How to tear the 'paper ceiling'

You've probably heard of the "glass ceiling": the social barrier that prevents women's advancement to top leadership roles. Now, a similar term has been coined for those without a bachelor's degree: the "paper ceiling." 

The term was popularized by Opportunity@Work, a nonprofit organization that encourages upward mobility and economic opportunity for workers who did not attend college. More than 60 percent of American adults do not have a university diploma, according to a recent report from Quartz. When degrees are required, 76 percent of Black, 83 percent of Latino, 81 percent of rural and nearly 70 percent of veteran workers are drained from the talent pool. 

To make job mobility more accessible, major companies — like Kellogg's, General Motors and Bank of America — are dropping degree requirements from some job postings, and certain states — including Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Utah — are removing them from public sector jobs. Nearly 50 organizations mobilized to rip the paper ceiling in fall 2022, acknowledging that many jobs that ask for a bachelor's degree could actually be performed with on-the-job training, community college learning or certificate programs. 

Healthcare's paper ceiling can be tougher to tear, as many clinician roles require specialized training. But some degree requirements are wants, not needs, and eliminating them can open up a broader talent pool. This could prove especially useful as the industry continues battling staffing shortages. 

Catherine Codispoti currently serves as executive vice president and chief people officer at Washington, D.C.-based Children's National Hospital and will assume the role at St. Louis-based Mercy in the fall. She works closely with Children's National's chief diversity officer, Denice Cora-Bramble, MD, to eliminate paper ceilings from job descriptions. 

"We've taken a very critical look at our job descriptions to try and increase the pools," Ms. Codispoti told Becker's. "If we said we want somebody with a master's or a bachelor's degree, do they have to have that? We've actually changed that pretty significantly and have really increased our sourcing pool."

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