Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Psychology


The glass ceiling metaphor is frequently used in scholarly and popular literature to describe the obstacles and barriers in front of women seeking promotions to the top levels of organizations. This thesis aims to contribute to the literature on the causes and consequences of glass ceilings, as well as explore ways to dismantle glass ceilings. It consists of five papers: a theoretical paper plus four empirical papers describing cross-sectional studies. The papers are linked as they each take a cognitive approach: the first three papers investigate glass ceiling beliefs and the next two papers investigate explanations about workplace situations, positive and negative. The studies follow a growing trend to examine the roles of positive psychology constructs in organizational psychology. Positive psychology constructs investigated throughout this thesis include resilience, optimism, occupational self-efficacy, work engagement, career satisfaction, wellbeing and happiness. The research program captured in these papers makes two major contributions to the literature. First, there is the development and validation of two new instruments which are relevant to women and men working in any organization. The first instrument, the Career Pathways Survey (CPS) measures beliefs about glass ceilings. The other instrument, the Workplace Explanations Survey (WES), measures optimism in organizations by assessing workplace explanations. Consequently, the second contribution of this thesis is the identification of a range of significant relationships between glass ceiling beliefs and workplace explanations with subjective career success indicators, occupational self-efficacy (OSE), gender and career levels. The first paper (Chapter 2) presents a unique approach to reviewing literature on glass ceilings. The review examines many of the diverse metaphors and labels that are used to highlight insights into the career advancement of women. This paper includes a classification of metaphors based on whether or not they imply characteristics of women help perpetuate the gender imbalance in leadership positions. The second paper (Chapter 3) describes the development of the CPS which allows quantitative comparisons of women's beliefs about glass ceilings. Analysis of data from two samples of women (N = 243 and N = 307) yielded a four-factor model of attitudes to glass ceilings: Resilience, Denial, Acceptance and Resignation. The factors demonstrated good internal consistency. The CPS was developed in response to the scarcity of instruments in this area, as well as psychometric concerns about the available measures. The major purpose of the third paper (Chapter 4) was to test the concurrent validity of the CPS by exploring how women’s glass ceiling beliefs are related to five major indicators of subjective career success: career satisfaction, happiness, psychological wellbeing, physical health and work engagement (WE). Regression analyses based on data from 258 women working in Australian organizations showed Denial was positively associated with career satisfaction and WE; Resignation was negatively related to happiness, emotional wellbeing and physical health; Resilience had positive relationships with happiness and WE; Acceptance was negatively related to WE. Our findings provide support the concurrent validity of the CPS. The fourth paper (Chapter 5) contains an extensive literature review of explanatory style questionnaires and their ability to predict successful performance and resilience in organizations, two constructs likely to help women break glass ceilings. Concerns about low internal consistency and poor face validity of items are highlighted. This chapter then describes the development of the WES which is designed to measure optimism while working in organizations. Factor analysis of data collected from 348 participants showed that the WES contained three factors for explanations of negative situations: internality, stability and globality. There were also two factors for positive situations: internality/stability and globality. The factors have good reliability levels. The study outlined in the fifth paper (Chapter 6) examines the relationships between management level, gender, workplace explanatory style, career satisfaction, happiness and OSE. The findings from 270 women and men working in Australian organizations provide evidence for the concurrent and convergent validity of the WES. Women were more likely to cite global reasons for problems as well as giving themselves credit for positive events at work. Managers were more likely than staff/supervisors to blame themselves for negative events. Regression analyses indicated stability, globality (negatives) and internality/stability were significant predictors of OSE. Internality and globality (negatives) predicted career satisfaction while both forms of globality predicted happiness. The thesis finishes with a summary of the findings, implications (practical and social), limitations and conclusions of this research program. It is recommended that future research carry out longitudinal and experimental studies to collect evidence on the causal directions for the relationships found in the current series of studies. Hopefully, this will play a part inhelping to dismantle glass ceilings.