Women Still Hitting Heads on Glass Ceiling

At the end of 2009, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) settled a class action lawsuit against Outback Steakhouse for $19 million. What kind of claim was worth so much money? It was an old-fashioned glass ceiling sex discrimination suit.

The EEOC said that Outback denied women equal opportunities to advance within the corporation’s restaurants, particularly denying them kitchen management experience, which was considered a requirement for a move into top management.

Thousands of women were affected by this discriminatory promotion practice, according to the EEOC. So as part of the settlement, Outback agreed to set up a new management hiring system, employ a new vice-president who will oversee human resources and hire an outside consultant to look over the company’s shoulder for the next two years and make sure that the discrimination has been corrected.

Last year, Dell Computer settled a similar suit alleging systemic discrimination against women attempting to advance at the computer company. Dell agreed to pay $9.1 million to settle the glass ceiling case and agreed to bring in an outside consultant to review its compensation, hiring and promotion practices and assure that the company is providing pay equity to women.

What I find interesting about these cases is that many women, particularly younger women, assume that the glass ceiling has been shattered and that they have an equal opportunity to advance if they want to. That’s why sex discrimination suits based on systemic discrimination seem so old-fashioned. Many women my age are a bit more skeptical, as is the EEOC, which claims, “There are still too many glass ceilings left to shatter in workplaces throughout corporate America. . . . Hopefully this major settlement will remind employers about the perils of perpetuating promotion practices that keep women from advancing at work.”

What about in your own workplace? Do you have women in top management positions? Are the women you employ paid as well as the men? If not, what are the reasons for that? A little self-analysis now could keep your company from facing a sex discrimination suit in the future.

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