The Role of Equal Employment Opportunites


This essay will illustrate the concept of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO), Diversity and Diversity Management along the lines of best practice, legislation and workplace outcomes. Furthermore also major legislation at Commonwealth and State level as well as ethical and moral principles will be examined. It will also explore how University of Sydney competes through globalisation in parallel, discussing how diversity is used by the University to attract and retain employees and student from all over the world. This essay will also put some light on ageism and how the ageing population is facing unemployment problems.

Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) works to ensure that workplaces are free from all forms of unlawful discrimination and harassment (Strachen, Burgess and Henderson 2007). It provides, legislation, programs and guidelines to assist members of EEO groups to overcome past or present disadvantage. This means having workplace rules, policies, practices and behaviours that are fair and do not disadvantage people because they belong to particular identifiable groups or because they are judged to be different from the norm(Strachen, Burgess and Henderson 2007). In such an environment, all workers should be valued and respected and have opportunities to develop their full potential and pursue a career path of their choice.

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EEO's are designed to deliver a diverse and skilled workforce that is competitive in the global economy. It works to improve employment access and participation of other people from all age groups, races and religion.

Support for employment equity for women at the highest level of government is universal in developed countries (Strachen, Burgess and Henderson 2007). Legislative, judicial and social policies have an impact on organization as they develop and implement equity policies in Australia.

In Australia, antidiscrimination legislation was enacted from 1975 in Commonwealth and State Legislatures, affirmative action legislation was followed in the mid 1980s, work and family policies emerged in early 1990s and managing diversity in late 1990s. Legislation prohibits discrimination on grounds of sex, pregnancy and marital status (Strachen, Burgess and Henderson, 2007). Legislation contain provisions that promote equal pay and guarantees unpaid parental leave who meet certain employment conditions. The University of Sydney allows its staff to for provisions that supplement parental leave with paid leave and provide the right to return to work after maternity leave on a part time basis.

Equity provisions are justified on the basis that they are good for business: equal opportunity "boosts a company's profitability and makes incredible savvy business sense" (EWOA 2006). The legislation recognized the historic systemic disadvantage of women in employment. Affirmative Action (Equal Opportunity for Women) Act 1986 was the principal law in this area. Employers with more than one hundred employees were required to institute an affirmative action program ''based on a systematic and planned approach to the identification of existing structural barriers which prevent or inhibit women from fully and equally participating in the workforce'' (Ronalds 1988, pp. 12-13). The 1986 Act was replaced by the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999 (EOWWAct). The overall goals of the two acts are similar: to promote the principle that employment for women should be dealt with on the basis of merit, to promote elimination of discrimination and provision of equal opportunity for women, and to foster workplace consultation between employers and employees on these issues (EOWAct Section 2) ''Affirmative action'' is based on recognition and acceptance of the fact that it is not sufficient to make specific acts of discrimination unlawful. The principles of the legislation recognized that ''certain specific steps aimed at promoting equality in employment for women need to be undertaken to eliminate existing disadvantages and ensure that the employment system operates in a manner that is fair and equal to all employees and applicants'' (Ronalds 1988, p. 12).

In Australia, equal pay decisions have come in through industrial relation system rather than through legislation. Until 1970s unequal pay rates for women were implemented and women were paid half as much as men for the same amount of work done. In the past four decades, these issues have been dealt with the antidiscrimination pathway (Strachen, Burgess and Henderson 2007). The Australian council of trade unions (ACTU) initiated and led equal pay cases in commonwealth conciliation and arbitration commission. Different pay rates for men and women no longer exist in Australia. It lead to an increase in large ratio of female to male earnings than any other country in the world and hence giving equal employment opportunities to all the people irrespective of their sex.

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However, critics argue that if equal opportunity requires men and women to be treated the same, the outcome will be that women are offered equality on male terms and are required to comply with male centred norms and patterns and this may reinforce the idea that women difference equals disadvantage (Bercussen and Dickens 1996).

EEO and Diversity management are interrelated. They both are directed towards achieving equal opportunity in the workplace (Berkely n.d 2008). Diversity is a broader concept of equal employment opportunity in different ways. Diversity and EEO together provide a strong foundation for the University/organisation's efforts to achieve a fair and inclusive workplace (Berkeley n.d 2008). EEO is mandatory and legal requirement whereas Diversity at a workplace in voluntary. EEO and Diversity management together lead to diverse productive workforce and accessible work environment. It also leads to an inclusive environment where all employees are valued.

