Across the globe, women are taking charge and working to create a world full of equal opportunities for themselves and future generations. Worldwide, one in four parliamentary seats and 36 percent of elected seats in local governing bodies are now held by women.
The last decade has felt especially monumental for women in the U.S.: In 2013, women were allowed to serve in combat positions. In 2016, we saw the first female presidential candidate in Hillary Clinton. In 2019, Nancy Pelosi became the first lawmaker to become the speaker of the House twice in over 50 years.
Still, when we surveyed 600 working American women across the country, 7 in 10 said that the glass ceiling exists in 2021. Furthermore, over half said that they have experienced a glass ceiling moment in their own career.
Most often, these moments came in the form of unequal pay (38%), a viewpoint ignored until repeated by a man (31%), being excluded from group activities such as meetings or leadership training (22%), and being held to higher standards than their male colleagues (21%).
Breaking the glass ceiling
But in 2021, things are looking up: 84% of respondents said that seeing women in positions of political power is helping to break the glass ceiling, one elected official at a time.
For many, this rang true in January when, after a tumultuous election cycle, Kamala Harris was sworn in as the vice president of the United States. She is the country’s first woman and first woman of color vice president.
“[My] mother would look at me and she’d say, ‘Kamala you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you are not the last,’” Harris said in a speech. “[That’s] why breaking those barriers is worth it. As much as anything else, it is also to create that path for those who will come after us.”
In our survey, conducted in honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, we asked respondents how they feel about Harris’ groundbreaking achievement. Three in four said that they believe she will help change the workplace for the better for current and future generations of women.
Well, we wanted to know why. Here are some of our favorite responses:
- “She might not hold the highest office, but it is proof, like Clinton and RBG, that women can be equal to their male counterparts in careers and home life.”
- “She has shown that it is possible to accomplish something only a man was previously able to do.”
- “She’s relatable, and people like role models. People may feel braver to speak out about equality and equity.”
- “I think it’s good for young girls to see women in high positions. I am lucky to be in a field where I deal with some, but not extreme, misogyny and the existence of an ‘old boys’ club.’ I couldn’t have the success I do without the women who fought in this field before me.”
- “Visibility is important. Having a woman of color and South Asian descent as the VP shows the people in those demographics that it is possible.”
- “Her ability to hold such an office serves to disprove stereotypes. Her prominence will motivate other women to aim for leadership roles.”
- “She is a half-black woman in one of the highest positions in America. There is no doubt that many companies and women will see what women are capable of – everything that men are plus more. Also, they will be more willing to give more women a chance, and hopefully, we will work towards breaking that glass ceiling!”
- “The more people experience women in power, the more they will expect to continue seeing that equality.”
- “If a woman can be VP, there is no excuse for women to be denied positions of power or for their opinions to be ignored.”
- “It’s important to see yourself represented – for everyone, not just women. When we see it happen, when that ceiling is broken, there is absolutely no justification for not repeating and for women to continue to be excluded.”
- “Just seeing a woman in this role is empowering and inspiring.”
- “Once a woman shows that she can do something, it signals to other women that it can be done. Now begins the climb for other women to repeat and exceed.”
- “She is showing that women can work and should be respected as equals compared to men. Gender should not qualify or disqualify a person for any job or promotion.”
- “Having a female VP who is also a woman of color for the first time has a profound impact. It lets young girls realize that they can achieve the same thing and opens the door for more opportunities. Having women at the table for representation is the key.”
- “It helps normalize women in leadership roles and makes it easier for people to imagine women in other positions of power.”
- “People are seeing on a large scale that women can overcome and can be placed in positions of high authority without risk of them being ‘too emotional’ or ‘weak.’”
- “From burning bras in the 60s, women have made strides in more powerful careers … there are more female doctors and lawyers now than when I was growing up.”
Methodology: On February 22, 2021, we surveyed 600 working women about their feelings toward the glass ceiling and women in politics. 16% were self-employed; 34% were aged 18-34, 52% were aged 35-54, and 14% were 54 or older. Some responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.