Smash Ceiling

I know CBC doesn’t really care what I think, but in my daydreams, I express such outrage about a recent radio debate that the programme’s host invites me onto the show to talk about it. ...


Host:  Well, hi there.  I hear that you’re pretty upset about our debate last week about the glass ceiling.

Lady Di:  Yeah, a few of things are bothering me.

Host:  Okay.  Shoot.

Lady Di:  Well, for starters, your context for the debate was the August 2011 Conference Board report.  But instead of inviting Canadian economists to discuss it, you say the glass ceiling’s an international issue and you bring in Heleen Mees, of all people!   

Host:  What’s wrong with Heleen Mees?

Lady Di:  It’s not that there’s anything wrong with her, per se.  She’s an economist.  That’s good.  But she’s a Dutch economist and a feminist.  You brought her on because you knew she’d “give good radio.”  

Host:  (chuckles) Well, we do like to be provocative. 

Lady Di:  I get that.  I like that.  But, it’s a Canadian show. Your throw-away line about women in other parts of the world also having to deal with the glass ceiling was just a way to justify bringing in Heleen Mees.

Host:  Well, actually, we brought in two women—Heleen Mees and Penny de Valk.

Lady Di:  Don’t try to sidetrack me.  We all know Mees was the main attraction.

Host:  I’m not sure how Ms. de Valk would feel…

Lady Di:  C’mon, de Valk had to know she was just a foil…kind of like you are in this imaginary dialogue – just the other set of wheels on the vehicle of a debate –to make it look balanced.  Mees was the central character in your little production.

Host:  Okay, Heleen Mees is probably better known…

Lady Di:  So it would have been really easy for you to have done some research about where she was coming from – and let your listeners know. 

Host:  I have a feeling you’ve done the research.

Lady Di:  It just about researched itself. I mean, you can’t so much as think about women in Europe or gender disparity in Europe without bumping into Mees.  But that’s the point.  The context of her argument is Europe.

 Host:  But isn’t the glass ceiling the glass ceiling no matter where you live?

Lady Di:  Sure, but Mees wasn’t just talking about the glass ceiling.  She’s Dutch. She’s worried about what’s going on in the Netherlands generally—about increasing the GDP there so they’re competitive with the U.S. and Asia.[1]  And she thinks getting more women to work is key because Dutch women only contribute about 27% of the GDP.[2]  Mees thinks getting more women to work full-time —especially in higher-paying positions—will create more jobs.

Host:  How so?

Lady Di:  Right now, only about 10% of professional women work full-time in the Netherlands.[3]  Mees’ thinking is if the other 90% would go out to work full-time, they’d have to hire people to look after their kids—and those that make good money would be able to hire housekeepers or cooks.[4] So, there’d be other women working too and …tah dah…the GDP improves.  It’s all about the Gross Domestic Product.

Host:  Okay.

Lady Di:   And whether by oversight or deliberate omission, her comments weren’t framed that way in your debate.  Not by you.  She’s the one who mentioned it. Mees said 80% of Dutch women choose to work part-time and that makes it tough for the 20% who want a full-time career because employers don’t want to hire women who are just going to opt for the mommy track.[5]  But, you didn’t jump on that.  So an interesting and possibly important conversation didn’t happen.

Host:  But, I think our listeners did find it interesting.  We’ve had a lot of email and phone…

Lady Di:  Sure, you offered drama and there was a lot of emotional response—most of it defending the work of motherhood.  My point is, that had you or your producers investigated what’s really going on here and in the Netherlands, you might have come up with discussion topics that were more relevant to the majority of women —or to working people in general.

Host:  Like what?

Lady Di:  Like that so much of this is cultural.

Host:   Because things are different in Canada? 

Lady Di:  Yeah, okay, Canadian culture.  But worldview culture too.

Host:  Okay, let’s talk about Canadian culture.   How are things different here?

Lady Di:  Well, just look at the 2009 numbers—those are the latest ones released by StatsCan.   In 2009, almost 60% of Canadian women worked—about 8.1 million of us.  Of that number, 73% worked full-time and 12% were self-employed.  Even among the almost 2.2 million women who worked part-time, fewer than 14% chose part-time work because they were mothers; 25% couldn’t work full-time because they were in school and another 25% couldn’t find a full-time job.[6]

Host:  I’m not sure where the glass ceiling comes into this.

Lady Di:  Exactly.  The show didn’t deal with the glass ceiling.  It dealt with whether or not women should be working and who should be looking after children.  You quoted the Canadian glass ceiling numbers,  but then you didn’t deal with them.

Host:  Okay, let’s talk about them now.  The Conference Board report says men outnumber women in senior-level jobs by about 2 to 1 and in middle-management jobs by about 1.5 to 1.[7] 

Lady Di:  Right.  Well, let’s look at those numbers—and the numbers that your intro didn’t report.

Host:  Which numbers are those?

Lady Di:  The number of actual jobs at the senior- and middle-management level.   In 2009 women held 543,000 of 1,454,000 middle-management positions and 26,000 of 96,200 senior-management jobs.[8]

Host:  Right, so women only occupy 37% of the middle- and senior-management positions. 

Lady Di:  37% is very misleading.

Host:  How so?

Lady Di:  Because if you do the math, it’s 569,000 out of 8.1 million jobs.  That’s only 7% of the employed female workforce.

