Twenty years ago, Christine Williams wrote “The Glass Escalator: Hidden Advantages for Men in the ‘Female’ Professions,” examining how gender inequality operates in traditionally sex segregated, predominantly female occupations such as nursing, teaching, librarianship, and social work. She found that men in these occupations were often “fast-tracked” to higher administrative and management positions, and she called this process the “glass escalator.” Williams’s study provided an important complement to analyses of the “glass ceiling”—the invisible threshold in the organizational hierarchy above which women would rarely be promoted.
In the most recent issue of Gender & Society, Williams returns to her earlier work to see what’s changed. She finds that the glass escalator remains for men in female-dominated professions, although it operates differently based on identity and on the current economic climate.
Williams concedes that the glass escalator operates most clearly in relation to white men in stable middle-class jobs. Further, the glass escalator only operates in organizations with stable employment, job hierarchies, and career ladders—all aspects of work that have changed drastically over the past decade. She argues, “We need new metaphors to understand the persistence of male privilege in the flexible, project-based, and flatter neoliberal organization.”