The effect of the Glass Ceiling on Pacific Island women in New Zealand organisations

Tupou, Holeva
Pio, Edwina
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Master of Business
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Auckland University of Technology

Ethnic minorities commonly face discrimination due to the effect of the “glass ceiling”. Discrimination is a familiar experience for women and ethnic minorities in many organisations, and the glass ceiling is a common barrier for ethnic minorities and women who press forward to reach the top level of organisations (Hester, 2007). The organisational leaders, in particular, exploit the lack of power of individuals, who are also faced with social inequalities and unequal opportunities in organisations (Cech & Blair-Loy, 2010). The barriers to the progress of individuals in organisations are based on attitudes, requirements for educational standards, experience and organisational bias (Ross, 2004).

The concept of the glass ceiling became a popular topic for study in recent years because people noticed the existence of social inequalities in most organisations (Jost & Major, 2001). However, there is little research on the career barriers that Pacific Island women face, which makes this dissertation and the related research of extra value. The objective of this research was to help cultivate the movement towards social equality and even distribution of opportunities in organisations. A study by Statistics New Zealand (2006) found that Pacific Island women, in comparison to New Zealand women in general, are 10% more likely to work in the manufacturing industry, and few work in skilled employment such as in managerial and other professional roles. The growth of ethnic minorities and women in higher positions has been discussed in the past, with the aim of finding a way to ease social and organisational inequalities (Blackburn, 2001). The main purpose of this research was to look at the barriers which may hinder Pacific Island women from advancing to senior positions in New Zealand organisations. The research was based on interviews conducted with ten Pacific Island women working in a variety of organisations in New Zealand. The interviews were recorded digitally. Key barriers to advancement were identified, which included ethnic background, gender discrimination, organisational culture, Pacific Island culture, organisational support and personal characteristics. The reason that Pacific Island women face these barriers is due to the complex interplay of societal and organisational factors in New Zealand organisations. This research suggests some guiding principles to encourage and develop Pacific Islanders’ achievements in education. The outcomes would supply a highly skilled Pacific Island workforce in all areas of organisations, and Pacific Island women would have the talents and skills to increase their potential to advance into senior management positions and attain their career goals. The method used in this dissertation was phenomenological interpretive. Primary data was obtained from one-on-one interviews of ten Pacific Island women, who were selected from the five main Pacific Island sub-groups, namely the Cook Islands, Fiji, Niue, Samoa and Tonga. The Pacific Island women told their work-place stories and their experiences of the glass ceiling in New Zealand organisations. In addition, the economic position of Pacific peoples in New Zealand has meant that they have always faced considerable difficulties. Their skills are not always suited to the demand of the New Zealand labour market and they have been over-represented among the unemployed, lower-skilled workers and low income earners. Over time there have been considerable improvements in the economic position of Pacific peoples, particularly for some of the younger, New Zealand-born members. Overall levels of education have improved, unemployment levels have fallen, and there has been a move away from the traditional areas of blue-collar employment into more skilled white-collar jobs (Statistics New Zealand, 2006). The findings of this dissertation showed that Pacific Island women experience barriers that lead to discrimination on the basis of gender and race, due to the power structures inherent in organisational culture, the dominance of male culture, and their own Pacific Island culture. The key issue raised in this dissertation is the practical experiences of injustice which prevented the participants from moving to senior positions in their organisations. This dissertation also found that the Pacific Island women interviewed believed in the value of education as a tool to overcome the glass ceiling. In addition, the findings indicate that Pacific Island values influence Pacific Island women’s perceptions of social inequality in their organisations. As a result, the women’s behaviours in their organisations are strongly affected by their experience of growing up in their familial and school environments. Parents and leaders are treated as superior and these values are learned and woven into the life of Pacific peoples from a young age. The aim of this dissertation was to explore the barriers hindering Pacific Island women from reaching senior positions in New Zealand organisations. The main research question was: What are the strategies that Pacific Island women use to overcome the barrier of the glass ceiling when advancing to senior positions and leadership roles in a range of industries within New Zealand?

Pacific Island people , Pacific Islanders , Palangi , Glass ceiling
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