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Business Case for Gender Equality: Critical Analysis

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Published: Wed, 13 Sep 2017

This essay critically analyses the business case report drafted by the workplace gender equality agency of the Australian government that talks about gender equality for women at work place(The business case for gender equality  2016). The essay discusses the need for a business case that highlights the importance of equality for women at work place. It also looks at various research papers on how these discourses developed by corporates do not necessarily serve the purpose of providing gender equality but rather just offers diversity in the work place which is more in line with their motive with regards to financial gains. It then goes on to highlight the need for a business case discourse by the state that would be more inclined with needs of women which would provide gender equality within an organization. It would discuss the possibility of the use of business case as a medium to contest dominant viewpoints in the market to make way for productive changes. It will compare the useability of business case papers to develop initiatives that would create equality by introducing concepts of corporate social responsibility (CSR). The essay would finally conclude that the business case document for equality is bound to be successful in its purpose by not just maintaining but also challenging existing inequalities and is in fact a way to legitimize moral discussions on corporate documents.

Initiatives related to gender diversity have always been a matter of political sensitivity for organizations around the world. The business case reports on diversity have been an integral part of corporations for many years now. They tend to safeguard an organization from a range of challenges that are not just related to gender or race. They basically highlight that all human being, irrespective of their group, are essentially the same and equal, and no one is intrinsically more capable or talented than anyone else. Basically, they try to restrain the organization to execute any kind of discrimination among the co-workers due to their gender or race. In order to understand the relationship between both genders in business world and how they are beneficial to an organization, it is very important to study the various business case documents drafted by corporates as it highlights the present equation of power between both genders at workplaces (Ahmed, Sara 2007; Zanoni & Janssens 2004). However, many who has studied these corporate documents has doubted the answers that they provided to important questions like “how can there be diversity in the organization?” and “what is the need for it?”. Some researchers who have investigated on this, have shown their concern on the matter of manner in which organizations differentiate these ideas and portray it in the fashion that would be beneficial to them by intensifying the growth or productivity rate of the company by implementing it (O’Leary & Weathington 2006).

Even though, for numerous years, previous business case documents had been an integral part of business world, they only managed to tackle issues related to diversity in the workplace. They failed to look at matters like equality among all races and genders with respect to social justice at work place, which continued in Europe until the mid-1990s (Greene, Kirton & Wrench 2005). However, United states of America had introduced the feature of equality at workplace for individual of all races in the 1950s (Wilkins 2004).

Since the 1990s, there has been a change in the rhetorical strategy related to issues regarding gender which has been recognized by consultants in management who constantly debate over the importance of promotion for women in corporations into leadership position using the justifications from the view point of economics and also as a rationale consideration to the threats of financial recession, change in demographic and the phenomenon of globalization (Greene, Kirton & Wrench 2005). A number of organization seemed quite interested with the will to purchase these strategy, from consultants, with the intention to introduce diversity of gender and race into their organizations that had earlier been quite resistant to the idea of implementing equal opportunity program in the firm. According to Smithson and Harter, senior managers, mostly men, were thought to be more in favour of business cases that brought in business-based diversity into their company rather than those which were in favour of gender equality (Smithson & Stokoe 2005). By looking at more established managerial papers, it can be seen that business cases which promoted workplace diversity were packaged in such a manner that would be more acceptable to the decision makers of the company by giving them what they want, that is an improved overall profit for the company (Kirby & Harter 2001).

These business papers that spoke of business friendly diversity had more emphasize on the promotion of more female and ethnic minority staff into a higher leadership role. As that would be of more benefit to the organisation in numerous manner, namely:

  • Human resource planning would encourage more involvement of senior management.
  • Broaden the ability of the organization to employee staff from a more diverse population.
  • Improve the scope and range of the ability of the workforce.
  • Increase retention rate of the employees.
  • Improve the reputation of the organization to a broader range of client’s base by offering more diverse and differentiated products and services.
  • Improve the reputation of the organization among various community.
  • Improve the ability of the company to predict and accordingly respond to the requirement of the clients from diverse backgrounds.
  • Lessen allegations of discrimination against the organization.

These social groups with diverse background, when outside the organisation, like the women community or the community of the Jewish people or the Afro – Caribbean community, are looked at as lucrative markets for products and services by the organization. However, when these same group of people are within the organization, their advantage of them belonging to these distinctively different social groups is heavily downplayed and the organization prefers to analyse the contribution by these individuals based on their merits and their abilities. This importance of individualism, allows businesses an opportunity to show discrimination and puts the blame on ill-fated failure to realise an individual ability instead of common discrimination against an particular social group (Hutchings & Thomas 2005).

However, it would be improper to narrow it down to only the consultants of the management and the human resource management who have been enthroned with the responsibility to work on these business case papers. Activists advocating for diversity have also been inadequate in establishing business case on equality for women, who frequently use various terminologies in debates, in regards to policies, that are seen to have a very limited shelf life which eventually become too familiar and quite easier to ignore and tune out (Ahmed, S et al. 2006). Instead of energizing the debate, the terminologies, tend to die out the debate of gender equality (Ahmed, S et al. 2006).

The fact is that the business case discourses written by the corporates have failed to be effective in bring about any change in the equality for women at organizations. Ahmed feels that there has been no attempt to abandon such approach by the organisations as it is understood that it ensures the management with a kind of politics that suits their needs in the corporate world (Ahmed, S et al. 2006).

