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Breaking The Glass Ceiling Commerce Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Commerce
Wordcount: 5412 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Purpose - The literature on leadership does not take gender dynamics in the lives of women leaders into account, therefore one has to go beyond the literature on leadership to gain insight into women leadership. The purpose of the study is to find the various challenges that women in leadership positions are confronted with and how they have turned them into opportunities.

Design/methodology/approach - This is a descriptive research that used purposive and snowball sampling methods. Data was collected by the use of questionnaire from women leaders in Ghana and Microsoft Excel and Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS version 16.0) were used to analyse the data collected.

Findings - The study revealed that women assume leadership position because they are motivated by self achievement. Combining family and work life and lack of support from other women were seen as the main challenges women in leadership positions are confronted with but are able to cope with these challenges through delegation, effective time management and activities that help reduce stress.

Originality/value - Due to the scarcity of research on breaking of the glass ceiling especially in developing countries, this study makes a major contribution to the literature on challenges women face in leadership positions and what motivates them.

Paper type - Research paper


Entrenched social-cultural stereotypes against women cut across colour. In this modern age, there are people who still believe that women are incapable of leading. These women in most cases find themselves undermined especially if they happen to climb the social strata. This type of thinking devalues human liberation efforts.

Mary Kay Ash; a renowned leader in entrepreneurship and a motivational speaker once said "don't limit yourself to what they think you can do, go as far as your mind lets you; what you believe, you can achieve". This speech of this woman leader brings to light the extent to which women were in the past marginalized either by their own personal inclination or by the society when it comes to leadership position.

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A study of 1,200 executives in eight countries, including the U.S., Australia, Austria and the Philippines indicated that about 70% of women and 57% of men believe an invisible barrier--a glass ceiling--prevents women from getting ahead in business (Clarke, 2006). There has been much research and conjecture concerning the barriers women face in trying to climb the corporate ladder, with evidence suggesting that they typically confront a 'glass ceiling' while men are more likely to benefit from a 'glass escalator'(Ryan and Haslam, 2007).

The term `The Glass Ceiling' was originally coined in an article by Gay Bryant in 1984. In 1991the US Department of Labour defined it as an "artificial barriers based on attitudinal or organisational bias that prevent qualified individuals from advancing upward in their organization into management-level positions." The term has been extended to include glass cliff and glass elevator or escalator. Glass elevator or escalator is an invisible vehicle that transports men up through the ranks of corporate power while glass cliff refers to precarious positions that are given to women (who are able to break the glass ceiling) which are set ups to utter professional disaster of failure. Though glass ceiling is figurative, women who bump their heads on it find it very real.

Undoubtedly, a wide range of theoretical explanations have been proposed to make sense of glass ceilings (Barreto et al., 2010; Eagly & Carli, 2007). Some evolutionary psychologists explain glass ceilings as a by-product of natural selection, resulting from hard-wired adaptations that increased the success of the human species over the last 20,000 years (Browne, 2006; Buss, 1995). Most commonly, the scarcity of female leaders is linked to ongoing prejudice and discrimination against women in the workplace (Weyer, 2007). For example, Fassinger (2008) cites women being denied access to the old boys' club, tokenism, shadow jobs (women being subjected to extra scrutiny), plus a lack of mentors and role models as forming a package of barriers acting against women. Women who become mothers often encounter an array of prejudice against career advancement that creates a maternal wall (Crosby et al., 2004).

Several researchers emphasize gender differences as the major reason for gender inequality in leadership. Olsson (2002) gives a qualitative analysis which uses ancient Greek heroes Ulysses and Xena as a double-metaphor for different ways men and women search for satisfying careers. Hakim (2006) proposes her preference theory citing gender differences in life goals, values, abilities and competitive behaviour. O'Connor (2001) hypothesizes that the existence of glass ceilings is largely due to 'different needs' between women and men. She sums up these differences with more metaphors: women prefer career trees whilst men are much more likely to climb career ladders.

