Black Men & the Glass Elevator: Research to Remember

by cv harquail on May 13, 2009

Often, when managers consider how men and women fare differently in the work of paid work, they make simple distinctions between the genders: Women are like this , men are like that . Then, they extrapolate from this simple distinction how a person’s gender will shape her or his career success.

Racism & Sexism don’t have symmetrical effects. Racism affects men and women differently. Sexism affects women of color and white women differently.

We cite studies where women infiltrate the work worlds of men (and fare worse in terms of advancement and pay than men with comparable skills), and we cite studies where men infiltrate formerly female worlds of work and fare better in terms of advancement and pay. Not only do individual men fare better, but the profession as a whole becomes more remunerative when men start doing it.

However, we know that there are important distinctions among women as a group, and that these distinctions are matched with different treatment. For example, while I wrote about Pay Equity day and mentioned that I as a white woman won’t make it to a man sized pay check until 2057 , I also knew that if I were writing as a Latina, that man sized paycheck wouldn’t come until around 2070 . And, were I writing as a black woman, I’d be waiting around until 2072.


Racioethnicty (race+/or ethnicity) and gender matter for explaining different experiences in the world of work.

And that’s not only true for women– it is also true for men. Here’s a terrific example:

Racializing the Glass Escalator: Reconsidering Men’s Experiences with Women’s Work

Adia Harvey Wingfield, Gender & Society , Vol. 23, No. 1, 5-26 (2009)

Abstract: Many men who work in women’s professions experience a glass escalator effect that facilitates their advancement and upward mobility within these fields. Research finds that subtle aspects of the interactions, norms, and expectations in women’s professions push men upward and outward into the higher-status, higher-paying, more “masculine” positions within these fields. Although most research includes minority men, little has explicitly considered how racial dynamics color these men’s encounters with the mechanisms of the glass escalator. In this article, the author examines how intersections of race and gender combine to shape experiences for minority men in the culturally feminized field of nursing and finds that the upward mobility implied by the glass escalator is not uniformly available to all men who do “women’s work.” The author concludes that the glass escalator is a racialized concept and a gendered one and considers the implications of this for future studies of men in feminized occupations.

It’s important to remember that gender, racioethnicity, class, sexual orientations, and other differences don’t have symmetrical effects. it’s not one situation for the guys, and the opposite for the women, or one pattern for whites and other patterns for blacks. Of course, we “know this” intellectually… which is why it helps so much to have research you can site to explain why this is so.

Racializing the Glass Escalator is a terrific example — great title, great image, important findings.

Elevator Modernization by slorp on Flickr

{ 1 comment }

Joseph Logan May 14, 2009 at 4:36 am

We also tend to see a lot of focus on these dynamics within the US. There are some great studies exploring differences within and between national cultures, chief among them the works of Geert Hofstede. His works don’t directly address pay disparities–at least that I know of–but they have been the foundation for a lot of other studies.

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