The Glass Ceiling: How Women are Blocked From Getting to the Top – Knowledge from IIM Indore – Prof. Shweta Kushal

The Glass Ceiling: How women are blocked from getting to the top, Knowledge from IIM Indore with Dr Shweta Kushal of IIM Indore

Dr. ShwetaKushal is an Assistant Professor in the area of Communication. She has earned her doctorate in English Literature from the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, India. She has taught various aspects of English Literature to undergraduate students of the University of Delhi such as Postcolonial Literature and Literary Theory and Criticism.

She works on intercultural spaces that migrants inhabit and the manner in which gender affects the experience of these spaces. Her Ph.D. thesis is a gynocentric study of Punjabi diaspora women’s narratives and explores issues of belonging, gender and identity. It establishes that identities are fluid and cannot be circumscribed by essentialist boundaries. Her work has been published in refereed international and national journals as well as in the form of book chapters.

In this edition we talk to her about the existence of a glass ceiling for women in the work place.

Origin of the phrase: The term was used in a 1984 book, The Working Woman Report, by Gay Bryant.  Later it was used in a 1986 Wall Street Journal article on barriers to women in high corporate positions.

It is defined as an invisible upper limit in corporations and other organizations, above which it is difficult or impossible for women to rise in the ranks. “Glass Ceiling” is a metaphor for the hard-to-see informal barriers that keep women from getting promotions, pay raises and further opportunities.

Q1. Though an open ended question but still, do you think the glass ceiling exists or is it a myth?

Yes, I totally agree with the statement that there is a glass ceiling for women in the workplace. I would like to refer you to an article that was published in the Forbes magazine. The various ways in which this glass ceiling is exhibited in the workplace is as follows:-

a)      Prejudice:- Men are promoted more frequently and quickly than women. There has never been a full-time female director at the IIMs and IITs and, only recently 2 women scientists have been included in the IIT council. These are the first women ever on this council.

b)      Resistance to women leadership:- Women leaders are viewed as deceitful, pushy, selfish and abrasive. This has been witnessed since the good old days of Raja Maharajas when Razia Sultan became the first woman emperor and if we were to believe some accounts she was overthrown because of the reasons mentioned above.

c)      Leadership style issues:-Women have always been viewed stereotypically as compassionate. If a women tries to exhibit control, she is not considered a good leader. Thus, issues like these also create the glass ceiling for women in the workplace.

d)     Family demands:- Women are constantly expected to meet the demands of the family, even if they are doing well in their careers. This is not expected from men. No wonder Chanda Kochhar, in her many interviews, appreciates the fact that it was her family’s support that brought her success. She rarely discusses the hard work she has put in to reach where she is today.

There might be few instances where the women have been able to overcome all these and broken the glass ceiling, but those are exceptions, and yes the glass ceiling is quite prevalent in the society.

Q2. What do you think is the potential impact of this on organizations?

I think the biggest impact on any organization would be that the perspective that women bring to the organization is not capitalized on. Women have different perspectives on every situation. They think in different dimensions. I am not saying that men are one-dimensional. But, over the years, women have taken several responsibilities and they tend to be in a different social milieu because of which they have a different perspective on things.

Another way to see the impact is from a consumer perspective. As consumers, women hold a lot of clout. In the “she-conomy,” women are frequently referred to as the household chief purchaser. When one is on the other side of the table making plans as to how consumers will buy the product, female presence in the planning committee is quintessential.

Loss for the economy is another major impact of women not climbing up the ladder of hierarchy.

Research suggests that women decide not to work, as they get disheartened because the existing systems fail to acknowledge or suitably reward the hard work that women put in. For instance, as per some stories, Kiran Bedi decided to opt for retirement as she was not chosen to be the police commissioner of Delhi. She had worked hard, however a male counterpart was chosen over her for the post. Thus, seeing her work not being rewarded suitably, Kiran Bedi decided to quit work.

There are other impacts as well, but I feel these are the some of the most prominent ones.

Q3. Is there a difference between the nature of the glass ceiling in different parts of the world?

Ans. In my view the nature of the glass ceiling is the same. It may, however, differ only in terms of magnitude and impact that it creates. For example,developed countries are reforming their labor laws and are becoming more labor friendly. Some places, like Germany and Spain, also require companies to keep a job open for an employee on parental leave for as long as three years. But this does not make the glass ceiling an isolated concept and there are instances in the past that have proved that the glass ceiling does exist even in developed countries. One of the examples that can be drawn from the past is the selection of Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. Even the racist American populace would sooner have a black Man as the president than a white Woman.

Q4. Women gain social acceptance as doctors and in positions of leadership in traditionally woman-dominated fields like education. Is the glass ceiling sector-specific?

Ans. I do not agree with this statement. Let us talk about the education sector. Barring teaching in schools, men seem to have an upper hand here as well in terms of numbers. Higher education institutes like IITs and IIMs are yet to give a chance to women at high-level administrative posts. Even though there are new IITs and IIMs coming up, we are yet to have a woman director in these institutes of excellence. Even if we leave the discussion of the top posts aside, the male and female faculty ratio is highly skewed. In the medical field as well, women are found in certain specializations like gynaecology and pediatrics, and that too in India but not abroad. So the glass ceiling is not sector-specific.

Q5. What structural and behavioral changes can companies implement to help women overcome the glass ceiling?

Ans. Well, first structural change that can be made is to evaluate and reward women’s productivity by objectively measuring results and not the number of hours at work. This should be done because women are better at multitasking. This is one of the possible reasons because of which women are turning towards entrepreneurship as it lets them achieve what they want to without being bound by routine mandates. In addition, some of the behavioral changes that can be brought in are:

– Make performance-evaluation criteria explicit, and design evaluation processes to limit the influence of the evaluators’ biases
– Avoid having a sole female member on any team. Outnumbered, women tend to be ignored by men
– Encourage well-placed, widely respected individuals to mentor women
– Give women demanding developmental job experiences to train them for leadership positions


PS: – The views expressed in the interview are that of the professor based on her understanding and research. They may not be consistent with received wisdom.


as told to Barleen Kaur


Barleen Kaur graduates from IIM Indore in March 2015

All stories by Barleen can be found here :