The University of Sydney uses Equal Employment Opportunity to sustain its business and competes through globalisation. There are various Anti-Discrimination laws that the University follows which are Anti-Discrimination act 1977(NSW), Age Discrimination act (Cth), Racial Discrimination Act 1975(Cth), Sex Discrimination Act 1984(Cth) - which makes it unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of sex, marital status or pregnancy and prohibits sexual harassment, Disability Discrimination act1992 (Cth).

Anti-Discrimination law prohibits any unlawful actions on the basis of sex, race, and culture. Unlawful discrimination is any practice that makes an unlawful distinction between individuals or groups, so as to disadvantage some people and advantage others. Discrimination may be direct, indirect or structural.

Direct discrimination- 'Direct' discrimination occurs when a person treats another a person less favourably, because of the other person's race, sex, pregnancy, marital status, transgender, sexual preference or orientation (including homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality and heterosexuality), disability, age, ' responsibility, political belief, lack of a political belief, lack of a particular political belief (including trade union activity or lack of it, and student association activity or lack of it), religious belief, lack of a religious belief, and/or lack of a particular religious belief, than they treat or would treat a person without that characteristic in the same or similar circumstances. This includes actual, potential and perceived race, sex, pregnancy, marital status.

Indirect discrimination- 'Indirect' discrimination occurs when a person requires another person to comply with an unreasonable requirement or condition, with which the other person is unable to comply due to his or her race, sex, pregnancy, marital status, etc, and with which a substantially higher proportion of persons without that characteristic can or would be able to comply.

Structural discrimination- it is a long term consequence of ongoing direct or indirect discriminatory practices that have impacted on decisions. Regulations, policies, practices actions and attitudes (De Cieri et al., 2005). This type of discrimination is deeply embedded within all levels of organizations and societies.

A series of case studies undertaken in University of Sydney committed to equal opportunity goals revealed that it is not always consistent with legislation and policy guidelines. Hence this essay discusses range of approaches to workplace equity in Australia.

In 1994, University of Sydney adopted an equal employment opportunity plan. One of its objectives was to increase the participation of EEO groups on university boards and committees. Statistics collected on gender showed that some boards and committees have reasonable balance of men and women whereas others were under represented in case of women, even where profile of staff indicated that women are available to participate. To increase the participation of women on committees and boards, EEO set targets of at least 30% membership of females. It was difficult to achieve this target

Various strategies are used by the University to attract and retain a diverse field of applicants to university positions (University of Sydney 2009). By advertising job vacancies in diverse range of media and through local community networks, university is able to get diverse range of applicant for a particular job. It promotes alternative employment strategies like traineeship so that even people who have worked differently in their own countries can apply for the position and get training. It also develops selection criteria that value cultural diversity, non professional experience and on-the-job training. The University maintains and improves employment strategy to increase number of staff of Aboriginal and Torris State Islanders' background.

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The university has made EEO training mandatory for all staff involved in selection, promotion, research supervision and management development programs. It is believed that improved understanding of EEO and antidiscrimination policies will promote tolerance and diversity in workplace.

Diversity management is defined as the management of diversity (MD) ranging from gender, ethnic groups and all the characteristics that make up an individual. The organization could wish to extend development programs to all workforces. The term "Managing Diversity" (MD) came to Australia from the USA as a management strategy (Strachen and Burgess 2005). Diversity of sex, age, background, race, disability, personality and work style are typically included on the premise that harnessing these differences will create a productive environment in which everyone will feel valued and their talents utilized (Strachen and Burgess 2005). Whereas Kirton and Greene(2005)summarize variety of approaches in literature describing MD as "an evolutionary step from equality", "a sophistication of the equality approach", "a repackaging of equality", "a repackaging of equality", "a sanitized, politically unthreatening and market oriented notion", a policy that allows employers" to avoid actively fighting discrimination.

"In Australia affirmative action/EEO legislation sits firmly on a base of recognition of historic and systemic discrimination against women. In contrast, work and family policies and MD policies do not necessarily recognize any groups, including women, who still face systemic discrimination and disadvantage. Instead, these policies focus on individual differences. While work and family policies explicitly recognize that workers have to combine paid employment with other responsibilities, it does so with a non-gendered face which, it has been argued, defies reality in Australia (Goward et al. 2005)."

