Topic 13: Occupational Segregation and Promotional Ceilings


Occupational segregation occurs in many ways. Topic 13 provides students with the opportunity to discuss ways that occupational segregation is used to derail the promising careers of employees. Without a cohesive work environment, where all employees feel integral to the organization’s success, organizations see high turnover among high potential employees.

Scenario 1: Research Group Segregation

Peter has an advanced degree plus additional work experience. John has the same advanced degree as Peter but no work experience. Peter is an African American male and John is a white male. They are both hired on the same day. However, John is assigned to the most advanced research development team and allowed to manage his own project immediately. Peter is assigned to a less visible research team and assigned to work under several junior managers. Peter has noticed that there are no African American or other minorities in the group within which John has been assigned. If fact, there has never been any diversity within that group including white women. Peter feels that he and his minority group colleagues have  been systematically segregated away from that particular research group despite their qualifications. Despite being equally qualified with John, Peter has only been hired for this position because his organization has been cited for occupational segregation violations.

Discussion Questions

  1.  Imagine that you are Peter, what would you do about the situation and why?
  2. Peter has been asked by his minority group colleagues to file an official grievance and lead their efforts for change, should Peter agree to their request? Why or why not?

Scenario 2: Intentional Exclusion

Connie comes to work everyday wanting to be a team player. She is the least senior person on her team and realizes that the most important thing to success in her position is to be perceived by her peers and supervisor as a team player. Yet, every suggestion and contribution that Connie gives goes unacknowledged and unrecognized. Connie has also been bullied by her colleagues and is beginning to feel resentment. She has repeatedly asked to be reassigned, and her requests have been denied.

Connie realizes that if change does not occur, she may become bitter towards her manager and co-workers. She knows that she is the only person in her position who is being treated this way, and that she is being ignored on purpose.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What can Connie do to ensure recognition of her contributions?
  2. How can Connie be expected to feel included when she is consistently excluded?
  3. How would you provide career coaching to Connie in this situation?

Scenario 3: Glass Ceiling

Margaret is a 45 -year old, 20-year employee of her organization. She has been with the organization since inception as a military subcontractor on government contracts. She has received stellar performance reviews on all of her assignments throughout her tenure with the organization. She has never missed a deadline, and she chose not to have children because she wanted to progress in her career. Yet, she has been denied promotion after promotion when every male employee that she has trained has been promoted ahead of her. Margaret perceives that she has been denied promotions because she is the only woman working for the organization and has recently learned that all of their partner organizations are led by former military, male leaders. Margaret has been told that if she pursues opportunities for advancement, she will need to leave the organization because she will be jeopardizing their opportunity to continue their lucrative partnerships.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What should Margaret do if she wants to be promoted?
  2. Is Margaret’s current employer being fair to her? Why or why not?

Scenario 4: Military Glass Ceiling

Susan graduated form the Naval Academy and has followed all military protocols. Despite, all of her dedication, Susan knows that she will never be able to ascend to the highest level in the military. The military has a seniority system and because of that system, the opportunities for advancement are extremely limited. One of Susan’s options for senior leadership within the government workforce is to retire from the military and take a civilian position. The only thing that makes the situation better is that there is more availability of senior positions.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What should Susan do to improve her career options?
  2. What can organizations do to help women ascend to higher levels and break through glass ceilings?


Supplemental Readings

Anker, R. (1997). Theories of occupational segregation by sex: An overview. International Labour Review, 136, 315-339.

Bergmann, B. R. (1974). Occupational segregation, wages and profits when employers discriminate by race or sex. Eastern Economic Journal1(2), 103-110.

Blau, F. D., Brummund, P., & Liu, A. Y. H. (2013). Trends in occupational segregation by gender 1970–2009: Adjusting for the impact of changes in the occupational coding system. Demography50(2), 471-492.

Coleman, I. (2010). The global glass ceiling: Why empowering women is good for business. Foreign Affairs89, 13-20.

Corsun, D. L., & Costen, W. M. (2001). Is the glass ceiling unbreakable? Habitus, fields, and the stalling of women and minorities in management. Journal of Management Inquiry10(1), 16-25.

Evertson, A., & Nesbitt, A. (2004). The glass ceiling effect and its impact on mid-level female military officer career progression in the United States marine corps and air force. Unpublished thesis, Naval Postgraduate School.

Finnigan, R. (2020). Rainbow-collar Jobs? Occupational segregation by sexual orientation in the United States. Socius6, 2378023120954795.

Glass, J. (1990). The impact of occupational segregation on working conditions. Social Forces68(3), 779-796.

Grassbaugh, J. (2013). The opaque glass ceiling: How will gender neutrality in combat affect military sexual assault prevalence, prevention, and prosecution. Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law11, 319-352.

Hodges, M. J. (2020, March). Intersections on the class escalator: Gender, race, and occupational segregation in paid care work. In Sociological Forum, 35(1), 24-49.

Hughes, C. (2014). American Black women and interpersonal leadership styles. Sense Publishers.

Hughes, C. (Ed.) (2015). Impact of diversity on organization and career development. IGI Global

Hunt, V. H., Rucker, L., & Kerr, B. (2020). Reconsidering sex-based occupational segregation and agency missions: An analysis of US state bureaucracies (1987-2015) using two different thresholds. Administration & Society, 52(3), 431-465.

Tesfai, R., & Thomas, K. J. (2020). Dimensions of inequality: Black immigrants’ occupational segregation in the United States. Sociology of Race and Ethnicity6(1), 1-21.

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