Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

There are a lot of women running for president in 2020 in the American election.

Hillary Clinton tried to break through the glass ceiling but couldn’t quite do it.

However, she was the first woman to be the presidential nominee, so in a way she may have helped many other women get there.  

The phrase used here is the one we are focusing on today–the glass ceiling!

Have you heard it in English conversation with natives?

Have you tried to talk about the “glass ceiling”?

We have a great listener question about this phrase. 

Hi ladies,

Thank you so much for the great podcast! I have some doubt about one of the idioms that I hear used. When you say “the glass ceiling”, can this only be used for a woman? Can this be used for a man as well? I’m just trying to understand this phrase that I hear used a lot.

Any help that you can offer would be greatly appreciated!


Alejandro Ramirez Carrasco

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Breaking Down This Common Phrase

This is a very common and important phrase, and so you want to know how to use it the right way.

The dictionary definition for glass ceiling is: an intangible barrier within a hierarchy that prevents women or minorities from obtaining upper-level positions.

You can start to see why this is so relevant in our world today.

There’s a great article called “What Is The Glass Ceiling and How Do We Break It? that you should check out. That article can really speak to this topic and conversation.

You will find from the article that apparently, the term was first used in the 1978 by Marilyn Loden who worked for New York Telephone Co.

People used to say it was a woman’s fault for failing to get far in careers and things like that, but Loden said it was actually because of this barrier and that’s where “the glass ceiling” term became common.

We won’t go on about the whole article, but it discusses the glass ceiling and how different areas are impacted, such as parenthood, stereotypes, race, and gender discrimination.

How to break the glass ceiling:

The article talks about different ways to break this ceiling, some ways include:

  • making sure everyone gets equal pay for equal work
  • discussing how much you are paid so it isn’t a secret
  • having companies employ people from all backgrounds and genders

Using This Phrase In Conversation

Do you see the merit of this phrase?

Do you feel that there is a barrier?

Better yet, do you know how to use it in conversation?

We often use it with break, break through, or shatter.

The listener asked if you can use it about men- yes, but this tends to only be applicable if they are from a marginalized population.


“Polly is the first female CEO of this company. Congratulations POlly, for breaking the glass ceiling!” 

“I am going to talk to my boss about how Paul is getting more money than I am. Unbelievable how the glass ceiling still exists and women get paid less.”


The glass ceiling is real and it is important to try to eliminate it!

Hopefully one day it will be less pervasive and more progress will be made.

This is a great conversation topic and it’s very important and relevant to the world today.

Now that you understand this, try to use it in conversation and make a focus in your professional and personal life to discuss it.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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