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Race, Class and Sexuality in the "Glass Escalator"

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In the study of Williams (2013) the author explores the concept of gender inequality and how it is manifested in the workplace. In society, it is evident that jobs are divided by gender as jobs like nursing and teaching are female-dominated and professions like engineering and construction are mostly occupied by men. Yet, when men and women explore professions outside the gender status quo, they encounter different results. Naiman (2012) explains that assumptions on gender differences between men and women are the root to gender inequality (Naiman, 2012). The workforce sees men as highly valued employees because of their masculine characteristics which give them the upper hand against female workers. Williams (2013) created a term known as the “glass escalator” which is the idea that men are able to be successful in female-dominated professions whereas women in male-dominated jobs hit a “glass ceiling” that prevents them from obtaining higher positions. The “ceiling” and the “escalator” are described as being made of glass because even though everyone is able to see the benefits such as leadership opportunities and wealth, many people are prevented from achieving said benefits due to social constraints. The author’s goal was to examine statistics on the prevalence of men in female-dominated professions such as nursing, teaching, librarianship, and social work and how their pay differs from their female counterparts. As a result, Williams (2013) found that although there is a significantly larger number of women in these professions men still earn more money than women in said professions. Williams (2013) revisited her old work, using a neoliberal lens to examine how the glass escalator intersects beyond gender as it also effects race, class and sexual expression. This essay will examine the concept of gender inequality and its relation to race, gender and class in the workforce.

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Class and The Glass Escalator

In the workforce, there are barriers put in place that allow gender inequality to prevent women from excelling. From a Marxist prospective, gender inequality is seen as a structural issue as there is an unequal distribution of power between men and women. The article contributes to the understanding of gender inequality as it highlights how women are seen as less valuable on the workplace hierarchy than men. Williams (2013) research revealed that women make less money than men for doing the same work. When women have lower economic standing than men, they have less autonomy in all aspects of life as money is power. The author believes that no matter what role men occupy, they will always earn higher salaries, obtain more promotions in comparison to women. The results can be placed in the context of the broader issue of classism as the four professions studied; nursing, librarianship, teaching and social work are viewed as middle-class jobs. Still, each of these jobs can be lucrative with a substantial amount of experience but this is not always a requirement for males. Males are seen as a “token” in female professions as the perception that men are not fit for conventional female roles contributes to the glass escalator effect. Williams (2013) states that males in female-dominated jobs are met by people who do not expect to see them doing a “woman’s job” which motivates them to seek out leadership roles in their professions such as managerial positions. Men tend to stand out in female-dominated professions as they easily obtain these jobs because perceived as more assertive; a highly valuable trait that society feels women lack (Williams, 2013). In other words, men continue to ascend up the escalator leaving women in low to middle class jobs, which reflect their income and their low societal placement.

Race and The Glass Escalator

When the author first came up with the term “glass escalator” she failed to take into consideration how race plays a role in career progression. For example, black male nurses are seen to be less capable than white male nurses. To put it lightly; black men do not get to ride the “glass escalator” like white men do. Black male and female nurses have to work twice as hard to reap half the benefits of their labor as they are seen as less qualified by other members of the workforce. Black men are seen as unintelligent and incapable of exuding the compassionate qualities that “female” professions require. Contrarily, Black men are seen to excel in professions such as policing or custodial work instead of positions like nursing. People of color in the workforce are judged by their race before their work ethic which allows racial stereotypes to hinder their career progression. Williams (2013) notes that while white male nurses may be mistaken for doctors, black male nurses were often mistaken for janitors (Williams, 2013, p. 615). Black men’s inability to reach leadership positions is deeply rooted in systemic racism that prevents them from succeeding in the workforce like white men. Unfortunately, the author had to revisit her work several years later to come to that conclusion. Initially, Williams (2013) viewed the “glass escalator” as an advantage that men have against women in the workplace, but she did not consider how race prohibited career progression as well which demonstrates white privilege. The author’s initial blindness to racial disparities is a luxury that racial minorities are not given as their skin tone is the driving force behind all their life outcomes (Williams, 2013). Regardless, black men and all men of racial backgrounds except for Caucasian, experience more of “glass ceiling” effect much like women as opposed to a “glass escalator”.

Sexuality and The Glass Escalator

Similarly, gender inequality in the workplace intersects far beyond the norms of men and women. In the author’s original study, she emphasized the advantage men have over women but not take into account the heteronormative standards that both genders take part in. In her article, the author points out that lesbians may feel the need to wear makeup to work and submit to male authority to play up their feminine side whereas gay men try to avoid portraying feminine qualities and feed into typical masculine traits. Even so, conforming to these heteronormative gender roles propel men forward into high status positions while women get left behind. In society, workers have to look right and sound right to work in certain professions and if they don’t fit look of the profession due to their mannerisms, they will not get the privilege of riding the glass escalator. Williams (2013) explains that masculine traits have positive connotations of mastery and proficiency attached to them which makes them perceived as more capable than women. However, this does not apply to gay men. Williams (2013) glazed over the concept of homosexuality, simply reducing their experience to one that is different. Unknowingly, Williams (2013) fell into the practices of “white solipsism” or modern day “white feminism” which is the complacent belief that white experiences is the norm and model for all other groups without considering the social struggles that ethnic and LGBTQ+ individuals endure (Williams, 2013, p. 614).

Moving Forward

In life, people are told that anyone can be successful if they just try hard enough. Yet, this idea is not possible for women, racial minorities and LGBQT communities. Race, gender and class are perceived as social constraints in a world that reinforces privilege. Williams (2013) states that the “glass escalator” should be retired because she does not feel it applies to men like she originally believed. I believe the term “glass escalator” should not be retired as it is still applicable to today’s society because hypermasculine white men are still being propelled forward regardless of what profession they want to work in. To society they exhibit assertive qualities that employers see as appealing and for other individuals that don’t fall into that figure such as black, gay and low-class individuals still have to work twice as hard to get half of what white men get. Overall, I believe that Williams (2013) original study failed to address the how race, class and gender expression intersect the concept of gender inequality in the workforce. To truly dismantle the barriers that prevent all individual from riding the “glass escalator” we must acknowledge all those affected by the “glass ceiling”.

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