Study of Women Execs to Test ‘Glass Ceiling’ Issues

National Science Foundation Funds Review of Gender and Opportunity

Jul. 5, 2011

A new UT Dallas study is examining whether an increase in the number of women in the corporate executives ranks has led to greater gender diversity in all levels of business.

Dr. Sheryl Skaggs, associate program head for sociology in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, landed a $59,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to spend the next year reviewing employment data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Catalyst Foundation, a nonprofit group that tracks gender-equality issues.  

“Surprisingly, there has not been much research on how women at lower levels of a company are affected by women rising into the executive ranks or joining boards of directors,” Skaggs said. “We’re now looking at the ‘trickle-down effect’ of these changes.”

Researchers have written a great deal about the “glass ceiling,” a term used to describe barriers faced by women and minorities seeking promotion. But few studies examine how the women who break through may help pull up other women. Skaggs is examining data from the past two decades, so she’s able to compare how Fortune 500 companies have reacted to the gradual rise of female executives.

Skaggs and her research team speculate that increased gender diversity within top decision-making roles has created opportunities for women at high, middle and low corporate levels, as well as reducing workplace sex segregation. The team will also consider how internal corporate policies and external constraints might influence gender diversity in businesses.

The researchers will study data from 1996 to 2008. The sample includes more than 4,000 company-by-year observations.

“As women’s labor force participation continues to rise, and pressure for workplace diversity increases, this line of investigation will be essential in the development of management strategies directed at expanding women’s roles across all corporate levels,” Skaggs said.

The findings could have far-reaching implications for the management of an increasingly diverse workforce, and for government and corporate policy development.

Skaggs said she hopes to extend her research to eventually include qualitative investigations. Her goal is to interview individual employees and get a more in-depth understanding of how they perceive women’s role in mentoring.


Media Contact: Emily Martinez, UT Dallas, (214) 905-3049, emily.martinez@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu
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Dr. Sheryl Skaggs

“Surprisingly, there has not been much research on how women at lower levels of a company are affected by women rising into the executive ranks or joining boards of directors,” Dr. Sheryl Skaggs says.

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