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THE SISTERHOOD CEILING

By Meagan Russell
In Uncategorized
Jul 29th, 2019
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article by Morgan Patrick Morgan and Richard G. Shrubb, Ph.D.

The Glass Ceiling metaphor was coined by Marilyn Loden in 1978 to describe invisible barriers through which women can see advancement opportunities but cannot reach them. A parallel phenomenon called the Glass Escalator was coined by Christine Williams in 1992 to describe how men were selected or fast tracked for advancement, but by contrast, women who wanted to advance in leadership experienced barricades within four workforce fields that were otherwise dominated by women: nursing, education, social work, and librarianship.


This is the part where women typically discuss the “good ole’ boy” network, double standards for women, and unfair gender-based challenges. While these observations are in many cases true, what about how women treat each other? Are women also contributing to glass ceilings and hard climbs? Are women self-excluding from leadership opportunities? Are women contributing to the exclusion of other women, particularly when competition among women is present? The answer to these questions is yes. So much so that the phenomenon has a name. It’s called the Sisterhood Ceiling, coined by John Bingham in 2016.


Through the results of research conducted by a woman named Dr. Sunny Lee, women were asked whether they perceived symptoms of women exhibiting behaviors that would impede another woman’s rise to leadership or would make her leadership experience difficult. The stories and experiences they shared are compelling: reprimands and exclusion for breaking ranks, jealousy, expectations of perfection, heightened competition, and over-personalization in the form of feeling that every woman’s success is a sign that “I” am not as good. Furthermore, Dr. Lee’s research revealed that these particular symptoms were not present in male-to-male relational scenarios or male-to-female relational scenarios, just female-to-female relational scenarios.


Considering that one of us coauthoring this article is a woman and the other is a man, we cannot help but include our own anecdotal experiences. Our conversations lead us to speculate that women tend to offer support and protection to each other, but along the lines of “no such thing as a free lunch,” group membership always has a behavioral expectation. While not overly generalizable, our discussions speculate that women tend to help other women who are down-and-out or who share a positional sameness. These are good things, but following the reasoning of Bingham’s Sisterhood Ceiling and Dr. Lee’s research, this may cause feelings of resentment toward group members who received assistance in the past but are now potentially rising above the group or exhibiting behavioral traits that create an unbalanced equilibrium within the group dynamic. Conversely, we speculate that men tend to perceive each other as being on their own no matter what the circumstance, good or bad, so there are few behavioral expectations placed upon the resulting success or failure of each individual man’s behavior.


Because of the heightened attention gender equity is getting in media outlets these days, the speculation of the Sisterhood Ceiling deserves more study now more than ever. Morgan Patrick Morgan is pursuing her Doctor of Education at Louisiana Tech University, and Richard Shrubb is her dissertation committee chair. Stay tuned for their findings.