Glass Ceiling Excerpt
From Thesis, "Changing the Landscape of the Top Management Team"

According to Carleton Fiorina, "women face no limits whatsoever. There is no glass ceiling" (Meyer, 1999) Carleton Fiorina recently became the first female executive to run a Fortune 100 company and one of only three females running organizations in the top 500 companies. Many women heralded this accomplishment as victory, not only for Fiorina, gut also for all women. They saw it as a victory for biological gender equality in the workplace and as a sign that the glass ceiling was penetrable. But according to Fiorina, there is no biological gender issue and there is no glass ceiling. Fiorina's bluntly stated stance is at odds with the experiences of many other women and research literature and reports (Catalyst, 1999; Heim & Golant, 1995; Morrison & Crabtree, 1992; Morrison, White, Van Velsor, & The Center for Creative Leadership, 1992; Yamagata, Yeh, Stewman, & Dodge, 1997).

Is there a glass ceiling or barriers that get in the way of women advancing in their careers solely because they are women? Is Fiorina right or wrong? There is no correct (or absolute) answer to this question - there are only different perceptions. Nowhere are our perceptions more important than in the workplace where people spend most of their waking hours. How did Fiorina develop her perceptions about the workplace? Were her experiences simply different from other women's experiences, did she adjust her style or way of viewing the world in order to succeed, or did the hierarchical level at which she worked impact her perceptions? Morrison et al. (1992) and Yamagata (1997) argue that the issue is representation - women's proportional representation.

Kanter (1997) stated that "women populate organizations, but they practically never run them...the further up the management ladder, the even scarcer are women" (pp. 16-17). Catalyst's 1998 Census of Women Corporate Officers and Top Earners reveals that the number of women executives in the top ranks of organizations (Fortune 500 companies) are growing. In 1998 there were 11.2 percent female corporate officers in Fortune 500 companies, up from 10.6 in 1997 and 10 percent in 1996. Morrison and Crabtree (1992) reported only 5 percent in 1990. In addition, only 3.8 percent presently hold the title of chairman, vice chairman, CEO, president, COO, SEVP, and EVP. Currently 11.6 percent are 58 companies have at least one woman among their five highest paid officers, up from 25 companies in 1995. Although this report indicates the number of women in top positions is steadily moving upward, growth is very slow - less than 1 percent per year. Therefore, there are still only a few women working in the top echelons of organizations.

In addition to filling only a few positions at the top of organizations, women find themselves working in gender-segregated jobs. Gender-segregation occurs when one biological gender predominantly works in one job classification. For example, women typically hold positions in human resources or administration, while men are found in strategic, operational positions. Although some decline has been noted since 1970, employment in organizations is overwhelmingly gender-segregated (Tomaskovic, Kalleberg, & Marsden, 1996, p. 276-301).

Acker reports:
most of us spend most of our days in work organizations that are almost always dominated by men. The most powerful organizational positions are almost entirely occupied by men with the exception of the occasional biological female who acts as a social man (Sorenson, 1984, p. 139)

Gender segregation impacts women in two separate ways. First, women find themselves working in very traditional career areas as previously mentioned (human resources and administration). And, second, these positions are typically designed to be tactical versus strategic positions. Therefore, biological gender segregation not only impacts the type of position a woman will hold in the organization, it also impacts the level of position.

The impact of women working at all levels in organizations - especially the top management team (TMT) - has not been examined. "A generally and widely accepted delineation of managerial levels within organizational hierarchies is that of top, middle, and lower levels. Strategic management theory defines top management as the chief executive and those managers reporting directly to that individual" (Hoffman & Zaki, 1995, p. 223). Jablin (1987) reported: Research exploring relationships between hierarchical level and communication patterns has produced a rather diverse, often contradictory set of findings. These results would seem to indicate that a variety of factors jointly affect or moderate relationships between hierarchical level and interaction patterns. (p. 395)

Beginning in the early 1990's, research has provided insight into TMT composition, heterogeneity, and demography (Greening & Johnson, 1996; Hambrick, 1996; Priem, 1990; Smith, Smith, Olian, Sims, O'Brannon, & Scully, 1994; Wiersema & Bantel, 1992). Yet, none of these studies considered the effect of women being present as part of the team. In fact, the studies were treated as amorphous - they provided no insight into the effects of gender. Therefore, this study will examine women's proportional representation in the highest hierarchical level - the TMT of organizations. Exploring how women's proportional representation impacts the TMT will also inform the study of the glass ceiling.

Two constructs that are integral to the understanding of how groups function in organizations are communication competence and interpersonal solidarity (Harrison, Price, & Bell, 1998). Although these two group level constructs are two of the most studied outcomes in small group literature, they have been relatively ignored at the top level of organizations.

Communication competence is critically important to organizational effectiveness. Research indicates that hierarchical level and group composition play a key role in the ability of groups to communicate and, thus, to perform within organizations (Hamabrick & Mason, 1984; Hoffman & Zaki, 1995; Jablin, 1987; Katzenbach, 1997: Priem, 1990: Weick, 1969k). Nowhere is communication more important than for those who work at the top of organizations. Those in the TMT communicate daily about issues that impact the future success of the organization, its employees, and stakeholders. Hoffman and Zaki (1995) state, "communication represents a significant managerial task, yet we know little about how communication processes differ for managers at different organizational levels"

The importance of communication competence and the function of communication within the organization can be traced to the writing of Chester Barnard (1936) who concluded that the first function of the executive is to develop and maintain a system of communication. (Snavely & Walters, 1983. p. 120)

Weick (1969) argues that in order to understand organizations one must first understand the alliances at the top that control the people inside the organization. Therefore, it is important to better understand who is communicating and how communication is performed in the TMT of organizations.

Research reveals a number of definitions for communication competence indicating a lack of definitional consistency (Wiemann & Backlund, 1980). This study will utilize the relational competence definition, "the extent to which objectives functionally related to communication are fulfilled through cooperative interaction appropriate to the interpersonal context" (Spitzberg & Cupach, 1984, p. 100).

Communication competence is intricately linked to interpersonal solidarity (Bonito & Hollingshead, 1997; Larson & Fasto, 1989; Pfeffer & O'Reilly, 1984). Interpersonal solidarity is defined as the "closeness" that members of a group feel toward each other. Wheeless (1978) indicated that closeness in a group could be either psychological or physical. Interpersonal solidarity is considered the chief affective component of group functioning. Therefore, the examination of interpersonal solidarity within that TMT will also be integral to the understanding of the impact of women's proportional representation.

This study will further explore and provide data to better understand the effect of women's proportional representation on communication and interpersonal solidarity within the TMT.