Glass Ceiling for Women in Education: Fact or Fiction?

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Women frequently account the challenges and obstacles they face all throughout their lives while navigating their predominantly patriarchal environments. These difficulties, according to them, are referring to their right to education as well as professional career, which could provide them with two immensely important assets: financial stability and independence. It is estimated that the so-called glass ceiling for women is still an issue and its main role is to preserve and sustain the male dominance in almost every sphere of existence.

Till this day, many would object to such statement and link the origins of the statistical disparity between males and females with access to education as well as the upper ladders in the corporate hierarchy to the lack of qualifications, perseverance and ambition among women.

However, there are records of cases of blunt and undeniable discrimination against women, orchestrated by men in power. One particular case, dating from the previous century, proves that in the past, women have been intentionally banned from entering the professional arena, regardless of the demonstrated superiority over male candidates in terms of performance during the studies.

According to a source, in 1916, Professor Frank Kane of the University of Washington’s journalism department was searching for a faculty member to teach advertising, and thereby wrote to Walter Williams, the dean of the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri, asking him to recommend someone for the position.

Williams’s reply was: “The best man among our journalism graduates this year for the place you have in mind is a woman. Her name was Merze Marvin, but I do not think you have the nerve to appoint her to the position—I am sure I would not. She is, however, especially well qualified. Her sex is her only drawback.”

This request developed into a dialog in which Kane stated that he “did not have the nerve to go any further in Miss Marvin’s direction.”

In his words, despite his personal willingness “to go to the front to battle against the weight of prejudice, inertia and other loads of senseless opposition that limit her cruelly and result in loss to the world”, he just was not willing to give Merze Marvin the opportunity to work, and thereby pave the way for future generations of intelligent and talented women who’d find her to be a source of inspiration.

The widely recognized three waves of feminism, with the most recent fourth wave addressing sexual harassment, shifted the paradigm to a certain extent; however, the roles of mother and housewife still seem to be considered women’s primary destiny. Researchers of the Union of International Associations, a research institute and documentation centre based in Brussels, point the finger at the educational system, which, according to them, endorses subliminal discrimination against girls. From sexist messages in school textbooks to the peculiar social relations within the classroom where boys are favored over girls, girls are being taught that being subordinate is normal. Therefore, girls accept the belief that not being as relevant as the boys in the classroom translates into not being relevant in the public world of work and politics, or society in general. This projection generated by the educational system, results in disproportionally larger number of males over females who choose technical and scientific subjects as their subject of choice.

Unfortunately, those girls who decide to pursue a degree in science fail to avoid the clash with the, apparently, male-oriented scientific community. Recent survey at the University of Texas and Pennsylvania State University school systems, representing more than 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students, as well as female academic staff, provided researchers with appalling data. According to the results, 20 percent and 50 percent of female students in science, engineering and medicine, and more than 50 percent of the female academic staff, said they had experienced harassment. Medical students were most often harassed by university professors and lecturers.

These and many other facts support the argument that there is such thing as a glass ceiling for women, which is particularly visible in education as a profession. For example, the teaching profession is dominated by women. Out of the 365,000 teachers in England, 74% are female, yet a higher percentage of men than women make it to senior leadership level.

There are several stereotypes contributing to this phenomenon.  Often, women fail to get promoted to senior position due to the distorted perception of them, such as the one according to which they are suited for a compassionate role rather than a decision making role. 

Therefore, breaking the glass ceiling starts with the breakdown of the stereotypes which determine all women as sensitive, affectionate and emotional and incapable of making serious decisions, as well as the ones enabling, supporting and sustaining the concept of hegemonic masculinity as necessary for the advancement of organizations, corporations, even societies. As Professor Frank Kane stated over hundred years ago:

“A mountain of proportions is not removed in bulk in a short time.  But eventually it can be picked to pieces and the pieces carted off. A strong army strongly entrenched cannot be dislodged easily; however, it can be nibbled.”


Rush, R.R., Oukrop, C. E. Creedon, P. J. (2004). Seeking Equity for Women in Journalism and Mass Communication Education, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Publishers, New Jersey

Jabbar, A. Imran, A. (2013). Perception of Glass Ceiling in the Educational Institution: An Evidence from Pakistan, Department of Management Sciences, COMSATS Institute of Information Technology (CIIT), Lahore, Pakistan

Welham, H. ( 2014 ). The glass ceiling in education: why are so few women becoming headteachers? Retrived from

Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential. (n.d.). Discrimination against women in education. Retrived from

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