How the Glass Ceiling Holds Everyone Back

"In a world where talent is distributed equally among women and men, an economy that does not fully tap into the leadership skills offered by women is necessarily inefficient." That's according to the University of Chicago's Marianne Bertrand, an economist who's just released research exploring the bane of doing business in a patriarchal society: the glass ceiling.

Bertrand's observation seems self-evident, but even given the realities of the wage gap, sexual harassment, and economic progress for women in general, not everyone is on board with the concept of the glass ceiling. Yet systemic discrimination manifests in any number of ways, not all of them as obvious as a condescending remark or a missed promotion. For instance, Bertrand notes that women often pursue education and job opportunities with lower lifetime earnings compared to most men. This isn't down to some inherent difference in interests: Often the women who do work in heavily male (or "boys' club") environments experience such toxicity that many choose not to stay.

The Columbia Journalism Review this week highlighted another of Bertrand's observations about the glass ceiling, which is that women and minorities are often paid the least, often for the same work. If you consider the wisdom of negotiating for a higher salary and raises, also consider what many journalists told co-author Cecilia Lei, that "they didn't want to negotiate their salaries because they felt so grateful, so lucky to find a position in a prestigious newsroom." And if that's not systemic enough for you, look at the inflexibility of higher-paid jobs versus the "second shift" work that often falls to women, such as child-rearing and household chores.

The glass ceiling presents an uphill battle, but it's not an unwinnable one. There are all kinds of ways to get the most out of your career and all your colleagues. The first step, however, is recognizing the problem — and choosing to fix it.