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This article is written by Mansi Gupta and Vaishali Gaurha, BA LLB students at University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun. 


“I strongly believe in the movements run by women. If they are truly taken into confidence, they may change the present picture of the society which is very miserable. In the past, they have played a significant role in improving the condition of weaker sections and classes” – Dr. B.R. Ambedkar 

Women in India have struggled for centuries to break the boundaries and orthodox enclosures that put them in shackles and forced them to stay at home. Centuries later, we are at the intersection where women seem to be getting the opportunities to go out and work but on the other end, we see stereotypes that block their way to reach the higher echelons of success. India is an amalgamation of different religions, sexualities, genders, castes, economic and social backgrounds and with this comes the concept of intersectionality. The plight of women at the workplace cannot be understood if intersection of issues like caste, gender and religion are not accepted. It is important to recognize that women’s experiences vary based on their other identities such as caste and ethnicity. Many women from the marginalized groups have put forth that their gender and caste/ethnic identities are equally pertinent in shaping their experiences. This highlights the need for India’s mainstream feminist movement to go beyond their focus on patriarchy and gender, and to include issues such as caste and ethnicity on their feminist agenda.

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Even in the female- dominated occupations such as nursing, teaching and social work, those are collectively termed as “pink collar jobs”, men are advantaged. For example, in the US, the male nurses are called Dr. whereas; the female nurses are not given that prefix. Women have to work double as hard to be able to succeed in male dominated jobs such as automobile industries, business, corporate world, or politics but for men, it is comparatively easier to excel in “pink collar jobs”. Men are still believed to be much more reliable and suited for positions of control and management whereas; women are good for the lower risk jobs. 

In this article, we shall discuss the Theory of Glass Escalator and how it hinders the professional growth of women at the workplace. The authors will also discuss the Indian context of intersectionality and its close association with discrimination and inclusion at workplaces. 

Glass ceiling v/s Glass escalator

Despite having various laws enacted such as the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 and their yearlong amendments, we still hear the stories about workplace discrimination, unequal compensation or promotion and treatment in the workplace.

The two theories which can shed light on gender based discrimination at workplaces are the Glass Ceiling theory and the Glass escalator theory.

Before we define what glass ceiling and glass escalator effect is, let us look at the following statistics. Both male and female managers are twice as likely to hire men over women. And where women are hired to a respectable position, 40% of people notice a double standard against female candidates. At companies where 90% of leadership is held by men, half of the men at the company view women as being well-represented. The report also stated that men are 30% more likely to achieve managerial roles as people see male executives as better risk assessors. Only 38.6% of managerial roles are held by women. Contrary to popular belief, men and women ask for pay raises at the same rate but women pay raises 5% less often than men.

From the above mentioned data, we can highlight that gender discrimination in workplaces is although invisible but very much present. And that is what the Glass ceiling theory is all about. It simply is a metaphor that shows the hierarchal impediment that obstructs minorities and women from achieving elevated professional success. The term was first popularized in the 80s to explain the challenges women face when their careers stagnated at middle-management roles, preventing them from achieving higher leadership or executive roles. 

On the other hand, Glass Escalator is a metaphor coined by Christine L. Williams in 1990s. It refers to the edge or upper-hand males get when they enter the female-oriented or female- dominated professions. In such situations, men accelerate into higher positions more easily by devoting lesser time than their female counterparts. This poses hidden benefits to men as they get better job stability, financial securities, and familial advantages.

This effect is not limited to identification of discrepancies in female jobs but also directs us towards the hierarchy that exists within the workforce, how they play a key role in the economy and how the shift of power takes place. Having accorded more power to masculinity, the “male dominated” jobs tend to return higher prestige and pay. However, even less association with the males implies degradation in both prestige and wages. Women in India form an outsized chunk of the manpower in industries like agriculture, education, textiles, and domestic service. Despite this, only a few women who undertake agricultural work on behalf of their families are considered to be working women. The difference between masculine and feminine manifests itself most ordinarily within the division of labor, or within the way people answer men and women taking over certain tasks. This chain of command/division of labor can often be traced throughout the organizational structure.

Intersectionality in India

Kimberle Crenshaw theorised “intersectionality” as a concept in a 1989 article titled “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex”. She found in her research that discrimination, in many situations is not an isolated concept. She suggested that Black women may sometimes experience discrimination similar to white women’s experience but more often than not, they face “double discrimination”.

