Do men face inequality?

Men and masculinities: Drawing on key readings, critically examine the value of the concept of the glass escalator for understanding men’s experience in predominantly female occupations.

While occupations are not supposedly based on the 'sex' of a worker, traditional conceptions of 'women's work' or 'men's work' often exist in employment environments. A lot of research has emphasized the discriminated role of women in the employment sector as compared to the advantages associated with men in female-dominated occupations. Therefore, this essay primarily focuses on the experiences of men in the female-dominated workplace, by mainly theorizing the arguments of William (2013) and Simpson (2004) supported by Lupton (2006). The essay starts with an explanation of key concepts that include glass escalator, glass ceiling, intersectionality, token status, and tokenism. The article further explains the positive and negative experiences of men in female-dominated work areas, as argued by various sociologists, followed by experiences of minorities such as gay, non-white, and transgender at the workplace, from an intersectionality perspective. Moreover, the essay points out motivational factors for men joining the female-dominated workplace. Furthermore, the essay emphasizes cultural and regional stereotypes based on masculinity and femininity. Lastly, this essay ends with recommendations and a conclusion.

In the 1990s, William (2013) introduced the notion of glass escalator. He explained it as the hidden advantages associated with men in the female-dominated workplace. In general words, Glass escalator means the benefits men tend to receive in female-dominated work areas. These areas primarily comprise of education, nurses, and even librarians to a certain extend. She has argued that men experience positive discrimination and are encouraged, promoted, retained, and supported much more than women in the female-dominated occupation. Contrast to this concept is the Glass ceiling, which emphasizes numerous barriers faced by women and minorities in male-dominated professions, which prevents women from top leadership and executive roles in the organization (Booysen and Nkomo, 2010).

William (2013) argues that men were considered to be more qualified and more energetic leaders than women in professions dominated by women. When men work in the profession of women dominance, they are often elevated to administrative work where they benefit from higher wages. For example, considering the field of education, the ratio of female to men in the department of teachers is 7:3, principals is 5:5 and superintendents is 3:7; and senior-most positions being the highest paid in the field of education. Hence, the concept of glass escalators is identified with a definite wage advantage and workplace benefits (Smith, 2011). The stats showed above clearly prove that number of women in top positions in the field of education is less as compared to men. However, the percentage of women in higher positions is increasing every year; in 2019, it stood at 29% around the world. Besides, 87 percent of companies worldwide have at least one female in the senior management position (Female Business Leaders: Global Statistics, 2019). William, 2013 puts forward the contend of women and minorities in society; their struggle and fight against a widely known glass ceiling while on the contrary, men enjoy the successful ride under glass escalator with greater ease.

Booysen and Nkomo (2010) argues that from an intersectional view, categories of race and gender overlap each other and should not be theorized separately. Similarly, the theory of black feminists defines race and gender as 'interlocking categories' or "interrelated axes of social structure." Intersectionality is a mechanism for conceptualizing an individual, group of people, or social issues as influenced by a variety of drawbacks and discriminations. The later part of the article includes a detailed reflection on the intersectionality. Many authors have claimed that the difficulties women face in the workforce are the consequence of their token status. Tokens are individuals who are employed or admitted into an agency, entity, or corporation with respect to their gender, minority status, such as class, race, color, and so on. Men joining women's occupations such as nursing and teaching, and women entering men's fields such as police, military, and construction both undergo so-called tokenism due to their 'token status.' (Kimmel 2004:198-199). Kanter (1977) proposed tokenism theory, which focuses on the impact of token status on results such as employment, promotions, and other token-specific interactional behaviors are called tokenism (Nielsen and Madsen, 2018). Women, as a token, are continually reminded of their minority status in society. They are frequently viewed unfairly in their jobs, and relatively few women are given leading roles in male occupations. Kanter (1977) has critically examined that token women are not given the same opportunities as men. In contrast, men as a token are given preferential treatment and promoted much faster than men in the female occupations (Kamberidou, 2010).

William (2013) focused extensively on the fact that men working in female-dominated occupations had no adverse consequences. Whereas, Simpson (2004) argues that men may also experience drawbacks as a result of the token status in female industries. Many researchers strongly agree that masculinity is associated with cultural power, which is often rewarded in female jobs. Token men usually take advantage of their minority status, allowing them advantages in hiring, especially in teaching and nursing jobs. Men in teaching jobs were promoted faster than women because they were considered to be better at management and to tackle challenging students so that even student teachers were called upon to handle undisciplined students. Simpson’s (2004) typology focuses on male teachers working at higher positions often felt the pressure of talking on behalf of female teachers as they are assumed to be more articulate and assertive. Additionally, Allan (1993), Sergeant (2000), Lupton (2006) have added that male eliminatory teacher is often subject to clash of identity as this role requires them to be more sensitive. There is physical interaction to a certain level, which may give rise to perceptions of deviant behavior if they fulfill the obligation to nurturing standards. However, William (2013) added that this came with the consequence of promoting men to higher-paying positions, which came with better benefits. It has been argued that men in female occupations are subject to both prestige and pay penalties. Assumptions of men being more strong and powerful, they were expected to lift a heavy stack of books as librarians and undertake maintenance duties such as mending tools, shifting furniture when the attendants were not available (Simpson, 2004). However, the male librarians were given more opportunities for learning as compared to equally positioned females. Similarly, male teachers were encouraged by the headteachers to learn more and ride the escalator faster. Furthermore, Simpson (2004) has added that older women were seen taking a motherly role in both the fields and were seen accommodating the requests of younger male colleagues. However, owing to expectations about their superiority status and with overestimations about abilities, male nurses felt the pressure of taking on challenging situations. Therefore, studies have shown that token male nurses are taken more seriously than female nurses (Cognard-Black, 2012). However, these benefits are often limited to white men, as not all men enjoy the successful ride of glass escalator.

