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Properly Understanding the Glass Escalator Effect in Sociology

Understanding Glass Escalator Effect in Sociology
The glass escalator effect in sociology is a reflection of the gender inequality that exists in female-dominated professions. OpinionFront explains the concept of the glass escalator effect in this post.
Vrinda Varnekar
Last Updated: Dec 21, 2017
Escalator or Elevator?
When talking about this sociological concept, many tend to get confused what the term demands― an escalator or an elevator. Though it is largely called the glass escalator effect, you can call it an elevator, too. The point is that it is a means of reaching the top faster (as compared to a staircase or ladder).
Much discussion and speculation surrounds the glass ceiling effect in sociology, which is the point in a woman's career when she cannot rise any higher, while her male colleagues continue to make their way to the top. Fortunately, in recent times, more and more women are determined to shatter this invisible glass ceiling and rise to the very top, and it is safe to say that many are succeeding as is evident from the women who work in senior managerial positions in Fortune 500 companies. So though the glass ceiling still exists, we know that someday, eventually, it might not.

The glass escalator effect is less-known as compared to the aforementioned sociological concept, but is equally reflective of the situation of gender inequality at the workplace, all over the world. The following sections of this OpinionFront article will go deeper into the phenomenon, its causes, and effects―both good and bad.
What is the Glass Escalator Effect?
Female domination
What exactly is the glass escalator effect? The glass escalator effect refers to an unfortunate situation when men rise higher & faster to senior positions in workplace. Yes, we know this already holds true for most professions which have traditionally been male-dominated, such as medicine, law, politics, etc. However, the glass escalator effect refers to a situation wherein men rise higher and faster than women in female-dominated fields, such as nursing, teaching, ballet, and social services.
Not only does the glass escalator effect point out that men rise to the top at a very rapid speed, it also points out that the pace of them rising to the top in a female-dominated profession is much more rapid that a woman rising to the top in a male-dominated profession. Basically, this means that not only are men unfairly given more and better opportunities to handle the senior managerial positions in male-dominated professions, but in female-dominated professions, too. Men who enter a female-dominated profession tend to be promoted faster than women in the same profession.
What Causes the Glass Escalator Effect?
Sociologists have put forward a lot of different factors that may be attributed to the occurrence of the glass escalator effect, out of which some are mentioned below.

Women have been perceived to face 'career interruptions' quite often―from taking care of aging parents to infants and schoolchildren. Everything, from a PTA meeting to a doctor's appointment to having to take care of a sick child is perceived to be a career interruption for a woman worker. Men, on the other hand, don't usually face these interruptions, which makes them seem more suited for a senior position than their female counterparts.

Men working in a female-dominated profession are considered a rarity, and thus, are automatically paid more attention. This increases their chances of having someone recognize their potential, and thus obtain more and faster promotions and benefits as compared to their female colleagues.

Prejudice and stereotypes also play a key role in the glass escalator effect. The traditional stereotype is that men are better, stronger, and more capable leaders. Contrary to the stereotype, leadership and potential does not depend upon gender, but on intelligence, hard work, and determination. However, this stereotype has taken firm root, and this leads to men rising to the top faster than equally capable women. It is often observed that the people deciding who is to be promoted are men, too.

Societal pressure can be included in the factors causing the glass escalator effect. Though the notion of women working outside their homes is mostly accepted now, society still expects them to take care of their home and children at the same time, regardless of the amount of work they do outside the house. Thus, these career interruptions we mentioned are not only evident, but are also expected.
Results of the Glass Escalator Effect
The glass escalator effect undoubtedly has apparent results, ranging from negative to neutral to maybe even positive. (It depends on individual perspective and situation.)

Women get unfairly passed over for men who may be less deserving when it comes to promotions and benefits. This is gender inequality, which can never ensure a healthy working environment. Additionally, if men are promoted in a female-dominated profession, solely on the basis of their gender, it might result in lesser overall development of the company as a whole. Promotion must be on the basis of potential and credibility.

The glass escalator effect also ensures that men get paid higher salaries even in female-dominated professions, as well as hidden benefits. In a nutshell, they tend to fare better than their female colleagues. For instance, in professions such as nursing or teaching, not a large number of men are working as nurses or teachers, as per what studies say. However, the number of male workers in managerial or administrative positions is higher than women in those positions. Hence, this effect is fairly hidden.

On the positive side, the glass escalator effect is believed to benefit women workers too, especially in the female-dominated professions. Though this is a debatable theory, it is believed that before the entry of male workers in a female-dominated working environment, wages and benefits are average or below-average. However, after male workers start entering the profession, the average pay scale increases to match the stereotypical notions, which ultimately benefits everyone.

Based on all this information, we can conclude that unless society comes together to do something, this phenomenon is here to stay. Possible means of abolishing this concept, or at least reducing it to a great extent, are proving that women are no less deserving of senior managerial positions, or to change the existing stereotypes altogether.