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The Northerner

Glass ceiling still exists for women in workplace

R.L. Gladden, Contributing writer

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Look around in your classes. And then look around on campus. You may have noticed that, more often than not, you are likely to see more female than male students. In fact, more than half of NKU’s student population is comprised of women, according to the NKU website. This trend is mirrored nationally as several sources, including the U.S. Census, point to the growth of women entering and graduating from college – including a sharp increase of female graduates from graduate and professional schools.

Yet while this progress is reflective of decades worth of an effective Women’s Right Movement, it may be surprising that the U.S. Census also found the most common job for women is the same today as it was in the 1950s – most women are working as secretaries – or in today’s speak, administrative assistants.

Honest work of any kind is often necessary and commendable, but a glaring disconnect seems to be in place during a time when more women are visible as university presidents, CEOs and just four years ago, as serious U.S. presidential and vice presidential candidates.

Perhaps even more curious to the ironic work reality for women is that the data coincides with the explosion of technology – in a time when more services are automated from checkout lanes at the grocery store to self-service kiosks in cell phone retail stores. The technological revolution would seem to suggest that fewer administrative assistant positions would be available, thus directing women to other kinds of work.

However, “every time a major new technology showed up, there were always predictions that this would spell the end of secretaries,” said Ray Weikel, a spokesman for the International Association of Administrative Professionals.

In spite of advancements over time including “electric typewriters, the personal computer and the internet” business still “increases” even though “technology gets more efficient,” Weikel added.

While Weikel’s insights may make sense in practical terms, suggesting that historical patterns are deeply ingrained and tend not to dissipate easily along with growing business demands, even in the face of marked progress and efficiency.

However, others believe that more challenging factors are at play in the imbalance between women’s education and entry level employment.

The Glass Ceiling “still exists” said Mary Bucklin, NKU professor and co-director of Women’s and Gender Studies Program. The Glass Ceiling has long served as a metaphor to indicate that women are restricted to certain kinds of positions – often times preventing women to advance to the most senior level positions of authority and prestige because of structural sexism.

Bucklin believes the ceiling is even more important to recognize today than in the past because “[the ceiling] is not valid across the board and so people can say that we don’t have [the ceiling] anymore because we have a woman CEO or university president.”

Bucklin’s thoughts may reflect the downside of progress, where in this scenario; a relative select few of high profile, highly successful women become reflective of an entire demographic, which eventually reinforces structural sexism limiting access to transformative opportunities.

Meredith Smith, professor and also co-director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, echoes similar views citing journalist and author Ann Crittenden’s “mommy tax,” an idea highlighting the consequences mothers face for managing domestic responsibilities, including raising children during prime working years within their careers.

These phenomena help provide an additional context to what seems to be a stagnant career trajectory for women. This is perhaps especially noteworthy in a time when a number of executive level leadership positions need to be filled on NKU’s campus.  The vacant positions may present themselves as an opportunity for more qualified women candidates to ascend the ranks as a hedge against deep seated oppressive frameworks that thwarted the advancement of women.

In this way, the student body may be poised to benefit from additional perspectives and implementations, which are more likely to occur from women. These acts may be especially important and significant to the female student population as they continue to prepare for work and life beyond the campus.

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The Independent Student Newspaper of Northern Kentucky University.
Glass ceiling still exists for women in workplace