The case of Emma Degraffenreid v. General Motors Assemble Division can be used to understand the concept of intersectionalism. In this case, five African-American women sued General Motors for discrimination on the grounds of gender and race. The Court held that the women as secretaries in the company were not discriminated against, on account of their gender and even disproved the charges of racial discrimination as the company had also employed African American men as workers. The Court looked at the two charges of gender and racial discriminations separately and did not consider the possibility of women of color being discriminated on more than one ground together. This case led to the understanding that discrimination in certain cases is homogenous in nature. Double discrimination is the combined effect of practice of discrimination, both on the basis of gender and race. Since this concept surfaced, it has been used in the context of India by feminists, anti-caste, disability rights and queer rights activists. 

Although intersectional discrimination developed as a narrative of Black Women, it is still found in the Indian context at multitudinous levels. The structural intersectionality in India stems from the caste system, untouchability, gender etc. This can be understood by the extremely minimal presence of Dalit women in corporate spaces in India. A study conducted in 2010 by the Centre for Social Equity and Inclusion, New Delhi found out that only 10% of the women in the sample studied had income more than Rs. 9000 per month which is in contrast with the non-Dalit female counterparts. Thus, glass escalator is not only a gender based issue but also a conundrum that involves intersectional challenges. Very similar to black women in the United States of America, Dalit women in India have to face dual blows. Intersectionality in India not only extends to the overlap of gender and caste but also talks about gender and religion. Women, who associate themselves with different gender from what was assigned to them at birth, have their own narratives of struggle. Social workers such as Laxmi have pointed out the struggle that trans-women go through since childhood in India.

Therefore, it may be pertinent to highlight that the concept of glass escalator is not aloof to the idea of intersectionality. As the statistics mentioned show that it is difficult for women to achieve professional success but for women from the lower caste, it is even more excruciating. When compared to men and especially upper class males, women are promoted less often, given less credibility and garnered the upper echelons of business world. Even women belonging to minority religions or associated with sexual orientations that are deviant from the commonly accepted norm also have to face a lot of challenges in the workplace. These challenges make them feel that they are stuck in a non-inclusive workplace. 

Glass Escalator: Male Perspective

Men working in women-dominated professions are rare. Nursing, teaching, welfare work etc., are professions that typically require one to exhibit empathy and sensitivity, also called soft skills that are typically related to women. So, when a man opts for one of these professions, they invite a flurry of jokes, stereotyping and questions on their sexuality, and ulterior motives. 

Not only this, when men enter into female-dominated jobs, they are often welcomed by their female colleagues. This happens because many females themselves believe that recruiting males would raise the status and pay of their profession. And this gives way to high expectations and “manly” attributes from male colleagues such as ambitiousness, competitiveness, dominance, and economic leadership. Such pressures can keep men away from entering women’s occupations, so much so that some men would rather endure unemployment than accept a relatively high-paying women’s job and suffer the potential social stigma.

There has also been a trajectory noticed about men who, after transitioning from the non-female to the female-dominated sector, are likely to reverse course eventually. This indicates that due to the pressure of being in a female sector profession, most men are likely to shift to a male dominated or gender neutral profession. This has been termed as Stopgapper. And such a Stopgapper trajectory is more prevalent in low status occupations (blue-collar and service jobs). This is because even though gender-egalitarian attitudes have laid ground firmly in managerial and professional occupations but still it is missing in service, clerical, and blue-collar sectors. 


The present article sheds light on the various hidden challenges women face in the professional set up. The escalator effect has also worked against the men who want to work in “female oriented jobs” but when it comes to females, they have to face double discrimination, both, on the basis of gender to being stuck in the class hierarchy of the country. With the combined efforts of various sections, governments, and the effect of being in a global village, we are stepping towards gender neutrality in workplaces but this process becomes slower in a set up where barriers become two-fold.

Some females themselves believe that if they want their profession to pay well and be counted as a prestigious job then the number of male employees in key managerial positions should be increased. The road to business benefits for women will be a long one if we just focus on the glass ceiling or glass escalation. Christine L. Williams, in her 2013 article mentions, the limit of glass escalation is that, it fails to address intersectionality; in particular, it fails to theorize race, sexuality, and class; and it had been supported on the assumptions of traditional work organizations, which are going through rapid transformation in our neoliberal era. To summarize we can say, “There are too many broken windows to repair that afflicts the career growth of female employees before countering glass escalation or break the glass ceiling”.

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