As an even more persuading argument that the business cases have on structuring workplace gender relationship is the policy choices of the government with in regards to macroeconomics. For example, Blackmore saw that the businesses took more interest in business cases related diversity during times when a new government reviews the work policies adopted by private companies that results in a drastic restructuring of dynamics of diversity in the workplace. Business cases on diversity are more emphasised on, when there is a certainty among the management, that diversity can be more beneficial to the company in creating more profit, often due to a less interventionist approach and an understanding of the free market (Blackmore 2006). Colling and Dickens in their paper construed that as businesses have “privatized” the responsibility for encouraging equality at workplace, it has further resulted in the promotion of such business cases (Colling & Dickens 1998). They felt that the government in their authority as regulator, are to be blamed, as they stood and backed as well as encouraged equality at work as a concern that can be handled by line management. As a result of which the concept behind capitalization through diversity were associated with the idea of capturing new market, and thanks to the phenomenon of globalization, organizations moved towards service economy that allowed transnational migration with the support of the government (Blackmore 2006). Instead of the government acting as a regulator, it looked like the corporates have been regulating the government. This resulted in corporate reports or business cases on diversity to influence policy debates and thereby acquired larger legitimacy.

The corporate business case approach evidently did not allow any advancement to women’s wellbeing in the workplace. When it comes to using business case developed by corporates to rationalize and discuss gender equality within the company, it prevents the kind of results that female working staff can expect and the sort of requests that they can make. Business cases developed by corporates assumes that the only issues related to gender at workplace are associated with not using women’s ability to its fullest in higher roles of management. These business cases is evidently not concerned  with looking at the rights of casual workers, separation of work based on gender, handling low pay, part-time employment and work place power differentials (Colling & Dickens 1998). The success of these corporate business case reports is not measured in terms of correction of inequality in pay or segregation of gender but is measured with respect to the rise in the number of female and ethnic minority managers at the workplace (Colling & Dickens 1998).  Thus, the issue with corporate business case reports is also that it has restricted the debate on women equality to a very constricted scale of concerns.

In conclusion, the corporate business case on equality is undesirable as it limits, rather than giving enough room for the discussion on issues of social justice within the organizations. With the use of corporate business case, it allows the organizations an opportunity to argue their case based on economic grounds instead of it being justifiable based on concerns related to social justice (Colling & Dickens 1998). If the corporates are allowed to work out their own business case related to gender equality it is more likely to create discrimination at workplace rather than equality, as a number of social practices by which the market forces are analysed, only allow women to continue with unequal privileges within the organization (Colling & Dickens 1998). With the use of government developed business case reports, it would bring out more ways of analysing and reacting to a range of issues. Rather than using tools provided by financiers and economist, it would be more result oriented to use business case provided by the state to prepare, a more moral and inclusive societies.

With access to a legitimate business case discourse of social justice and equality at its disposal, the government would be indeed more capable of displaying some discursive leadership and handle the matters with more capability. They would be able to establish a forum that would lend an ear to a range of ideas and opinions. This would also assist corporates to do more for the cause. Higher management should stop standing by its own business case reports by dropping the notion that they are a neutral method of spreading the idea of racial and gender equality. Business cases of gender equality needs to be developed based on the ideas and opinion of working class women.

References

Ahmed, S 2007, ‘The language of diversity’, Ethnic and racial studies, vol. 30, no. 2, pp. 235-56.

Ahmed, S, Hunter, S, Kilic, S, Leach, T, Swan, E & Turner, L 2006, ‘Integrating Diversity: Gender,’Race’and Leadership in the Learning and Skills Sector’, Final Report.

Blackmore, J 2006, ‘Deconstructing diversity discourses in the field of educational management and leadership’, Educational Management Administration & Leadership, vol. 34, no. 2, pp. 181-99.

The business case for gender equality,  2016, Workplace Gender Equality Agency, Australian Government.

Colling, T & Dickens, L 1998, ‘Selling the case for gender equality: Deregulation and equality bargaining’, British Journal of Industrial Relations, vol. 36, no. 3, pp. 389-411.

Greene, A-m, Kirton, G & Wrench, J 2005, ‘Trade union perspectives on diversity management: a comparison of the UK and Denmark’, European Journal of Industrial Relations, vol. 11, no. 2, pp. 179-96.

Hutchings, E & Thomas, H 2005, ‘The business case for equality and diversity: A UK case study of private consultancy and race equality’, Planning Practice & Research, vol. 20, no. 03, pp. 263-78.

Kirby, EL & Harter, LM 2001, ‘Discourses of diversity and the quality of work life: The character and costs of the managerial metaphor’, Management Communication Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 121-7.

O’Leary, BJ & Weathington, BL 2006, ‘Beyond the business case for diversity in organizations’, Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, vol. 18, no. 4, pp. 283-92.

Smithson, J & Stokoe, EH 2005, ‘Discourses of work-life balance: negotiating ‘genderblind’terms in organizations’, Gender, Work & Organization, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 147-68.

Wilkins, DB 2004, ‘From” Separate Is Inherently Unequal” to” Diversity Is Good for Business”: The Rise of Market-Based Diversity Arguments and the Fate of the Black Corporate Bar’, Harvard Law Review, vol. 117, no. 5, pp. 1548-615.

Zanoni, P & Janssens, M 2004, ‘Deconstructing difference: The rhetoric of human resource managers’ diversity discourses’, Organization studies, vol. 25, no. 1, pp. 55-74.


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