Following the adoption of the 1995 Beijing declaration and platform for action, the president of Ghana Professor John Evans Fiifi Atta Mills in his address on the occasion of the 64th session of the united nations general assembly said Ghana has spared no effort in implementing the Beijing platform goals and has amply demonstrated its commitment to promoting and ensuring gender equality and women's empowerment through concrete administrative, legal and constitutional means. This he said can be lucidly testified by the appointment of professional women occupying high offices (Mills, 2009).

The role of women in politics and the public office is now one of the current burning governance issues because of the perceived and acknowledged potential and contribution of women to governance processes. Botey (2010) said Ghana would have been like heaven if many women had given themselves to decision making and participated fully in the decentralisation programmes of the nation because women are very difficult to convince to do things which would go against them in future. The growing percentage of women in leadership position currently tends to affirm the statement that women have come a long way and are now achieving much more in society. Investing in the education of young girls is now seen as one of the most effective long-term ways to reduce poverty-by reducing fertility and increasing marketable skills among others.

Women nowadays are more educated, more employed, and employed at higher levels today than ever before, but they are still largely pigeonholed in "pink-collar" jobs, according to the American Association of University Women (AAUM). Women leaders face many unique challenges at the workplace brought on by combinations of social and cultural stereotyping, gender violence which come about as a result of traditional attitude, the challenge of leadership, the challenge of family responsibilities, and that from the woman's own personal inclination.

Statement of the Problem

Despite the outcome of the Beijing Conference, the decades of organization and legislative support for gender equality, there is still an attitudinal and organizational bias in the workforce that prevents women from advancing to leadership position. This is known as glass ceiling. Women start careers in business and other profession with the same level of intelligence, education and commitment as men, yet comparatively few reach the top echelons. Women leaders are still as scarce in the university corridors and corporate boardroom as they were 30 years ago (Noble and Moore, 2006).

The question now is why are women who face challenges which can be very hurtful and demoralizing now jumping over hurdles to the top? Are there no more challenges to prevent these women from making things happen? If there are, what are they? What are their coping strategies and success factors? These questions are what this study seeks to answer as it unfolds into details the challenges of women in leadership position in the corporate world.


This is a Descriptive research study. Descriptive research does not fit neatly into the definition of either quantitative or qualitative research methodologies, but instead it can utilize elements of both, often within the same study. The term descriptive research refers to the type of research question, design, and data analysis that will be applied to a given topic. Descriptive statistics tell what is, while inferential statistics try to determine cause and effect (Association for Educational Communities and Technology, 2001).

The study used both quantitative and qualitative research approach to gather data. The use of quantitative methodology alone would have been beneficial as it would allow for replication (Hubbard and Ryan, 2000) which most researchers argue that it provides genuine scientific knowledge. It is however argued that "replication with extension" is a highly suitable means of knowledge creation (Hubbard and Ryan, 2000; Rosenthal and Rosnow, 1984).

Since this study was a descriptive one, questionnaire was designed with three sections: the first section covered biographical information, the second section covered closed ended questions (quantitative data) and the last section was based on open-ended type of questions (qualitative data). A pilot study was conducted in Kumasi to determine whether items in the questionnaire and structured interview schedule were clear enough to elicit the appropriate responses.

The target population was women leaders in corporate world, and the sample of the study was 100 and comprised of urban women working in a corporate business context in Ghana. The study used purposive sampling as the target was women in leadership position in the corporate world. In order to reach our sample size the snowball sampling was used. Data was based on both primary and secondary sources. The primary data consisted of responses to the questionnaire administered to the participants. The secondary data was from the various academic journals and textbooks. The total sample size for the study was 100 women with 36% from the Service organisations, 25% from the manufacturing companies, 16% from educational institutions, 11% from financial companies and 2% from Small and Medium Enterprises. Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS version 16.0) and Excel were used to analyse the data gathered.

