Tempering Visibility

August 23, 2017

How Visible Are You In Your Organization?

Tempering VisibilityThis article was written by Professor Stacy-Blake-Beard and first appeared in its entirety in the Spring 2017 issue of Management Magazine.

In my work with senior professional women, I am struck by the reality that in 2017 they still face a glass ceiling. The glass ceiling, a term created and popularized in the late 1980s, refers to a transparent barrier that keeps women from rising above a certain level in organizations. The presence of a glass ceiling, three decades later, is significant. Over and over, I hear women describe how they feel that they can make great progress in their careers in organizations…then something stops them from advancing.

Interestingly, there is a growing body of literature that questions the presence of a glass ceiling. Some researchers suggest that the glass ceiling has been pierced, if not shattered; they argue that research should instead focus on what happens to women once they arrive in leadership positions. There is a call to deepen our understanding of other dynamics related to advancement that may be affecting women. Glass cliffs and glass escalators, which I characterize as second-generation glass ceiling dynamics, represent a shift in focus and a more nuanced perspective of the challenges and opportunities for women who occupy leadership positions.

One second-generation dynamic is the glass cliff, which is described by Michelle Ryan and Alexander Haslam as a phenomenon where women may be preferentially placed in leadership roles that are associated with an increased risk of negative consequences. As a result, achieving these leadership roles may put women in more precarious positions, with greater visibility and scrutiny, than the senior leadership roles that men occupy. In effect, these positions can set women up to fail.

Another dynamic is the glass escalator. In comparison to the glass cliff, which results in too much visibility for women leaders, the glass escalator refers to a lack of visibility. Christine Williams coined this term to refer to the occupational segregation experienced by gender: Men in women-dominated positions are promoted to leadership positions at a much faster rate than women. These second-generation glass ceiling dynamics, the glass cliff and the glass escalator, are connected to strategies that women can use to manage their visibility.

To read the rest of Stacy's article, check out the Spring 2017 issue of Management Magazine.

Stacy Blake Beard

Stacy Blake-Beard, PhD, focuses on the challenges and opportunities offered by mentoring relationships, with an emphasis on how these relationships may be changing as a result of increasing workforce diversity. She is interested in the issues women face as they develop mentoring relationships. She studies the dynamics of formal mentoring programs in both corporate and educational settings.