“Researching for my dissertation has been so exciting,” said Sabrina, a strategic development consultant and analyst for Hillerød Kommune, north of Copenhagen, Denmark, and a self-confessed “research enthusiast and human behaviour nerd”.
Exploring a new theory by American researcher Professor Karen Lee Ashcraft – referred to as the ‘glass slipper’ effect – Sabrina set out to discover whether this was a factor that could help explain why so few women were reaching top management positions in Denmark.
“In Denmark, we have a very high proportion of talented and educated women yet, according to an international analysis by Grant Thornton in 2013, women hold only 23% of top management posts. This means that we’re lagging far behind countries like China, Poland, and Russia,” she said.
“Social, cultural and educational barriers are well-known. But little is known about the role of identity and the ability to identify with a top management position – Ashcraft’s ‘occupational identity by association,” said Sabrina. “I wanted to find out if that was part of the puzzle, one of the things holding women back.”
“The glass slipper theory builds on the ‘glass ceiling’ idea that invisible barriers stand in the way of women or members of minority groups,” said Sabrina. “Ashcraft’s metaphor refers to the way in which occupations come to be associated with certain personal characteristics. People may then hold back from applying for those jobs or positions because they believe they don’t have those characteristics – the shoe, or the ‘glass slipper’, doesn’t fit”.
Sabrina – who studied online for her master’s degree while working in Denmark – sent out an appeal via email, newsletter, intranet and social media to more than 6,000 potential female participants, asking them to take part in an online survey.
One of their tasks was to rate the accuracy of twenty-five definitions of a top manager. For example, a top manager is:
The response was overwhelming and Sabrina was able to base her findings on the answers of 1,054 Danish women, aged from 18 to 60.
“It was the first attempt at a quantitative study of the glass slipper effect and the first study of occupational identity by association in Denmark,” said Sabrina.
Sabrina found a clear gap between how the Danish survey participants saw themselves – their self-identity – and how they saw top management positions. “My research indicated that Danish women tend to associate top management positions primarily with masculine traits – like being assertive, dominant and forceful. This doesn’t match with their view of themselves, which is much more diverse”.
“I set out to find out if the ‘glass slipper effect’ is a factor among Danish women when considering a top management position and the answer is ‘yes’”.
Through her research, Sabrina quickly became Denmark’s resident expert on women’s attitudes to top management positions. She was invited to write an opinion piece in a leading Danish newspaper and appeared on the ‘Go' morgen Danmark’ breakfast TV programme of Denmark’s TV2 channel.
“My research really struck a nerve. I’ve had women contact me to say that they can really identify with my findings. They’ve even thanked me for sparking conversations that might otherwise never have happened.”
Sabrina now hopes that knowledge of the ‘glass slipper effect’ will be put to good use. She sees a role for parents, educational institutions, major organisations, businesses, trade unions and the media in promoting more diverse role models and providing more factual information about top management roles.
“People need to educate their daughters differently, and we need to cooperate across society to encourage Danish women to see top management positions as obtainable,” said Sabrina.
‘The Glass Slipper Effect: The influence of occupational identity by association on the motivation to pursue a top managing position among women in Denmark’ – a short version of Sabrina’s research.
Kvinde, kan du udfylde chefens sko? Woman, can you fill the boss’s shoes? (In Danish) – Sabrina’s opinion article published in Danish national newspaper Berlingske.
Maria Adamson (2015). The making of a glass slipper : Exploring patterns of inclusion and exclusion in a feminized profession. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal 2015 34:3, 214-226.