Research Objectives

General Objective

The general objective of this research was to find the various challenges that women in leadership positions in the corporate world are confronted with and how they have turned them into opportunities to break the glass ceiling to be where they are; thus making their experiences visible to encourage and influence other women towards the achievement of their goals.

Specific Objectives

The specific objectives of this study are to dicsover:

what motivates women to aspire for leadership positions.

the challenges women in leadership position in the corporate world experience in Ghana.

the coping strategies of women in leadership position in Ghana.

how women in leadership position are able to succeed despite the challenges they experience.

Research Questions

Considering the objectives stated above, this research seeks to answer the following questions about women in leadership positions in the corporate world in Ghana:

What factors motivate women to aspire for leadership positions?

What are the challenges that confront women in their bid to lead?

What coping strategies are being employed to overcome the challenges associated with their positions as leaders?

How did these women advance to their present positions?

Relevance of the Study

One of the substantial debates among academics is why women in leadership do not fit comfortably in the traditional and narrowly constructed leadership styles. The literature on leadership does not contain many voices, experiences and challenges of women, nor does it provide the theoretical basis to challenge systems of biases and discrimination against women when it comes to privileges and power; hence this study will help expand the knowledge on leadership to incorporate additional awareness of the challenges of women in leadership position in the corporate world.

This will call for gender sensitivity stand on leadership to make the challenges of women leaders in the corporate world visible and also valuable. This study will also help prevent academics from falling into the trap of confining women to places already defined for them as their prescribed roles (the kitchen). Last but not the least, it will help to reveal a framework that can be used by other women aspiring to be leaders to have mentors that take the world on a journey from gender segregation to social justice.`

Literature Review

This section reviews the literature relating to women in leadership position in the corporate world. The review identifies the motivations, challenges, coping strategies and success factors which facilitates the development of women in leadership positions


The desires to understand, define, and explain the essence of leadership has interested researchers and scholars for most of the twentieth century. Most of these explanations have focused on a single person and his or her personal qualities and skills. Social scientists have tried to identify what abilities, traits, behaviours, sources of power or aspects of the situation determine how effective a leader will be able to influence others.

Yan and Hunt (2005) define leadership as a social phenomenon involving "…A process whereby intentional influence is extended by one person over other people to guide, structure and facilitate activities and relations in a group or organization." This definition implies that the effectiveness of a leader is based on his or her ability to influence, guide and attain certain outcomes and achievements based on his or her position, abilities, activities and relationships and not the gender.

Rost (1993) recognized the shift from the industrial concept of leadership to a paradigm he calls the post-industrial concept of leadership composing of four basic components:

The relationship is based on influence

Leaders and followers are the people in this relationship

Leaders and followers intend real changes

The changes the leaders and followers intend reflect their mutual purposes

A modern study of leadership emphasizes that leadership is a relationship between the leader and the people being led. In the words of popular leadership theorist Ken Blanchard, "Leadership isn't something you do to people. It's something you do with them". Research indicates that having good relationships with group members is a major success factor (DuBrin, 2010:4).

Leadership and Women

The glass ceiling metaphor is frequently used to describe the obstacles and barriers in front of women seeking promotions to the top levels of organizations (Burke and Vinnicombe, 2005).

Newer paradigms of leadership focus on the capacity of leaders to make or deal with change (Alimo-Metcalfe & Alban Metcalfe, 2005), leadership styles include charismatic leadership, visionary leadership and transformational leadership. Older popular definitions focus on a single person (Barker 2001) usually male who exhibits traits that are generally considered masculine.

Whichever approach is used - traditional definitions or the newer paradigms - women do not fit into the frame work. Given such exclusion, how can we understand women's leadership? Do they develop their leadership frame work from their own experiences as women? (Parker 2001)

The African perception on knowledge and leadership has a lot to do with her colonization historical background. Most Africans were made to believe that their knowledge system was primitive and that as Africans they needed white leadership to survive. Songca (2006:226) states that African indigenous knowledge systems were ignored and undermined. This was further filtered to women who according to the African tradition were classified together with children and therefore their capabilities were undermined.

