The workplace is forever changing. With the number of working women rising steadily for decades and the average age of the workforce increasing (BBC News 2008), it is more diverse than ever. Managing diversity and equality in the workplace is an important managerial competency. Treating people equally is essential to being an effective and successful organisation. In respect of the many different dimensions in which people differ, whether by age, gender, race, religion, disability, or sexual orientation, organisations have a responsibility to proactively promote equality throughout their establishment. Within these organisations employees still face many challenges and experience aspects of inequality and discrimination. These issues in their respective organisations are a hindrance that prevent progression and success and can cause the career development of employees to suffer. Discrimination can come in many forms, however, the key factor that will be focused on regarding discrimination is the ‘glass ceiling’ and the negative effects it has on women and their career development. In this essay, the term ‘glass ceiling’ will be defined, reasons explaining how and why women are likely to encounter the glass ceiling will be discussed and concepts such as the ‘Queen Bee Syndrome’, gender pay gap and gender ideology will be explored. The essay will then examine the measures Human Resources practitioners can take to address the problems of inequality encountered by women.
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For women in the workplace, the struggle to climb the corporate ladder and reach the top seems out of reach because of the ‘glass ceiling’. The theory known as the ‘glass ceiling’ is defined as “artificial barriers based on attitudinal or organisational bias that prevent qualified individuals from advancing to positions of power offering higher salaries and more responsibility and authority” (International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 2008). It has been known that women experience significant levels of frustration at every stage due to the barriers of progression even though the promotional roles are within sight and ability. Flanders (1994) suggests that the reason the barrier of the glass ceiling exists and is exerted upon women is because of society’s attitude, prejudice towards women and the preconceived idea that the workplace and managerial position are all male based.
There are various ways in which women can experience the glass ceiling with also a vast amount of evidence to support this. The gender pay gap is the most commonly used example to demonstrate the inequality between men and women. The pay gap is defined as “the shortfall between how much men earn and how much women earn” (Padavic & Reskin, 2002, p121). Comparing hourly pay of men and women, based on the mean earnings, the 2009 figures stated that women’s hourly pay was 16.4% less than men for full time employees and 13.2% for part time employees, in comparison to the 2008 figures of 17.4% and 15.2% respectively (Office for National Statistics, 2010), but the figures still stand as a high percentage. Although the Equal Pay Act (1970) was introduced which “makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate between men and women in their pay and conditions when they are doing the same or similar work, work rated as equivalent, or work of equal value” (Government Equalities Office, 2010), women in the workforce still continue to earn considerably less than their male counterparts. The pay gap is most certainly of concern in the finance sector, despite women and men making up equal proportions of the employees, women earn significantly less than their male colleagues, when investigated by the commission of equality and human rights (2010), the results were startling, the inquiry found that on average women earn 55% less than men in their annual salaries, this figure compared to the average pay gap was significantly higher. The vast difference in the pay gap shows that the inequality between men and women is still present and is an area in the workplace where there is cause for concern.
For those that have shattered the glass ceiling and have reached senior management positions, they have not been affected by what is known as ‘blocked promotion’. Women on all levels face blockages and find it hard to move up the corporate ladder. Davidson and Cooper (1992) state that currently promotions are based on the ability to be mobile and relocate to different sites if necessary. It is also stated that “The state of existing marital relationships and the tendency of most organisations to promote by job transfer therefore make it extremely difficult for women to advance their careers very far” (Davidson and Cooper, 1992). Sex inequality and a sex-gender hierarchy have been formed on the basis of society’s treatment towards the sexes in which men are favoured over women (Padavic & Reskin, 2002). It is this concept in which society has formed preconceptions that the man’s occupation is superior to the woman’s. Therefore it would seem that a decision as grand as relocation would not take place on the basis of the promotion of a woman. Women are also associated with the characteristic of being submissive; this in turn would also be a contributing factor to women being less likely to relocate with their family for work in comparison to men.
With the glass ceiling, gender pay gap and society’s stereotypes, women in the workplace already face many challenges of inequality and discrimination. Now there’s a major, and somewhat unexpected, addition to the list known as the female boss, who exhibits the ‘Queen Bee Syndrome’. ‘The Queen Bee Syndrome’ occurs when women in managerial positions discriminate against other women, most often to do with their own insecurities and feeling threatened, this syndrome may sometimes be as important as sexism in holding back women’s careers (Dobson & Iredale, 2006). It is natural for women to feel threatened by other women which would result in defences being raised. Poe & Courter (1994) demonstrate how women managers are not always sympathetic in regards to other women, “in a study of 2,405 pregnancy-discrimination lawsuits in Ohio between 1985 and 1990, researchers found that 36% of the supervisors who refused to hire pregnant women or let them return to work were women” (Poe & Courter. 1994, p5). For women to overcome the glass ceiling the ‘Queen Bee Syndrome needs to be eradicated. Davidson & Cooper (1992) explains how in their findings, the Queen Bee Syndrome is a type of behaviour that is not exhibited in all women, and there are those that have asserted to make efforts to help other women. Eradication of this syndrome will only take place when the women that are in a position to exert this behaviour have assurance that their role is not under threat. This in turn will eliminate all areas of insecurities and subsequently the behaviour that follows.
