Revealing the Ceiling: A critical exploration of the barriers to female career advancement and how organizations can help overcome these by gender equality work

University essay from Handelshögskolan i Stockholm/Institutionen för företagande och ledning

Abstract: Women are underrepresented in organizations at large, especially at the top. Despite an increase in research about, and motives for studying, gender in organizations, there is a lack of qualitative studies about how organizations can do gender equality work (GEW) to overcome the barriers to female career advancement. The metaphor of the glass ceiling which entails invisibility is often used to describe these barriers, although previous literature suggests several explanations. Thus, this study aims to explore the cumbersome path to management for women by exploring how managers frame both challenges and ways to counter these within organizations. By conducting semi-structured interviews with 12 managers working within different industries in Sweden, and by applying critical discourse analysis, the empirical findings emphasize the importance of framing and points at the paradox of using the glass ceiling to describe already identified barriers. Moreover, it is argued that barriers are not always the appropriate framing, as some require support rather than removal. Some challenges, such as balancing work and family, are identified as constructed and maintained mainly by society. The findings imply that organizations need to create accountability even for these challenges - those that first may seem out of reach. The findings further indicate that stereotypes and bias are less of a challenge than the literature suggests; rather, the main challenge is informal networks created by a long history of male dominance. These networks affect access to knowledge, social capital, and chance of promotion. Further, the findings about GEW suggest that succession planning and different types of networking can mitigate the aforementioned challenge. Moreover, for GEW to be fruitful, it needs to be integrated into the business core, should not be viewed as a project, and requires proper leadership commitment.

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