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Ritt (2004) sees the changing landscape in business as actually favouring women; as women can "naturally" deal with internal contradictions, ambiguity and complexity and are more fluid and adaptable to meet the demands of a rapidly changing workplace. However, the immediate problem facing women and the leadership issue is not so much whether women have the attributes required for successful leadership roles facing institutions in the new economy or that institutions are ill-equipped to respond to these challenges, it is that women's leadership contribution and further potential continues to be neglected, under-recognized and insufficiently integrated into the management structures per se (Segal, 1999).

Zeleza (2006:195) states that African studies - the production of African knowledge - has concrete and conceptual, and material and moral contexts which create the (leadership) variations that are so evident across the world and across disciplines. Therefore the African studies centres or structures need to be reinforced and supported so that a change in perception on women leadership can occur.

In contrast with the feminist emphasis on policy influencing practice, new leadership with the focus on fluidity and productive communication skills offers potentially more interesting avenues for understanding complexity where women are valued as leader potentials as they are seen to possess skills in employee and customer care as well as the required skills to undertake emotional work and leadership management (Polnick et al; Ritt, 2004)

The ''glass cliff'' concept (Ryan and Haslam, 2007) stresses that women are often brought into top leadership positions where men have failed and the situation is almost irredeemable. This precarious context makes it doubly difficult for women to succeed, even more so when they are often judged by different standards compared to their male counterparts.

Motivation of Women Leaders

Women leaders and business owners are primarily motivated by the need for independence (Hisrich and Brush 1986). Lee-Gosselin and Grise (1990, p. 432) noted that for women business owners, the idea to start a business originates almost exclusively from the desire to fulfil an old dream, a desire for recognition by others, the desire to put one's knowledge and skills to use, a continuity to training or work experience, or the desire to be independent and have control over one's life.

According to Teo (1996) ,the five major factors which best motivate female leaders and business owners in particular are: the perceived presence of a business opportunity, the desire to put their knowledge and skills into use, the need for freedom and flexibility, the desire to achieve personal growth and recognition; and the need to make more money for financial independence

Moreover, it was the prospective female leaders own personal decision to dare and break the glass ceiling to start their own business or take up leadership positions in fulfilling their sense of self-worth, and not the influence of family and friends, that inspired them; with secondary importance given to being recognized, seizing business opportunities, being influenced by family and friends, feeling dissatisfied at work, wanting to be one's own boss, and wanting an income (Fried 1989).

Challenges of women in leadership position in the corporate world

Male supremacy challenge

Male supremacy is a universal concept that is not unique to Ghana. It is a pillar upon which the nation was founded, the government was established, and the constitution created. It influences formal and informal relationships among people in public and private spheres of life. Although women have been participating in higher education for more than a century and have certainly made great strides towards occupying their rightful place within academia, they continue to face a myriad of personal and professional challenges (Gregory, 2001). Researchers have documented a multitude of barriers encountered by female students, faculty, and staff (Bonner & Thomas, 2001). More specifically, several researchers have reported findings of co-occurring discrimination related to race and gender (Zamani, 2003), lack of support systems and networks (Patton & Harper, 2003), and unwelcoming, insensitive, and isolative environments.

