides additional hidden advantages to men. By the very nature of teamwork, the individual’s contribution to the final product is obscured. In order to achieve recognition and rewards for their contributions, individuals working on teams must be willing and able to stand out from the group and advertise their accomplishments. A number of studies
suggest that this apparently gender-neutral requirement may be easier for men to fulfill than it is for women. Women may be regarded negatively when they promote themselves; they are more likely to be viewed as “aggressive” than “assertive.” Research also suggests that minority men and women who engage in self-promotion may be viewed negatively by their white colleagues and supervisors
The answer is not
more assertiveness training for minorities and women. Rather, teams should be required to identify objective and measureable standards for individual success. Those standards ideally should include at least some traits more commonly associated with women, such as being collaborative and empathic, so that women have a better chance of achieving the recognition and credit they deserve.