Does the Glass Ceiling for Professional Women Still Exist?

July, 2009

Dr. Virginia S. Hinshaw, 
Chancellor, University 
of Hawaii at Manoa:

Yes, but progress has been made…

My definition of the glass ceiling is “when the playing field is not level,” meaning that qualified individuals do not have an equal chance to advance. That situation still exists.

During a job interview early in my career, a male member of the search committee asked me, “So, are you going to have any more children?” I responded, “My husband and I haven’t decided that. Are you and your wife going to have any more?” Silence reigned for a moment and, needless to say, I didn’t get the job. I once boycotted an international scientific meeting — and publicly informed its organizers and my colleagues that I was doing so — because they hadn’t scheduled a single woman as a speaker or panel participant, even though many qualified women were available.

Experiences like this made me aware that women continue to face challenges in being fairly evaluated for their qualifications.

Great progress has been made. Clearly, in Hawaii, there are many more women in highly visible senior leadership positions than in other places I’ve worked.

Today, I don’t hear many comments insinuating that women are less capable than men. So, when such remarks come up, I take notice, because we all need to realize that these thoughts still exist.

We still have much work to do. For example:

  • Why is there only one woman among the 15 members on the UH Board of Regents?
  • Why are there so few young women entering engineering, mathematics and certain other professions?
  • Why are there proportionately fewer women college coaches today than 20 years ago, even though more young women participate in sports?
  • Why has there been a continued dearth of women chairpersons and CEOs on the Hawaii Business Top 250?
  • Why are women poorly represented nationally on the boards of for-profit companies?

Change will only come when women and men work together to chip at the glass ceiling until it shatters from the united effort. When that finally happens, the playing field will finally be level.

Michelle Shin, 
Business/Real Estate Attorney 
and a Director of 
Damon Key Leong Kupchak Hastert:

No, it is gone in some places, but…

My generation has benefited greatly from the achievements of earlier women, allowing many of us to pursue career goals without as much concern about a glass ceiling.

Growing up, my family urged me to aim high and never gave me reason to believe traditional gender roles should restrict my aspirations. In school and in my legal career, I’ve had numerous inspiring women mentors and role models; their accomplishments created an environment in which I never viewed my gender as a potential impediment to reaching any level of success. For example, when I joined Damon Key Leong Kupchak Hastert, there were several women partners, including a name partner, whose footsteps I could follow. Several other women in my age group, when asked, also said they have no glass ceiling in their workplaces, in part because they work for companies that are led by women.

But what is holding us back? A recent AAUW study reported that full-time women in Hawai‘i still only make 83 percent as much as full-time men, and this was one of the smallest earnings gaps in the country. This is presumably attributable to women still feeling pressure to choose between their careers and their family lives, leading them to take lesser-paying jobs, take breaks from their careers, or leave the workplace entirely.

As are many professionals, women attorneys in private practice are required to put in as many hours as necessary to competently do their jobs, regardless of their obligations at home. Historically, a woman attorney’s choice to raise a family has meant leaving the practice of law or seeking lower paying in-house or government jobs that tend to have more predictable schedules.

However, younger women are slowly seeing more options. Younger men are more prepared to assume greater responsibilities at home than their fathers did. Among my peers, duties at home are less about gender, and more about what makes economic sense for the family.

Greater opportunities for women today may mean the woman is the breadwinner. Now that the glass ceiling has cracked, changing attitudes about gender roles at home may encourage more women to take advantage of the doors opened in the workplace by prior generations of women.

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Dr. Virginia S. Hinshaw, Michelle Shin