The Glass Escalator

The word glass is used a lot of business management metaphors that use glass to describe the invisible concerns and plights of certain groups. The glass ceiling may be the most familiar. Recently, I have come across another term.

The glass escalator bounced onto my radar during my dissertation. This term describes the advantage of being a man in a stereotypically female profession. Christine L. Williams examined this phenomenon in four female-dominated professions: nursing, librarianship, elementary school teaching, and social work. Men who worked in these “untraditional” fields faced discrimination outside of their chosen profession, but internally they were given token status with great benefits. From Williams:

“The men and women interviewed for the most part believed that men are given fair—if not preferential—treatment in hiring and promotion decisions, are accepted by supervisors and colleagues, and are well-integrated into the workplace subculture. Indeed, subtle mechanisms seem to enhance men’s position in these professions…”

This study suggests that token status itself does not diminish men’s occupational success. Men take their gender privilege with them when they enter predominantly female occupations: this translates into an advantage in spite of their numerical rarity.

This made me start to question our industry. Most of the discussion regarding gender in public relations focuses on the 70-30 classroom dilemma. More women are majoring in public relations, and more women are going into entry-level public relations jobs. Academics and practitioners have bemoaned what this feminization means: lower prestige, lower salaries, lack of diversity among practitioners. This discussion negates the reality that the executive levels–the chief marketing officers, senior communication leadership, CEOs of large and mid-size firms–do not reflect the 70-30 dilemma.

So I pose this question: Does a glass escalator exist in public relations? What do you think? Is there a glass escalator in public relations? Is this a good thing or a bad thing? How women and men are recruited into certain positions? What are the stereotypes about gender and leadership? How do we equate certain roles with particular gender performances?

Submitted by Natalie Tindall.  Natalie is an assistant professor of public relations at Georgia State University. She specializes in diversity and identity in public relations and teaches Public Relations Writing, PR Research and Campaigns.

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