Host:  Isn’t that the point the Conference Board is making? The glass ceiling is impenetrable to women.

Lady Di:  But what no one is talking about is that the glass ceiling is impenetrable to men as well.  If women had 37% of the top jobs, then men had 63%. Right?

Host:  I think you’re making the glass ceiling argument here.

Lady Di:  No, I’m not.  63% of all the “good jobs” sounds great, but whip out your calculator and that’s just 11% of actively employed men in Canada.

Host:  But that difference of 4% is a lot people.  That’s a lot of money and power not going to women.  

Lady Di:  Sure, but why are we focussing on a fair share of little more than 1.5 million jobs when the bigger picture shows us something else?

Host:  What bigger picture?

Lady Di:  That 90% of the female workforce and 89% of the male workforce aren’t getting top jobs—because there aren’t enough top jobs.  There will always be millions and millions more people—men and women—installing and cleaning the glass ceiling than crashing through it.

Host:  So, do you think the Conference Board study was a waste of time?

Lady Di:   No, their job is to analyze and report.  They study gender issues—and the so-called glass ceiling is one aspect of that.  I think your debate was the waste of time. Someone decided the “glass ceiling” was a good topic—probably because your time slot means so many women will be listening.

Host:  Isn’t that a sexist assumption on your part?

Lady Di:   If women weren’t your largest audience, would you have focussed on the glass ceiling and invited two females to debate it?   I’m making a point here:  It’s not enough to placate women by taking on politically correct topics. You’ve got an intelligent audience.  You can’t take a facile approach.  You didn’t challenge any of the underlying assumptions.  You didn’t question whether the glass ceiling is an issue for most of us.  And you didn’t question whether or not it’s even something we should aspire to.

Host:  Well, that’s a whole different discussion.

Lady Di:  Exactly. Listen, Mees talked about women taking the easy way out—working part-time and doing the mommy thing.  Being complacent. You’ve heard from lots of your listeners—mom listeners—about how insulting that is. You don’t need me to go on about it.

Host:  Probably not.

Lady Di:  But when she was talking about how individual women need to get out and do what’s best for women in general—working full-time even after they have kids so employers will see those who want to climb the corporate ladder as a safe investment—when she talked about that, she didn’t mention a couple of things.

Host:  You did the research.

Lady Di:  Yes.  Firstly, she didn’t mention that a lot of the part-time work women are taking in the  Netherlands is skilled work.  There are part-time lawyers, part-time engineers.  So it’s not like they’re just taking caretaking jobs like Mees suggests.  And she also didn’t mention a study that shows Dutch women are happy working part-time[9].  They don’t see anything wrong with prioritizing family.  They like spending time with their kids and their friends, and they like doing things other than just working.  And they can afford to.

Host:  I think that was Heleen Mees’ point, wasn’t it?  That women prioritize family and so they only work part-time?

Lady Di:  That’s what she said.  But the other—and very important—thing she didn’t mention is that the culture of part-time work in the Netherlands isn’t restricted to women.  About 1/3 of Dutch men work part-time or  cram full-time hours into a four-day work week[10].  This isn’t just about women not taking full-time work.

Host:  So what do you think it’s about?

Lady Di:  It’s about a mindset—the one you didn’t question—that working and consuming are the most important things in life.  Mees is worried about the GDP—and about the economic shackles of traditional gender roles.  But, I think the Dutch women—and now Dutch men—have got it right.  I think we Canadians could take a lesson from them.  Getting into the boardroom isn’t the most important thing in life.  Heck, work isn’t the most important thing—unless that’s what you want. But if you don’t have to work, or work full-time, or work five days a week,  and you don’t want to, why do it?  Why  not play with your kids, and read books, and paint, or…well, whatever you’re interested in that most of us don’t have the time and energy for?  Listen, have you read…

Host:  I have a feeling you have lots more to say, Lady Di, but we’re just about out of time.  How about one finalbriefcomment?

Lady Di:  Well, I was thinking it would be interesting to talk about feminists who think they know what’s best for women and always want to tell them how to live their lives. Maybe you could invite me back to talk about that?

 Host:  In your dreams…

1.  Mees, Heleen.  (2007). Beyond the Gender Gap.  Retrieved from

2.  Mees, Heleen.  (2007). The Cost of the Gender Gap.  Retrieved from

3.  Ibid.

4.  Mees, Heleen.  (2007). Beyond the Gender Gap

5.  Canadian Broadcastng Corporation. (2011) The glass ceiling: Is motherhood to blame?  Retrieved from http://www.cbc.da/q/blog/2011/10/24/the-glass-ceiling-is-motherhood-to-blame/

6.  Ferrao, Vincent. (2010).  “Paid work” in Women in Canada: A Gender-based Statistical Report.  Retrieved from

7.  Conference Board of Canada. (2011).  Women Still Missing in Action from Senior Management Positions in Canadian   Organizations. Retrieved from     31/Women_Still_Missing_In_Action_From_Senior_Management_Positions_In_Canadian_Organizations.aspx

8. Ibid.

9.  Olien, Jessica. (2010).  “Going Dutch” in Slate. Retrieved from

10.  Bennhold, Katrin. (2010).  “Working ( Part-Time) in the 21st Century” in The New York Times.  Retrieved from

Published in: on November 6, 2011 at 6:29 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: