The “Glass Ceiling” vs. the “Glass Escalator”

Two weeks ago, NPR highlighted a recent New York Times article More Men Enter Fields Dominated by Women” stating that from 2000-2010, female-dominated fields accounted for almost a third of the job growth for men. The NPR story “Why More Men Are Choosing ‘Pink Collar Jobs” shared the experiences of three men excelling in these fields and WOW’s own Senior Scholar Mary Gatta, who pioneered the original research, to explain the reasons behind this gender shift in the workplace.

NPR’s discussion began by taking a look at the reasons for this shift and pinpoints the economic recession as a primary catalyst. Many traditional fields for male-‘high school or college’-graduates including construction and manufacturing had been disproportionately impacted by the stagnant economy. Thus, some men began to search outside of the typical sphere. Along with the slow shift in societal norms that is increasingly finding it “OK” for men to place fatherhood first and as well as a necessity for a larger men’s role in child-rearing because of the increase of women in the labor force, men have significantly increased their participation in what were typically female-dominated occupations. Teaching and nursing are two of these fields because of the flexibility they offer which is not usually found on the corporate level. NY Times finds three more benefits drawing men to female dominated professions; they are typically more stable, more difficult to outsource and more likely to grow.

While women encounter a “glass ceiling” in their career advancement (invisible barriers that constrain their promotion due to the gender biased attitudes of men in the higher positions) men seem to struggle against a “glass escalator”. Sociologist Christine Williams first coined the term and in her research found that often men are subtly pushed to move up in their professions and as if on a moving escalator, they must work to stay in place. Because of these expectations, men starting in “pink-collar” fields can face negative stereotypes and gender-based discrimination from the public. On the other hand, men might also receive benefits because of their underrepresentation in these fields. NPR noted how male teachers can serve as a healthy male role model for children who may not otherwise have one; therefore they may be given special privileges among teaching staff.

NPR cautions that the intersectionalities of race, ethnicity and gender are also important to understand before one makes the definitive statement that “men always have it easier”. NY Times also forewarns that the introduction of men to these previously female industries does not mean that men are displacing women from those jobs. The integration of men into predominately and traditionally female spheres is an exciting new trend yet it is difficult to predict if this will lead to the dissolution of the gender binaries in the workforce entirely. While both men and women are struggling to make ends meet after the 2007 recession, women and minorities are more likely to lack economic security than men are. Even though women make up over half of the workforce in the U.S., women still earn on average only 77% of what their male counterparts do. WOW’s report, “Living Below the Line” measures household incomes to the cost of basic needs and expenses and discovered the 62% of all women in the U.S. live without economic security compared to 46% of men in the U.S and 76% of black women and 80% of Hispanic women live in economic insecurity. These statistics are significant and it is important to recognize that at the very least women need fair and adequate wages to achieve economic security in the future.

Both men and women should feel comfortable to follow their passions in any career, despite outside pressures in an environment of increased equity and equality between the sexes. NY Times and NPR shed light on a usually silent subject of the invisible barriers that men face in the workplace. It is encouraging that societal pressures are easing towards men entering nontraditional occupations, but we must keep in mind that simultaneously, women are struggling to earn equal wages, fighting gender-based stereotypes and attempting to meet basic economic security for themselves and their families.


Leave a Reply