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April 19, 2002
Glass Ceilings Harden Instead of Shattering for Women in the U.S. and U.K.
    by William Baue

Numerous recent studies on both sides of the Atlantic report continuing and even increasing disparity between women's and men's pay and advancement opportunities.

In late January, U.S. Representatives John D. Dingell (D-MI) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) announced the release of a study that reported a widening wage gap between male and female managers between 1995 and 2000. This report corroborated the findings of several other recent studies that similarly reported increasing gender inequality in individual sectors. This trend is not isolated to the U.S.: two recent studies in the U.K. reveal a pay bias against women university graduates and significant barriers to advancement for women in non-managerial positions.

The Dingell-Maloney report, entitled "A New Look Through the Glass Ceiling: Where Are Women?", was based on data from a U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) survey of ten industries. The industries included communications, public administration, business and repair services, entertainment and recreation services, other professional services, educational services, retail trade, finance, insurance and real estate, hospitals and medical services, and professional medical services.

"Historic advances for women in the workplace have eroded in the last five years, according to this report," said Representative Maloney. "Gains in pay equity and equality in promotions have stalled and even declined for women in management. True parity in the workplace remains a distant promise rather than a coming reality."

The report, which compared the Current Population Survey (CPS) of 1995 to that of 2000, found that the earnings gap between full-time women and men managers widened in seven of the ten industries. Significantly, those seven industries represented the private sector, while the three industries where the salary gap narrowed represented public or heavily regulated sectors. The report emphasized that the time period studied corresponded to a period of economic prosperity, making the widening wage gap particularly troubling.

The Civil Rights Act of 1991 established the Glass Ceiling Commission, a committee devoted to identifying and dismantling the glass ceiling. The term refers to conscious as well as invisible barriers preventing women and minorities from climbing the corporate ladder to achieve equality in pay and position with men and whites. Judging by the Dingell-Maloney report, as well as the spate of other studies reporting increasing inequality between men and women, the glass ceiling is not shattering, but rather hardening.

Representatives Dingell and Maloney direct attention to the Equality 2020 website, which consolidates links to reports on the status of women in the life sciences, the legal profession, and the communications and media sectors. For example, the 2001 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) survey of members employed in the life sciences revealed that men earn almost one-third more than women for similar work, even when the type of employer is held constant.

Also in 2001, the American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession released a report, entitled "The Unfinished Agenda: Women and the Legal Profession." Among many other disparities, the study found that male lawyers earn on average $20,000 more than women with similar qualifications, experience, and positions, according to the report. The lack of recognition that serious gender inequity exists in the legal field further exacerbates the problems.

The glass ceiling remains firmly fixed even in the communications and media sectors, which include a high percentage of newly-established firms, according to a 2001 report released by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. Women comprise a mere nine percent of the board members and 13 percent of the top executives of major media, telecom and e-companies, according to the report.

This phenomenon of an unyielding glass ceiling is not unique to the U.S., as two recent British studies reveal. In March, Britain's Equal Opportunities Commission released a report comparing pay of women to men university graduates. The gender pay gap rises from 14.7 percent for those aged 20 through 24, to 43.7 percent for those aged 50 through 54. Also in March, Opportunity Now released a report entitled "Sticky Floors and Cement Ceilings," which revealed the barriers to advancement opportunities for non-managerial women in the U.K.


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