Diversity is a source of sustainable competitive advantage for the University of Sydney. It values people and cultivate an environment where cultural awareness, sensitivity, fairness and integrity flourish. Diversity is a process that is integrated, ongoing and measurable. Training is provided not only to managers but throughout the workforce. They link diversity programs to recruitment, development and retention strategies (Reichenberg 2001). Organizations incorporate employee development processes and map career paths and see what skills are necessary. Turner (2009) studied that innovative performance of both individuals and teams were increased by more gender balance at team levels.

The University of Sydney uses diversity to achieve its strategic goals. Its claims the its library will be vibrant and innovative centre that will advance teaching, learning and research of University's diverse community by providing outstanding service and access to high quality print and electronic journals. The library will foster partnerships with national and international partners to promote lifelong learning and will utilize best management practices. The university library provides services from eighteen locations on eight campuses (University of Sydney 2009). It will foster strategic partnerships with relevant professional, social, cultural and government institutions at local, national and international levels.

Over the past two decades there has been an increase in temporary employment agencies. An industry survey of 150 organizations in Australia reported by Hall (2005) suggested that the main reason for the employment of temporary workers was to fill vacancies, reduce administrative cost and provide access to skill to labour flexibility. Temporary employment possesses many of the characteristics associated with flexible labour and for this reason it has obvious attraction (Conell and Burgess 2006). It is also connected to ongoing skill shortages in construction, nursing and IT.

Organisations all over the world are facing business challenges which are difficult in attracting talent and retaining quality employees, lack of employee loyalty, increased overseas competition and shortage of skilled candidates (Half 2010).University is competing by attracting and retaining staff in various different ways. It increases staff awareness of employment practices by providing flexibility through information, training and induction sessions which include part time employment, parental leave, cultural and religious leave, job sharing, career break schemes, working from home, short term absence for family and community reasons, flexible working hours and transfer opportunities. Flexible employment opportunities promote job satisfaction, improve morale, increase productivity and assist employees to achieve a balance between their professional and private lives.

The University of Western Sydney was also studied on how the university uses strategic plans to achieve its goals. It was observed that University of Western Sydney will implement a number of strategic plans in order to achieve their aim to retain students and staff. The students developed ability to learn in their own time in a flexible learning method. It creates first year experience that optimizes retention and success by establishing an integrated system (University of Western Sydney 2009).

"Definitions of globalization were offered by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as a phenomenon "driven by many factors, of which technology, the related mobility of people, goods and ideas, and a liberal trading environment are perhaps the most obvious (Perkins, 2003, pp 462). Globalisation is reported perceived as one of the most important trend for organizational change (Perkins, 2003). Globalization factor is followed by advances in technology, shortage of skills and competition (Perkins, 2003). Globalisation makes culture an increasingly strategic issue that has to be properly managed (Perkins, 2003). To compete in the global market, many multinational companies encourage the training manager to invest in pre departure i.e. the managers are made to learn about the other country as the guests in the host country have their own distinctive value system and behaviour (Perkins, 2003).

The University of Sydney competes through globalization and uses diversity to attract and retain employees/ students to run its business (University of Sydney 2009). It is very important to educate managers and staff on how to work effectively in diverse environments thereby preventing discrimination and promoting inclusiveness. It is evident that managing a diverse workforce well contributes to increased staff retention and productivity which makes it competitive in the global environment. Diversity management enhances the ability of an organisation to respond to an increasingly diverse world of customers, improves relations with surrounding community, increases the organisation's/university's ability to cope with change (Berkely n.d 2008). To retain its employees, management continues reviews its recruitment procedures, interviews, selection and promotions. Without exception the person best suited for the position or for training program or promotion is given that opportunity. Job advertisements attract both male and female applicants. Questions at an interview are only related to the requirement of the job. No question is asked that imply unfair or biased attitude to race, colour, sex, religion, national origin, marital status or irrelevant issues.