Moreover, the concept of racism and ethnic minorities is widely associated with the idea of glass escalator (Lathabhavan and Balasubramanian, 2017). For non-white men, immigrants, and gay men, the advantages of a glass escalator appeared to be either low or entirely removed. Gender disparities are not only sex-related but are also due to intersectionality, which takes into account race/ethnicity, caste, and sexuality. The aim here to differentiate the experiences of black, gay, transgender men in glass escalator.

Firstly, Harvey Wingfield (2017) points out the exploitation faced by non-white men nurses. Many of the black men nurses and misunderstood as custodian or non-medical duties, whereas white men nurses are misunderstood as doctors. Additionally, they are treated differently by patients, even if they know they are registered nurses (William, 2013). In the USA, one of the black male nurses described that he was ill-treated not only by the patients but also by his colleagues working in the same field, they would not even sit with him on the same table. All these stereotypes create a barrier for black men to take up the opportunities of advancement and succeed in the field of nursing (Wingfield, 2017). Simpson (2004) argues that studies on men in non-traditional professions have shown that young, white men are frequently fast-tracked to managerial positions, like taking unseen future benefits of stepping onto an escalator in female-dominated occupations.

Secondly, the advantages of working in the female occupation are also restricted by homophobic people. Catherine Connell (2012) points out very little legal security for LGBT workers in the US in the 1990s, a nation with an LGBT rate of 4.5%, the highest in the world. According to the report, 22% of gay men Americans have not been viewed relatively at their jobs, which hinders their promotion and salary. However, according to the report from 2017, 92% of gay men have felt that society today is more accepting than a decade ago. Additionally, many of the South Asian countries don't have workplace protection laws for gay men (Female Business Leaders: Global Statistics, 2019). Gay teachers also face intense burden while in the classroom, as they may be expected to resist body language and behavior perceived as homosexual (William, 2013).

Thirdly, William (2013) points out the experiences of transmen at their workplace. Drawing out the interviews taken by Kristen Schilt (2011), he claims that transmen were given more authority, were considered to be more knowledgeable, and earned more incentives, recognition, and economic opportunities as compared to women. Additionally, he specifies that only white transmen were granted respect and advancements in their jobs, most of which have been made to work at either back door or storeroom and have received unequal treatment. Moreover, companies in countries like India have opened their door to transgender people in 2020. However, only 5% out of 10 million transgender people in India have gainful employment (Venugopalan and Verma, 2020).

Authors have argued that males experienced some downside in the context of social suspicion — mainly associated with masculinity and sexual orientation. Lupton (2006), Simpson (2004), and Williams (2013) have embraced few strategies that were used by men working in the feminine profession to address their challenged masculinity and sexual identity by peers and colleagues. The most common tactic used by men was to rename the job title or the description of the job. For example, they renamed the librarian job with the researcher, or they said they looked at business information. Male nurses associated them with doctors' work and described the role in a more dominant and masculine way. Simpson (2004) has argued that this disapproval of men working as teachers, nurses, the librarian came from men itself. They would make fun and joke, which set the groundwork for the separation of labor by gender. Socially formed ideas of hegemonic masculinity still exist in the western world in the 21st century, and men employed in female employment still face this stigma.

William (2013) argues that as much as gender inequality continues, so does the pay disparity, with men in both of these occupations (education and nursing) having an income advantage over women. The gender pay gap between men and women working in the same position was continuously increasing until 2015. However, it has been decreasing since the past five years (2015-2019), every woman currently earns $0.79 per dollar earned by men (The glass-ceiling index, 2020). However, the number of men entering female-dominated jobs remains low as compared to women entering male-dominated jobs. Furthermore, men enter female-dominated occupations for reasons such as unemployment and comparatively higher salaries. Statistics from January 2020 have shown that rising unemployment is driving men to take up women-dominated jobs. According to nursing salary data, male nurses receive $6000 more annually than female nurses (MICHEK, 2018). Moreover, the situation of Covid-19 has increased unemployment and the demand for medical staff all over the world. It is suggested that more men will incline towards securing their job as nurses. Additionally, the growing demand for online studies will shift more men to work as teachers, which will further worsen inequality (Moulds, 2020).

