Do people even remember why it was called a "glass ceiling"? The idea was that women were coming into various enterprises and not perceiving any barrier. There was no discrimination policy and no one came out and said you can't advance because you're a woman. But as any given woman rose in the system, she encountered a limit, a limit that had not been visible, and when it keeps happening, to all the women, at the same level, at some point, you have to say, it's not something about the various women. It's a problem with the building. There's no visible barrier, but there's an invisible one — a ceiling made of glass.
The idea of shattering the glass ceiling came later, and it was embraced by people who were not too good at metaphor, at least not in the way that I like, which is maintaining a concrete image of what's being talked about. In a real building, shattering a glass ceiling would ruin your hope of getting to the next floor. You'll have wrecked the floor. Let's see if I can get Paul Simon to wander out on stage again....
There's been some hard feelings hereIf we get back to the original idea of a glass ceiling and realize that you can't remove floors, we see that there's nothing to break. The one woman who gets through has found a path, perhaps a stairway in that building, perhaps she's been led around to the special door that the men knew about, perhaps because she's in a sexual relationship with one of the powerful men on the other side — maybe the president of the company.
About some words that were said
There's been some hard feelings here
And what is more
There's been a bloody purple nose
And some bloody purple clothes
That were messing up the lobby floor
It's just apartment house rules
So all you apartment fools
Remember: One man's ceiling
Is another man's floor
If some women are finding that access, it doesn't necessarily open the place up for all the women. It can be actually worse for the other women, as they get a false impression that women can rise in the organization in the same way the men do. The image of a glass ceiling only becomes apparent as all the women are stopped when they reach it. If some women get through, then you stop perceiving what is invisible.
But that doesn't mean there isn't sex discrimination. It only means that something more subtle is going on and that if there is discrimination, the perpetrators are more savvy.