Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Susan D. Greenbaum, Ph.D.


Gender, Work, Employment, Discrimination, Feminism, Business


In 2005, women made up 46.4 percent of the United States labor force but only 1.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs (Catalyst 2006). Although gains have been made since the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, there is clearly something stopping women from equal representation at the top. Since the late 1980s, businesses have spent billions of dollars on initiatives designed to assist them in dealing with the anticipated increase in the "diversity" of their workplaces (Lubove 1997; Stodghill II 1996; Johnston and Packer 1987). Is there potential for diversity initiatives to help women conquer the "glass ceiling?" Presented here are the stories of ten women executives who entered the workplace in the 1980s, a time of great economic prosperity; opportunities appeared unlimited, yet these women have "opted out." Socialist feminist theory addresses this issue and provided the framework for analyzing the women's stories.

As the stories unfold, a system marked by "hegemonic masculinity" (Acker 1990) becomes clear. This system of power and privilege that perpetuates the glass ceiling is invisible to the men who reproduce it and to a great extent, to the women whose careers are truncated by it, making it extremely difficult to change.As a pragmatic feminist and applied anthropologist, I have attempted to find opportunities to improve upon this situation, recognizing they are less than ideal. Diversity initiatives have the potential to disrupt stereotypes. Policies that undermine the corporations' right to the "ideal worker" can address sex discrimination. Feminists outside of corporations must also continue the fight. They can view the workplace objectively and raise issues that the women inside cannot. The women inside of organizations are making a difference just by their presence, by demonstrating their competence.

But as long as the price for success includes assimilating to the "ideal worker," they will be making a sacrifice that the women in this study did not wish to make. And no one should have to, male or female. In the battle over who gets to "have it all," it is clear that the corporations are the only ones who are winning.