Women all around the world are shattering glass ceilings. We’re moving into fields men previously dominated and doing their jobs as well or better. We present a real threat to patriarchy and its ability to stand on anything but ideology. Nevertheless, the glass ceiling still smacks us in the head all the time, especially in America.
It smacks us when we get called know-it-alls, but our male colleagues are intelligent with a good grasp of technical know-how. And just when we plan to get up, it smacks us again when we’re “bossy,” but our male colleagues are just natural leaders and driven go-getters.
The glass ceiling smacks especially hard for women who work in STEM and other male-dominated fields. There is always extra pressure on us to be stupid enough not to be a threat but also to be smart enough to be respected. It’s a thin and difficult line to tread, but good luck finding corporate success without walking it.
My 3 Types of Glass Ceilings
All women in America face a gender-bias glass ceiling. But, as a Black female immigrant, I have more than just my sex or gender working against me.
The Female Glass Ceiling
When social scientists first published studies about the gender pay gap and the lack of women in leadership positions, The Patriarchy hit us with excuses. Well, obviously, it’s because women tend to opt for lower-paying jobs. Instead of working as doctors and accountants, we prefer to be secretaries and teachers. That might have been true in my grandmother’s time. It is not true today.
According to a study conducted by Pew Research Center, Asians make the most money in STEM. On average, they outearn even White men by a landslide. Yet, Asian women see a big disparity in their pay as well.
- Asian women in STEM outearn White men, but they make $15,000 less per year than their male colleagues of the same race or ethnicity.
- White women in STEM earn roughly $25,000 less than White men each year.
- Black women in STEM earn about $14,000 less than Black male colleagues and approximately $32,000 less than White men.
- Hispanic women in STEM earn around $18,000 less than Hispanic male colleagues and roughly $33,000 less than White men.
I also found several studies showing that the gender pay gap was the worst in accounting, law, and medicine.
- Male accounting partners outearn their female colleagues by $110,000.
- Male doctors outearn their female colleagues by $2 million.
- Male attorneys make 44% more than female colleagues.
The Minority Glass Ceiling
You may have noticed a trend in the STEM statistics above. Asians in STEM aside, White men significantly outearn every other demographic in America. While the STEM statistics primarily showed data on racial differences, other factors make people minorities. For example, Muslims, the LGBTQIA community, and people with disabilities are minorities as well.
Since moving to America, I have primarily worked in positions where the pay rate was the same for all contractors. Nevertheless, I made an interesting observation less than a month after moving to this country at 26 years old:
- My White friends were routinely appalled that any employer would have the audacity to offer them $15 per hour. The wealthier ones were balking at $25.
- My Black friends would call or text me excitedly to share that they were finally making $15 per hour.
This was 2015. What was appalling to me was that our White friends would just smile and congratulate them. The very same people who were crying over being offered the same wages the day before. They seemed to accept that they deserved higher wages, but their Black friends apparently did not.
That blew my mind.
Even worse, they all had similar qualifications: guys with no college degrees and no steady careers in their mid-20s. That observation told me everything I needed to know about making money in the United States as a young, Black person.
The Immigrant Glass Ceiling
Over the past decade, several studies have shown that the Black immigrant population has similar qualifications and educational levels to US-born Americans. Despite this, on average Black immigrants make less than the national population, earn less than all other immigrant groups, and are the least likely of all immigrants to own a home.
There is, however, one demographic we outperform, and that’s the existing Black population in America, i.e., African Americans. We earn 30% more than they do, have lower poverty rates, have higher rates of home ownership, maintain more stable households, and are more likely to have college degrees.
So, what do I make of this? Black immigrants to the U.S. predominantly come from Black-majority countries. In fact, most Black immigrants in the U.S. are from Jamaica and Haiti. We have had the privilege of growing up without internalizing the institutionalized and systematic racism in America. African American economic performance, in my opinion, is proof of systematic racism here and what it means to be raised in it and by it.