To compete through globalization, the organization (University of Sydney) establishes and maintains partnerships with various professional and educational organizations all around the world. It participates in job fairs, college fairs and other educational outreach events aimed at promoting diversity in the workforce. It also utilizes and promotes intern programs aimed at supporting workforce diversity (University of Sydney 2009). The staff and student Equal Employment Unit works with the university community to promote Equal opportunity in education and employment, to create opportunities for staff and students who have traditionally been disadvantaged by mainstream practices and policies, and to create an environment that is free from discrimination and harassment (University of Sydney 2009). To protect individuals' rights, the organization has a complaint charging procedure. Any individual can file a complaint to the EEO and Diversity Management (EEODM) members if he/she feels that they have been indiscriminated against one or more of the following factors: race, colour, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability. Informal and formal complaints can be made. For an informal complaint, the victim should contact the EEO counsellor within 45 days of occurrence of discrimination. The counsellor will then advise the victim about the rights and attempt resolution of the complaint. Formal complaint is filed once the informal process is completed. Formal complaint should be very specific and is limited to the allegations raised with the EEO counsellor. If the complaint is accepted, fair investigation is conducted with 180 days.

The organization/University acknowledges the existence of broad cultural groups within its community and within Australian culture. Cultural diversity has been a part of Australia's history and through it Australian culture is constantly developing. Cultural diversity includes language, race, ethnic background, country or region of interest, dress, values, religion and associated practices, social and community responsibilities, sexuality, disability, notions of family, family responsibilities and political views. Valuing and managing cultural diversity at the University of Sydney is a process of recognizing, utilizing and benefiting from the variety of backgrounds of staff and students. There is a vast cultural diversity in the university. In 2005, 22% of all students at the University spoke a language other than English at home. 31% of local students were born in overseas. 19% of total enrolments were international students. 279 students were aboriginals or torris strait islanders. All this data shows that university uses diversity to compete in global market. The university's EO office has an online cultural diversity calendar giving details of religious feasts and holidays.

It was found that University of Western Sydney also supports Equal Employment Opportunity but does not have EEO group. It does not contain any harassment/sexual discrimination complaint system which address these issues.

It is true that age discrimination is alive and well in Australia. Age stereotypes appear to affect older people, whose situation receives much less attention than the problem of youth unemployment. The general prevalence of ageism creates a climate in which age discrimination can flourish inspite of legal remedies (Encel, 1999). Equal Employment opportunity addresses age discrimination by giving equal opportunities in workplace to all the individuals irrespective of their age, sex and caste.

In 1966, Federal (Commonwealth) Government came up with EEO. It was observed that previously a woman lost her permanent status upon marriage (Encel, 1999). The compulsory retirement was abolished in 1976. It was also observed that poverty was mostly concentrated among older people, and discrimination in employment was one of the major causes (Encel, 1999). The first State that adopted this was New South Wales in 1990, and similar policies were adopted by other countries as well. Apart from Small states of Tasmania, all States have now enacted complementary legislation on age discrimination and compulsory retirement.

Whatever the legal changes, age discrimination still persists. The International Labour Office (ILO) addressed an issue in a report which deplores the present trend where older workers are often pulled out of the active labour force prematurely due to labour market constraints. The decline in participation rates of old age workers runs counter to demographic trends and aggravates the problem of old age dependency and rising social expenditures.

The unemployment statistics, as well as other evidence, indicate that, whatever the legal situation, employers continue to discriminate against older people (Encel, 1999). Downsizing is also one of the major reasons of unemployment. In a recent survey, 50% of those aged between 55 and over who lost their jobs as a result of downsizing were very pessimistic about finding a job, but were disheartened when they could not find one. It was also reported that several people complained that Commonwealth Employment Services (CES) had no insight into the special problems of the older unemployed. Several claimed that they were sent to employment agencies which didn't deal properly with them.

Women in workplace are subjected to double standards and the hardships which often increase with age. Middle aged women entering a market face double swords of discrimination. On one hand lack of experience is considered an excuse for discrimination, whereas on other hand older women are eliminated on the basis of being overqualified.

Reed (1996) performed a study on a group of older women employed by a large retail chain. Reed's study found that age combined with gender and racial origin to create a hierarchy of direct and indirect discrimination which obstructed promotion. Older women were excluded from the right of work.

EEO and Diversity management work hand in hand to achieve strategic plans and goals of an organisation. Globalisation is the major concern for organisation and they have to continuously adopt new plans and strategies to compete in the world market. Age discrimination in employment is clearly alive and well in Australia, but its ramifications are only now being explored. Age stereotyping appears to affect older people, whose situation receives much less attention than the problem of youth unemployment. It is instructive to compare age discrimination with sex discrimination and sexual harassment (which is legally defined as a form of discrimination in Australia).


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