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Glass ceiling persists for women, people of color in higher education

September 08, 2014
by Jamie Sheskey

Women and people of color working in higher education continue to bump up against glass ceilings despite years of effort to eradicate discriminatory employment practices, according to a new book edited by UW-Madison’s Jerlando F. L. Jackson.

Measuring Glass CeilingThe book, “Measuring Glass Ceiling Effects in Higher Education: Opportunities and Challenges,” reveals the glass ceiling phenomenon to be more complex and harder to solve than previously thought. The book seeks to provide institutional decision-makers and researchers with evidence about the pervasiveness of glass ceilings in higher education workplaces, and strongly encourage them to commit more time and resources towards their elimination.

“This issue demands an intensive time commitment and often the cooperation and involvement of institutional researchers at colleges and universities who are in a position to help people understand how the glass ceiling impacts workforce dynamics in our society,” Jackson said. “Those in positions of power in higher education must do more to confront the challenge of glass ceiling effects across different institutional environments.”

Jackson is UW-Madison’s Vilas Distinguished Professor of Higher Education.  He directs Wisconsin’s Equity and Inclusion Laboratory (Wei LAB), and is a faculty member with the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. Jackson also is a faculty affiliate with the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education.

Jackson and co-editor Elizabeth O’Callaghan, a lecturer in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, dedicated a chapter of the book to reviewing methodological issues surrounding the measurement of glass ceiling effects and summarizing findings from a cross-sectional analysis study. Along with Wei LAB research associate Ryan P. Adserias, who also contributed to the chapter, they found that longitudinal data when possible to collect may help to clarify and explain the specific patterns of discrimination detected at any given cross-section in time.

Another chapter of the book, authored by Wei LAB assistant director and senior research associate LaVar J. Charleston, provides a possible route forward for higher education leaders aiming to mitigate glass ceiling effects. Newly developed software technology designed specifically to assist institutions in exploring glass ceiling effects is now being used as an effective method of managing diversity in higher education, Charleston writes.

Eastern Michigan University Assistant Professor of Higher Education— and former doctoral advisee of Jackson—Raul A. Leon, the book’s third co-editor, also contributed a chapter to the book. In it, he identifies select programs and initiatives in higher education that demonstrate great promise in addressing glass ceiling effects in the workplace.

Another prominent researcher to contribute to the book is James T. Minor, the deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Education who holds a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in higher education. His chapter explores eliminating faculty-related glass ceiling effects through academic governance.

Other chapters in the book examine glass ceiling effect in higher education through the metric of salary equity; looks at the glass ceiling phenomenon in the context of historically Black colleges and universities; and investigates the importance of qualitative approaches to studying the glass ceiling and its effects, in contrast to exclusively quantitative measures.

The books penultimate chapter, which could be the most useful to higher education leaders seeking to eliminate their own organization’s glass ceiling, is written by Damon A. Williams, former vice provost and chief diversity officer at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and now senior vice president and chief educational and youth development officer at Boys and Girls Clubs of America. His writing centers on solving the challenges of translating glass ceiling research findings into meaningful organizational change initiatives, moving from theory or scholarship to practice.

According to Jackson, Measuring Glass Ceiling Effects in Higher Education: Opportunities and Challenges is designed not only to deepen the understanding of how the glass ceiling impacts women and people of color in higher education, but as a sourcebook for aiding in the discovery and elimination of glass ceilings in institutions of higher education across the nation and globe.

Jerlando Jackson
Jerlando Jackson
“While the book offers a systematic overview of glass ceiling effects in higher education, readers will find this book particularly useful thanks to its discussion of the implications of moving from theory into practice,” Jackson said. “Institutional researchers will find step-by-step protocols to collect and analyze glass ceiling data as well as a variety of rich examples, and departmental leaders can use it as a sourcebook for institutional planning purposes.”

Jackson called for increased cooperation and involvement from institutional researchers at colleges and universities who are in a position to help people understand how the glass ceiling impacts workforce dynamics in modern society.

“This book fills a gap in the literature that will illustrate why the glass ceiling is not a simple form of discrimination, and why it is such a pervasive and concealed phenomenon with weighty implications for women and people of color and their future career aspirations,” Jackson said. “We must do more to confront glass ceilings in society and especially in higher education, which is often looked at as a model in the creation of equitable workplaces.”
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