I see it in the fact that there is a stark contrast between my experiences and social position in Jamaica vs. here. In Jamaica, I was treated as an upper-middle-class citizen and enjoyed all the privileges that came with it. I recognized an immediate demotion in America. No accomplishment I achieved since arriving has changed that.
My Social Glass Barriers
Most Americans discuss the glass ceiling in relation to work and politics, but I have other glass ceilings in my social life. Maybe it’s better to discuss these things as glass barriers rather than ceilings, but the effects are the same. In Jamaica, not only do women not need to internalize the same kind of systematic racism, but we also routinely tell the patriarchy to kiss our ass.
Matriarchy in Jamaica and the West Indies
Social scientists have conducted several studies on an interesting phenomenon in Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean. Most African tribes brought to our islands during slavery were patriarchal. Yet, most Caribbean families today are matriarchal. Jamaica and St. Lucia are two of only three countries in the world where you are more likely to have a female boss than a male one. In Jamaica, roughly 60% of our leadership positions are held by women.
This is not to say Jamaican and St. Lucian women do not face barriers to success. I was, for instance, discouraged from studying STEM and men do show open defiance to female leadership. When our first female Prime Minister ran for office, some Jamaican men ridiculed her and claimed they did not want to have a “panty government”.
Violence against women is also always highest in developing countries where men are or feel marginalized by women’s successes. Note that Colombia is the third country where your boss is more likely to be female. While this South American country is well-known for its coffee and rich culture, it has also become notorious for femicide.
Backlash Against Matriarchal Values in America
Naturally, as a Jamaican who immigrated to America as an adult, I have zero reverence or respect for White patriarchy. American men ― White or otherwise ― have no idea what to do with me. I am out of line and have no fear for the social retributions they want to heap at my feet. Why am I out traveling by myself in remote areas and barrelling over sand dunes in my sexy FJ? Why do I not want children? Why is having a man not a priority in my life? Women like me should be burned at the stake, I guess.
Consequently, I am virtually undatable in the United States. Jamaican and European men always praised my decisiveness, accomplishments, and unwillingness to compromise my values. American men find these same things intimidating.
Millennial men have told me on several occasions that my achievements emasculate them. When I tell my Boomer and Gen X friends they laugh and say that doesn’t surprise them at all.
But, what am I supposed to do about that?
Decline to celebrate my small wins?
I’d rather be undatable. Relationships are not the upgrade they once were for women and our social lives. In fact, there are more single men than single women in America and I don’t think any of us who date them is surprised.
Jumping Headfirst Into Glass Ceilings
Over the past decade, White men have expressed continued fear of losing their prized position as the sweethearts of America. Privilege led to a collective habit of complacency that has failed to hold up in a society that must inevitably preserve capitalism by rewarding merit to some degree.
The pioneering values that built America long disappeared. Many Americans never leave their hometowns, much less their states or country. Consequently, while women, minorities, and immigrants continue to bang our heads against the glass ceilings and forge new paths, we are also increasingly dodging bullets. Whether at the ballot or in a Buffalo supermarket, the further we advance, the more we also need to watch out for our safety.
I first encountered this line of thinking from a Jewish friend after I mentioned the collective wealth of the Jewish community. After a moment of visible discomfort, he explained that Jewish people hated that stereotype ― true or untrue. Why? Because once the sentiment takes root and spreads, it’s almost always followed by concerted efforts to flush them out and reclaim that wealth for everyone else.
At the time, I told him I would like to take some time to process that before responding. Why? Because fearing success instead of poverty or police brutality seemed like a privileged position.
Now, that I’ve had time to process it and draw a parallel, I can see how success creates a double-edged sword for women, immigrants, and minorities in America. Nevertheless, we’ll keep banging our heads against the glass ceilings, even when it hurts — and continue to dodge bullets in the process.Become a Patron!