Sex stereotypes are the most common reason why woman face discrimination and encounter the glass ceiling. These stereotypes are socially shared beliefs that link sexes with attributes and skills and are a part of gender ideology (Padavic and Reskin, 2002). The commission for equality and human rights (2010) states that employers still have stereotypical views of what is defined as women’s work and men’s work. This evidently can be developed and transcended into the recruitment and selection process of a specific job role and discrimination can take place. These constant stereotypes generate a close identification between men and management (McTavish & Miller, 2006). It is argued that management is a sex typed occupation and there is a high ratio of men already in management roles due to the attributes needed for management closely linked with the characteristics of men (Kakabadse, Bank & Vinnicombe, 2005). Stereotypical ideas in relation to the workforce and management suggest why there is occupational segregation in the workplace and why men are in the senior managerial positions and why women encounter the glass ceiling.
The theory of gender ideology uses a set of shared assumptions about the way sexes are to behaviour and certain norms and characteristics associated with those sexes to explain why women face inequality and the glass ceiling in the workplace (Padavic and Reskin, 2002). This ideology limits women’s employment options as they may be deemed unsuitable for certain roles. Padavic and Reskin (2002) then lead on to discuss how this ideology leads to physical segregation which keeps women close to the home and away from the workforce. This largely relates to society’s presumptions of men being socially accepted as breadwinners in the family.
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Throughout history a patriarchal social system, in which men have authority over women has prevailed (Powell & Graves, 2003). It was in the nineteenth century based on this social system that the concept of the family wage theory was introduced. The theory was an objective adopted by male trade unionists at the turn of the nineteenth century in their fight for improved wages based on the argument that a wage should be sufficient to maintain a family (A dictionary for Sociology, 2008). Nowadays it is often cited as a factor in explanations of women’s disadvantaged position in the workplace (A dictionary for Sociology, 2008). The patriarchal system and the theory of family wage have instilled expectations that men are the breadwinners and providers for their family and women are inferior to men. This has developed over time and has contributed to why women face the glass ceiling in the workplace.
The role of Human Resource practitioners is a difficult one; they face the role of addressing inequality by implementing ways to resolve the issue. It is clear that strategies and solutions need to be put in place to address the issue. A clear issue that surrounds women is family and the ability to care for the family. The appointment and retention of family friendly working practices is significant in resolving this issue. Organisations are beginning to provide onsite day care centres and nurseries for employee’s children (Davison &Cooper, 1992). This needs to expand to further organisations and establishments. Flexible working patterns need to be put in place to accommodate employee’s family patterns. Flexitime is an example of this in which parents and careers can meet the needs associated with their child’s education (Davison &Cooper, 1992). The Commission for Equality and human rights (2010) welcomes the Government’s proposals for the regulations on Additional Paternity Leave (APL). The Commission believes that implementation of APL would provide more choice for parents in childcare responsibilities and a more equitable sharing of leave entitlements. The recruitment and selection process should be designed to find the most suitable candidate for the role, regardless of gender (Commission for equality and human rights, 2010). Human Resources practitioners need to enforce this regulation. Women receive less training then men, subsequently employers may discriminate on that basis (Flanders, 1994). Therefore human resource practitioners should allow men and women in the same role to receive the same amount of training.
The government are also taking steps in order to address inequality. The equality bill which received royal assent and formally became the Equality Act was passed in April 2010. The Equality Act states that if a company has 250 or more employees they may have to publish the differences between the pay of men and women (Government Equalities Office, 2010). This encourages companies to oblige by the Equal Pay Act (1970), and avoid the gender discrimination becoming public knowledge. The Government Equalities Office (2010) also state that jobs are allowed to be aimed at certain groups e.g. women in order to build a more diverse workforce. This means jobs that women are underrepresented in can aim to employ more women under this act and thus create a more equal workforce. The government also introduced in 2004, the 10 year childcare strategy, in which one of the key themes was a greater choice in how parents can balance their family life and work commitments, a suggestion that was proposed was enhanced parental leave in both maternal and paternal leave (Department for children, schools and families, 2009). This strategy would help women considerably in balancing work and family life and would allow them to still pursue a career without fear of family concerns. The implementation of these government schemes in the workplace by Human Resource practitioners could significantly reduce inequality for women.
There are many factors to suggest reasons for why women face the glass ceiling, discrimination and inequality, some of which would include stereotyping, prejudice and preconceived ideas. There have been developments in reducing inequality in the workforce and career progression for women but nevertheless further action still needs to be taken. For those that have not shattered the glass ceiling, they continue to face challenges and obstacles in the workplace. Only with the change of society’s preconceptions and subsequent actions, will the workplace fully change for women and their career progression. If inequality is to be eliminated and the glass ceiling overcome, society’s stereotypes need to be a historical concept. As of now there is still a need to raise awareness of the inequality still present in the workplace and address the problems associated with inequality and to encourage organisations to manage diversity and equality effectively and successfully.
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