Despite the nation's evolving sense of morality and consciousness and despite years of legislative and regulatory efforts to address oppression and discrimination, access to certain levels of power or leadership remain unequal for women (Glazer - Raymo, 1999)

The glass ceiling challenge

For years, women have been fighting within all types of organizations for equal roles in the workplace, equal pay for equal work, and equal respect alongside their male counterparts. Some say that these barriers which are often sources of stressors that once existed for women in the workplace have since been broken down. Others say these walls are still firmly standing and that many women are no longer willing to fight this battle (Moore & Buttner, 1997). In fact many female workers are calling it quits in terms of the attempt to succeed equally alongside their male counterparts particularly within the traditional "old boy's network" type organization. Instead, many women are starting their own traditions, their own way, within their own organizations. Women's opinions about the causes of glass ceilings are usually reported in qualitative studies (e.g.,Kumra and Vinnicombe, 2008; Mathur-Helm, 2006; Wrigley, 2002). Three qualitative studies standout for their thoroughness. Morrison, White and Van Velsor (1992) interviewed 82 managers at Fortune 100 companies, mostly from mid-management levels, and Goward (2001) interviewed 32 self-employed Australian women who were winners of the prestigious Telstra Awards which are given annually to recognise high achievers in Australian business. Stone (2007) reported the results of detailed interviews with 54 women who opted out of high profile careers to focus on family life. She found a major reason for this life change was the refusal of husbands to modify their own careers (Stone, 2007).

The organizational culture challenge

With respect to work situation, Adler (1993) noted that a male dominated organizational culture is an obstacle to women's success. This is partly because women find it very difficult to enter the "old boys" network (Davidson & Cooper, 1992; Marshall, 1984), especially in non Western 'traditional' cultures like that of Ghana (Cheng & Liao, 1994).

According to Kanter's (1997) theory of sex discrimination, structural characteristics (e.g. length of career ladder and number of male - dominated hierarchical levels) assist men's rather than women's career advancement. Father, gender bias (i.e. favouring men) in training and development activities constitutes a barrier to women's career success. (ILO 1997; Izraeli & Adler, 1994) A part of the organizational culture is the attitude of "decision-making" towards women in management. There is a higher likelihood of discrimination against women through human resource management practices such as selection, performance appraisal, and training and development. With respect to family situation, research indicates that women's careers suffer when they are married and have children (Davidson & Cooper, 1987).

The Gender diversity and leadership challenge

Mays et al, (2007) also maintains that women leaders are challenged by the physiological and psychological impacts of gender discrimination which can create negative health conditions and to a large extent decreased life expectancy.

Women are often regarded as nurturers, child bearers and home makers making their visibility as professionals and effective leaders more obscure and therefore isolated; as a result a woman leader does not get credit for her achievements despite her effectiveness.

Women also continue to suffer ostracism from their colleagues and superiors. Research conducted by Patitu and Hinton (2003) revealed similar patterns of isolation among the women faculty and administrators in their study. The women in their study reported that they experienced marginalization and lack of support from both their peers and managers. For example, some of these women reported being sexually harassed by an immediate supervisor, being denied budgetary resources, and being ignored and/or alienated altogether.

In Ghana traditional roles are such that women are primarily responsible for family care, where the family includes husband and children as well as parents and in-laws. Any activity including work that would endanger the family's welfare or honour is considered inappropriate for women.

In general the society encourages women's participation in the workforce provided that family-life does not suffer because of women's work (Esmer, 1991).

The Liberal feminist theory also explains women's position in society in terms of unequal rights or artificial barriers to women's participation in the public world beyond the family and household. (Schmidt and Parker, 2003) It attributes gender-based differences to variations in power and opportunity accorded to men and women in society, that is the structural positions women and men occupy in society (Fischer, Reuber, and Dyke 1993). In Ghana most traditional family heads are men.

Although the idea that men and women are from different planets (Gray, 1992, 2008) and that their ways of leading differ innately (e.g. Senge, 2008) is rife in popular culture, empirical evidence does not indicate significant gender differences in leadership. In fact, the results of the role of gender and leadership research over the last 20 years remain largely inconsistent (for an overview, see Butterfield and Grinnell, 1999; Eagly and Johannesen-Schmidt, 2007; Vecchio, 2003).