Many researchers have associated the Glass ceiling and Glass escalator with culture and societal stereotypes. Many countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Kuwait, Qatar, restrict women's participation in the workplace due to cultural norms. The participation data of women in these countries stand less than 1%. Al Manasara, 2013 adds that Organizational processes are influenced by decision-makers who maintain a male culture because of the disparity in attitudes towards women's leadership, where they think they do better than women in the top role. Countries of valued cultural and religious traditions and practices majorly affects individuals belief and hinder women career growth by favoring men without any choice. Moreover, in rural areas of underdeveloped countries, the patriarchal mindset of society marks the dominance of men as soon as the infant is born. These countries need to focus on the unavailability of structured human resource systems and strategies to improve women's awareness in the workplace to minimize the advantages of men in the workplace. The solution to this can be making higher education affordable for women in rural areas, with substantial consequences if not pursued (Lathabhavan and Balasubramanian, 2017). Moreover, Societal assumptions that women are naturally communicative, approachable, caring, and supportive, and therefore best able to carry out service work, are linked explicitly to primarily female professions. These beliefs about women prevent them from taking leadership roles and showing their skills at the top position and not only in the service department. On the contrary, society assumes men to be inherently more powerful, influential leaders, more aggressive, analytical, mathematically minded, and we see the majority of the top positions filled with male leaders. Society, which consists of all of us are evolving this misguided belief of gender roles and laying the advantageous foundation of glass escalator as sex alone cannot be the only indicator with inherent traits, abilities, and gender behavior (Blackburn, 2020).

Overall, the ideas of the glass ceiling and the glass escalator conceptualize the disadvantages women face, implicitly, and explicitly. This essay has primarily focused on the experiences of men in the female-dominated workplace. Woman as a 'token' is strongly scrutinized by others, while man as a 'token' is given 'dominant' treatment, implying that men and women suffer minority status in different ways. It is concluded that advantages to men in the female-dominated workplace cannot be generalized to all men. White men earn the majority of the advantages of the glass escalator. The essay has differentiated the experiences of men by their varied identities and also followed up on the reasons behind men choosing to work in the female occupations. Another aspect of this essay is to link the concept of glass escalator to cultural, religious, and societal stereotypes; that restrict women's opportunities. I suggest that men and women should work towards dismissing the line between masculinity and femininity. Then only the world will succeed in defeating the discrimination against the minorities in society.


Blackburn, K., 2020. The Ceiling Versus The Escalator. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 17 April 2020].

Booysen, L. and Nkomo, S., 2010. Gender role stereotypes and requisite management characteristics. Gender in Management: An International Journal, 25(4), pp.285-300.

Catalyst. 2019. Female Business Leaders: Global Statistics. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 17 April 2020].

Cognard-Black, A., 2012. Riding the glass escalator to the principal's office: Sex-atypical work among token men in the United States. Teorija in Praksa, [online] 49, pp.878-901. Available at: <> [Accessed 3 May 2020].

Kanter, R., 1977. Some Effects of Proportions on Group Life: Skewed Sex Ratios and Responses to Token Women. American Journal of Sociology, 82(5), pp.965-990.

Lathabhavan, R. and Balasubramanian, S., 2017. Glass Ceiling and women employees in Asian organizations: a tri-decadal review. Asia-Pacific Journal of Business Administration, 9(3), pp.232-246.

Lupton, B., 2006. Explaining Men's Entry into Female-Concentrated Occupations: Issues of Masculinity and Social Class. Gender, Work and Organization, 13(2), pp.103-128.

MICHEK, K., 2018. Nurses Not Immune To Gender Wage Gap. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 30 April 2020].

Moulds, J., 2020. The World Needs 6 Million More Nurses, Says The World Health Organization. [online] World Economic Forum. Available at: <> [Accessed 3 May 2020].

Nielsen, V. and Madsen, M., 2018. Token Status and Management Aspirations Among Male and Female Employees in Public Sector Workplaces. Public Personnel Management, 48(2), pp.226-251.

Simpson, R., 2004. Masculinity at Work. Work, Employment and Society, 18(2), pp.349-368.

Smith, R., 2011. Money, Benefits, and Power. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 639(1), pp.149-172.

The Economist. 2020. The Glass-Ceiling Index. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 17 April 2020].

Venugopalan, A. and Verma, P., 2020. India Inc Opens Doors To Transgender Employees. [online] The Economic Times. Available at: <> [Accessed 17 April 2020].

Williams, C., 2013. The Glass Escalator, Revisited. Gender & Society, 27(5), pp.609-629.

Wingfield, A., 2017. Why Black Men Are Drawn To A Field That Hasn’T Welcomed Them. [online] Slate Magazine. Available at: <> [Accessed 17 April 2020].

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