Lavender Ceilings and Glass Escalators: Not Just Stylish Design Terms

Lavender Ceilings and Glass Escalators: Not Just Stylish Design Terms

The glass ceiling is a phenomenon that most people have some general idea about: the effects of systematic gender discrimination in male-dominated workplaces that limit women’s abilities to be promoted or rise in rank throughout the company. Well, it turns out that a few more of these phenomena exist…

Ever heard of the lavender ceiling? What about a glass escalator? These terms shed light on more systematic biases within hiring structures and policies (spoken or unspoken) in companies. The lavender ceiling exists when a person who identifies as LGBT encounters more resistance toward promotion or moving upward in a company than a straight person would. The glass escalator term is, as you probably may have guessed, the reverse of the glass ceiling for women. The glass escalator exists when a man who works in a female-dominated profession (such as librarianship, nursing, etc.) receives more promotions or rises in rank toward a managerial position than do the equally (or even more) qualified women who work in the same company.

These structural biases serve to keep marginalized groups of people in lower status positions, which then can reinforce work-related stereotypes of these people as being unfit for the job or not as well-equipped as a person of a privileged group. (“They’re lazy” or “See? These people are unmotivated to succeed.” or “They just don’t have what it takes to rise to the top!”) This, in turn, makes it less likely that members of these marginalized groups (like women or LGBT persons) will be chosen in the future for high-ranking positions in a company.

The fight for equal pay for equal work for women has been around for a long time; I suspect that the cause of paying LGBT workers equally to straight workers is already established or is in the making. However, a simple raise in women’s wages compared to men’s does nothing to fix the structural and systematic inequalities that keep women’s work, on the whole, less valued than men’s work. (Think about how wages for nurses, a female-dominated profession, compare to those for doctors, a male-dominated profession.) While new legislation for equal pay for equal work is of course always welcome, it by no means fixes the underlying problem of systematic discrimination in our society.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons – Pete

– Kristen Martinez, M.Ed., Ed.S., LMHCA, NCC Therapist in Seattle

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