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The 'Glass Ceiling', does it still exist?

A new film, 'Made in Dagenham', follows the real life events from 1968 when almost 200 women at a Ford factory went on strike demanding equal pay and conditions as their male counterparts. The strike paved the way for the Equal Pay Act of 1970. However, the release of this film has caused some to re-examine whether the division between the sexes in the workplace – known as 'the glass ceiling' – still exists.

According to the Institute of National Statistics, there are an equal number of men and women employed in the UK, but the majority of managerial positions are monopolised by men. While female management positions are occupied, they tend to be lower management positions and wield less authority than their male counterparts. A survey by the Department of Trade and Industry found that around 75% of women and 64% of men believe that there is a barrier that prevents women from achieving top managerial positions.

Why is the glass ceiling still in place?

There are a number of reasons why such a barrier might exist. Research by the authors G Powell and L Graves, in their book, Women and Men in Management, suggests that women themselves bear some of the responsibility. Many women choose to work fewer hours so that they can spend more time with their families. However, many women also believe that the 'old boy network' is instrumental in preventing them from achieving higher positions - men in power choosing only to employ other men who they know or are related to.

The Equal Pay Act of 1970 'makes it unlawful to discriminate between men and women in their pay conditions where they are doing the same or similar work; work rated as equivalent, or work of equal value.' Yet it seems that many women are still experiencing difficulty in progressing up the ladder of employment that goes beyond the notion of equal pay. While women may be receiving pay equal to that of their male colleagues, it seems that factors are conspiring to keep them out of the uppermost positions of any labour force.

Hindrance from an unexpected quarter

Perversely, some companies that provide facilities for workers such as flexi-time, onsite crèches and employee-assistance programmes, may be contributing to the problem. While these options are designed very much with women and their families in mind, it also serves to alienate those workers who do not want to work in a family-friendly workplace. The majority of workers who feel this way tend to be men and they tend to move to other companies where the workplace is purely a place of work.

Even the legal profession, which has set statutes for the rest of the country to follow, seems to suffer from the glass ceiling effect. According to the Government's figures, the position of Lord of Appeal in Ordinary holds only 8.33% of women, only 10,9% of High Court Judges are women and only 14% of Court Recorders are women.

The glass ceiling itself seems to crystallise over the perceived threat to industry of women having children, the notion being that a woman will not be able to devote her time fully to her work once she has started a family. Perhaps those in positions of power should take stock of the cases involving successful women who have balanced both, such as those of Fay Weldon, Nicola Horlick and Lorraine Heggessey.

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