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A Report on the Glass-ceiling Initiative (Abstract)


Author(s) Lynn Martin

A report on the glass-ceiling that exists against women and minorities, within corporate America.

Author(s): Lynn Martin


This report is based on a continuing investigation by the Department of Labor (DOL) on "the glass ceiling," that exists against women and minorities, within corporate America. The investigation had three major components:

  1. Establishing the fact that a glass ceiling exists.
  2. Determining the cause of this problem.
  3. Defining solutions.

Statement of the Problem

Over the past 25 years, the percentage of women and minorities participating in the work force has increased. However, this increase has been confined to entry level positions, while the middle and senior level management positions still reflect a shortfall of women and minorities. The data collected by the DOL, during the reviews of 94 Fortune 1000 companies, reflected this trend. From the 147,149 employees in the sample, the participation of women and minorities was such that:

  • Of all the employees 37.2% were women and 15% were minorities.
  • Women represented only 16.9% of all the managers while minorities represented only 6%.
  • At the executive level of management women made up 6.6% and minorities 2.6% of all positions.

Similar patterns were observed in a study done by the UCLA Anderson Graduate School of Management and Korn/Kerry International (1990). Data from this study showed that women and minorities hold less than 5% of the managerial positions in the 1000 largest companies in the US. This review also indicated that minority women were absent from the upper rungs of the corporate ladder. This idea was supported by another study done by the Women's Bureau of the DOL, which indicated that the problem was one of a "glass ceiling."

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Strategy of the Initiative

Based on the results of these studies, the DOL proceeded to conduct research in the form of reviews of 9 different corporations. This "Glass Ceiling Initiative" had four sub-projects:

An Internal Educational Effort - Prior to the pilot company reviews, senior members of the DOL met with leaders of several organizations that represent women and minorities as well as the leaders of business, trade and professional associations. This established an arena for the discussion of issues related to the "Glass Ceiling Initiative." During these discussions it was decided that the commitment, of both groups, to the creation of "anti-glass ceiling" policy would only be obtained if the following criteria were met:

  1. The corporate information, necessary to conduct the reviews, was kept confidential.
  2. The reviewing officials from the DOL were made fully aware of the existing culture in the corporation under review.
  3. Officials higher than the Equal Employment Opportunity director were involved in the effort.

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Corporate Management Reviews

The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) conducted the investigation of the 9 companies. Special care was taken to choose companies which were in different geographical locations and which represented diverse products and services.

The review took place in the following four stages;

  1. Determine whether artificial barriers exist to prevent or slow the upward mobility of certain individuals.
  2. Determine whether these barriers were discriminatory.
  3. If barriers existed, find out whether the companies had initiated voluntary action to remove these obstacles.
  4. Develop a set of guidelines for conducting future corporate compliance reviews.

Encourage Volunteer Efforts

The DOL encouraged companies to initiate their own efforts to remove barriers. To achieve this objective the DOL did the following:

  1. Initiated broad based public awareness efforts on the "Glass Ceiling Initiative."
  2. Stressed to employers the importance of full utilization of all its employees and potential employees in order to stay competitive.

Public Recognition and Reward

This aspect of the initiative recognizes and rewards companies that have effective programs to remove artificial barriers against career advancement. Examples of such awards include the OFCCP Exemplary Volunteer Efforts (EVE) awards and the Secretary of the Labor Opportunity 2000 awards.

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Basic Findings

The DOL attempted to understand the corporate culture of the different companies before conducting the review and before making recommendations. This was important since each of the 9 companies had its own policies and procedures for the development of middle and senior level management. The following flaws were found within many corporations:

If Not A Glass Ceiling, A Plateau

All of the companies under review had a point beyond which few women and minorities had advanced or been recruited. The highest placed women were generally at a higher reporting level to the CEO than the highest placed minority. The author stressed that levels could be misleading and should not be the only criteria used. This is because employees may be a few reporting levels away from the CEO and but may have little or no interaction with the senior level executives.

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Lack of Corporate Ownership of Equal Opportunity Principles

Most companies in the pilot study had established systems for the development of potential managers to ensure continuity in their management staff. The companies, however, did not maintain records on internal and external training as well as development and participation of employees. Some companies had to be reminded of their obligation to ensure equal access and participation to all qualified individuals.

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Absence of Monitoring of Appraisal and Compensation Systems by Corporate Management

All of the companies studied had systems in place that determined salaries and bonuses for employees. However, none of the companies reviewed their compensation package to ensure that there was no discrimination. This is particularly important since independent studies have shown that raters evaluate job performance of blacks less favorably than the job performance of whites.

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Placement Patterns Consistent with Research

Statistics show that women and minorities are less likely to obtain management positions in departments that lead to rapid promotion to the executive positions e.g. sales and production. It was found that women and minorities were more likely to be in positions in human resources and public relations, fields in which promotion to the top of the corporation are less likely.

General Lack of Understanding That EEO is Not One Person's Responsibility

The review revealed that many EEO directors were not involved in the recruitment process for middle and senior level management. Senior level managers were not held responsible for equal opportunity and equal access. The DOL has attempted to develop an integrated system in which EEO is not the only person responsible for equal employment and access.


The DOL's review showed that many companies have initiated aggressive, voluntary efforts to obtain equal employment and access. However there are companies that persist with discriminatory practices. It is with this in mind that the DOL is continuing similar reviews that will ensure that minorities and women have equal opportunities.

abstract by Rae Lewis

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Cite this page: "A Report on the Glass-ceiling Initiative (Abstract)" Online Ethics Center for Engineering 8/4/2006 OEC Accessed: Tuesday, December 6, 2016 <>