The 'Queen Bee Syndrome's challenge

There is also a suggestion that women may not necessarily help each other in breaking through the glass ceiling. The 'queen bee syndrome' is used to identify those women who have reached the top, usually in a male environment, and who then adopt a counter militancy approach that is based on their own professional and social success Rindfleish (2000). Mavin (2006a; 2006b) suggests that competitive behaviour between women may extend beyond professional rivalry to include subconscious elements relating to a number of different factors such as age, weight and dress sense. Schein and Davidson (1993) argue that it is the established gender system, which assumes management to be male that contributes to women's behaviour towards other women in senior management.

Success factors of women in leadership position in the corporate world

The literature on women's career success highlights the importance of individual and situational factors (Tharenou & Conroy, 1994).

The individual factors include three issues:

Women's attitude towards career advancement

Attitude exhibited by women who get ahead in their career included high self-efficiency, a strong desire to succeed, salient career (as opposed to family) identities, internal attribution to success, and positive attitudes towards mobility and relocation (Greenhaus & Parasuraman, 1993.

Work related demographics

Work related demographic is important in Ghana where socioeconomic status plays a more crucial role in determining career success than gender. (Cheny & Liao, 1994). Research found that women with higher educational attainments (Adler, 1993) and higher socioeconomic status (Adler & Izraeli, 1994) stand a better chance of career success. Moreover, Job relevant criteria such as having extensive work experience and knowledge, seeking difficult and high visibility assignments and continuously exceeding performance criteria also determine the extent to which women are recruited for higher position (Adler, Brody, & Osland, 2000). According to Betz & Fitzgarald (1987), early socialization, affects women significantly, parental encouragement and maternal employment have been found to positively influence women's career success.

Another positive influence on women success factor in leadership position is that Ghana's corporate life is relatively young and still developing hence it is difficult to find sufficiently qualified candidate to fill managerial positions. One is seen as qualified by getting a good education, and a good education is accessible primarily to those of urban standing and a high socio-economic status. Women career success, therefore depends primarily on social class (kabasakar, 1998)

Early socialization

Last but not the least; organizational culture in Ghana is generally "family friendly". Paternalism is a salient cultural dimension in corporate Ghana (Aycan, et al, 2000); paternalism in organizations implies that there is a family, like climate organization where superiors are concerned with and involved in the professional as well as personal lives of their subordinates. This creates a "family-friendly" organizational culture where women's needs to handle work and family responsibilities are understood and tolerated. Research also confirms that spousal support plays a very important role women's career advancement (Riger and Galligan, 1980, King Maltimore, King & Adams)

Breaking the glass ceiling

This since history has been the most common success factor of women in leadership positions. Ragins et al. (1998) considered four significant strategies identified by successful female senior executives and chief executives for breaking the glass ceiling. These include exceeding performance expectations; developing a style that male managers are comfortable with; seeking out difficult and challenging projects; and having influential mentors.

Mainiero (1994) also identifies a number of key success factors for women who have broken the glass ceiling. These predominantly relate to individual performance, skill development and acquisition of political knowledge. Mainiero describes this as a political maturation process; with a woman initially experiencing a stage in her work life where she is oblivious to corporate politics. In the second stage - 'building credibility' - the woman demonstrates to her manager her capacity to be an executive. The third stage - 'refining style' - indicates the process of the female manager developing her individual style and finally 'shouldering responsibility', where she gains confidence and is regarded by others as befitting the role of executive (Mainiero 1994, p.6).

Coping strategy of women in leadership position in the corporate world

Harry (1994) defines coping as any effort, psychological, physical, or behavioural, to manage a stressor. "Psychological coping may involve thinking, planning, evaluating or managing the environment. Physical coping involves any changes that take place in the body. Behavioural coping is engaging in conscious efforts and activities to improve stressful situations" (p.31).

The significant challenges is often inherent in small numbers coupled with institutional racial and gender inequality, have prompted women in academia to employ a variety of coping strategies that have been the key to their academic and professional advancement (Bagilhole, 1994; Thomas & Hollenshea


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