The effects of the actual and perceived glass ceiling on perceptions of promotion fairness

Date of Completion

January 1998


Law|Women's Studies|Business Administration, Management|Sociology, Industrial and Labor Relations|Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies




The glass ceiling is a transparent barrier that prevents women and minorities from moving up in the management hierarchy. Glass ceiling researchers have attempted to determine whether a glass ceiling exists by examining the actual promotion decision to top management, the percentage of management positions held by women in an organization, salary of male versus female managers, and ratings of potential promotion candidates to top management. No one has investigated whether a perceived glass ceiling exists and whether it has an effect on important work-related perceptions and attitudes. This dissertation measures both the actual and perceived glass ceiling to see how well each one predicts certain outcome variables.^ A survey was mailed to Hispanic lawyers who were below partner level in their law firm. They answered questionnaire items relating to their present law firm, and in particular, about their perceptions of the promotion process to partnership. The results of structural equation modeling revealed that the lower the percentage of women and minority partners in one's firm, the higher the perceived glass ceiling. The percentage of women and minority partners had an indirect effect on promotion fairness through the perceived glass ceiling. In addition, the higher the perceived glass ceiling, the lower one's advancement expectations, organizational commitment, job satisfaction, and the higher one's intention to leave the firm. Finally, fairness perceptions were positively related to advancement aspirations and expectations, organizational commitment, and job satisfaction, and negatively related to intentions to leave the firm.^ The findings have important theoretical and practical implications. In conceptualizing the glass ceiling, perceptions are important above and beyond the actual status of women and minorities in the organization. Managers need to design promotion procedures that emphasize procedural fairness, and diversity initiatives should take into account and include the attitudes of those employees who increase the diversity of the workplace. ^