Rethinking a Glass Ceiling in the Hospitality Industry


Despite well-publicized exceptions, women are the minority in the highest levels of executive leadership—a phenomenon traditionally attributed to workplace barriers collectively termed the glass ceiling. Newer research, however, increasingly implicates self-imposed barriers to women’s advancement. This suggests that barriers to women might be undergoing a “shift” whereby personal priorities hold greater influence over advancement opportunities than do traditional workplace barriers.

We tested this notion via an online survey of fifty-four male and forty-five female global industry leaders. Two main findings emerged:

  1. First, contrary to traditional stereotypes, men and women held essentially the same views on career and home life.
  2. Second, data revealed that men and women emphasized self-imposed barriers over workplace barriers as the major obstacles to women’s advancement. The most common self-imposed barriers involved family and household responsibilities holding a higher priority, as well as work–life balance, whereas the most prominent workplace barriers were lack of mentoring, lack of careful career planning, stereotyping, and perception of feminine traits.

We argue that the “glass ceiling” is now predominantly a misnomer and that the current challenges to advancement are best characterized as an “invisible obstacle course” whereby organizations inadvertently fail in helping women to successfully manage their self-imposed barriers via a lack of active leadership development.

This white paper, authored by Juliette Boone, Keith Kefgen and Dr. Jim Houran with Tatiana Veller, Kristina Nikolaeva and Mark Keith, was first published in the Summer 2013 issue of the Cornell Hospitality Quarterly. Read the full findings here.