glass ceiling
n. Business practices and prejudices that create an unseen and unofficial barrier to personal advancement, particularly for women and minorities.
Cose, a senior writer and columnist at Newsweek, has done his share of seething. A 20-year veteran of journalism along the color line,he has written a lot about his own and other blacks' experiences with whites they found racially hostile, duplicitous or laughably myopic. Many whites considered the stories in Cose's The Rage of a Privileged Class highly contestable: In the workaday world, after all, every black's account of bumping against a "glass ceiling" of white condescension and contempt is answered by a white's account of going the extra mile for a black colleague with too many deficiencies and a head full of demons.
—Jim Sleeper, “Color-Blind: Seeing Beyond Race in a Race-Obsessed World,” he New Leader, December 16, 1996
Two years ago, the women's team in the America's Cup seemed revolutionary. But in some ways, our team was a holdover from the past — we were coached and managed exclusively by men. And like women not being promoted to managerial positions and bumping their heads on the proverbial glass ceiling in corporate America, we were never given control over our program.
—Anna Seaton Huntington, “When Women Take the Shots, Women Should Call the Shots,” The New York Times, December 15, 1996
1984 (earliest)
Women have reached a certain point—I call it the glass ceiling. They're in the top of middle management and they're stopping and getting stuck. There isn't enough room for all those women at the top. Some are going into business for themselves. Others are going out and raising families.
—Gay Bryant, “The Up-and-Comers; Bryant Takes Aim At the Settlers-In.,” Adweek Special Report, March 01, 1984