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Most women and men are at a disadvantage in areas of job and trainings, wages and salaries, and are constrained to certain occupations based on their age, colour, disability, sex, ethnicity, without reference to their capabilities and skills. Today, in some developed countries for example, women workers still earn up less than male colleagues performing the same work. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity law, workers have the fundamental human right to be free from discrimination, can choose their employment freely without bias and have the ability to develop their potentials to the fullest. Workers benefit from equality policies through training, equal wages, and overall quality of the workforce.
The aim of this essay is to explore the multifaceted problems of unequal treatment of workers as a result of diversity and gender discrimination between men and women at work (the labour market). The study will also attempt to highlight the advantages and disadvantages of diversity and equal opportunity at work, and also proffer solutions for the reduction and subsequent eradication of gender discrimination. To the society at large, bringing equality to the workplace has major financial benefits, and if employers practise equality they would have access to a pool of well organised and diverse workforce. ILO (International Labour Organisation) practices equality as a tool to eliminate discrimination at work and in the society, they also apply gender mainstreaming strategies in the field of labour.
Benefits of workplace diversity
Employees from diverse backgrounds bring individual talents and experiences into the application of work. A diverse workforce of skills, experiences, languages, cultural understanding allows a company to operate globally in providing service to customers and having a variety of viewpoints, and also improving an organization’s success and competitiveness as well as increased “efficiency and effectiveness” (Sharron and Maeve, 2007, p.157).
Diversity and equality are linked to HR practices, therefore HR professionals have a key role in the implementing of fair and favourable working conditions for employees, and this indeed is a key challenge. Managing diversity helps to control differences by creating a productive working environment in which everyone, “feels valued” (Tom and Adrian, 2009, p.346), talents are fully utilised and organisational goals are met. The CIPD definition of diversity is, “valuing everyone as an individual, valuing people as employees, customers and clients” (CIPD, 2007). However, it is also applied to social groups thereby raising awareness of ethnic and cultural diversity. We live in a multi-cultural society where contributions from different cultures are made to society and culture. Diversity should focus on the positive rather than the negative.
Equality opportunity and gender mainstreaming
Equality can be defined as combined efforts, equal participation and shared responsibilities involving both sexes in decision making, implementation of policies aimed at maximizing potential production of goods and services. The fruits of these efforts should also be shared equally and both sexes should be given opportunities to exercise their rights. Equal opportunity approaches are aimed only at the disadvantaged and therefore potentially create problems in organisations by constantly targeting the disadvantaged rather than making efforts to ensure that the organisation naturally encourages equality of opportunity for all and sundry. There are six social groups listed in the Equality and Human Rights Commission Literature, the body that regulates and monitors the UK’s equality legislation, which are gender, age, disability, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation. These social groups are protected by law, therefore staff and customers have the legal right to be treated fairly and equally (Kirton, G and Greene, A, 2005).
Article VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, bans any type of discrimination based on any social group. In addition, 1963 Equal Pay Act prohibits organizations from formulating gender-based pay discrimination regarding workers who perform same work under similar conditions. Article VII of the 1964 Civil Rights as well set up the USA Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the commission started working in 1965 and has a duty of enforcing the federal acts which disallows workplace discrimination. The focus of Employment Opportunity is underpinned by the notion of social justice or the right to be treated fairly.
The following are selected relevant ILO instruments on Equality:
Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951 (No. 100) This fundamental convention requires equal remuneration for all workers (men and women) for equal measure of work in ratifying countries.
Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No.111) This fundamental convention requires ratifying nations to declare and pursue practices of equality of opportunity and treatment in respect of employment and occupation, with a view to eliminating any distinction, exclusion or preference made on the basis of race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin.
Workers with Family Responsibilities Convention, 1981 (No. 156)
The convention requires ratifying states to make it a goal of national policy to enable working men and women with family responsibilities to exercise their right without being subject to discrimination and, as much as possible, without conflict between their employment and family responsibilities. The convention also requires governments to take into account of the needs of the workers in community planning and to develop or promote community services, public or private, such as childcare and family services and facilities.
Diversity in the workplace is responsible for and sensitive to the different types of individual who make up an organisation (Sharron and Maeve, 2007, p.159). Organisations need to study the cultures, people and societies they work in, so they can understand and provide for the diverse needs of their customers/consumers. When organisations ‘manage diversity’ properly, they get excellent results from employees and meet the varying needs of their customers, which is recognised as a factor in business excellence. International Business Machines (IBM) has a long-standing commitment to equality to ensure everyone is allowed to compete on an equal basis. Workforce diversity at IBM ‘excludes no one and serves as the bridge between the workplace and the marketplace’.
The main issue for diversity management is that managers need to empower all staff to realize their full potential. Companies like Microsoft have had as much as 90% of their market value represented by intellectual capital, human talent, reputation, and leadership. The ability to attract and retain diverse talented people rates more highly, therefore the Government is driving initiatives to encourage diversity and persuade business that there are real advantages to be gained from embracing diversity in the workplace. Diversity focuses on improving opportunities for all staff, respecting and valuing people as they are, rather than expecting them to conform to a stereotype. The global nature of business markets can be seen as a driving force for diversity initiatives. If a company’s business is international, its staff must be able to work across cultures, speak the customer’s language and address any barriers that might exist. A Company’s reason for adopting diversity policies are;
1. It is the right thing to do,
2. It is in compliance with equal opportunities and anti antidiscrimination laws and
3. It generates financial benefits that exceed implementation costs (Rebecca, 2005).
British Telecom’s (BT) recognises that it is crucial for its staff to reflect the diversity of its customers and is able to meet their ever-changing needs. It has introduced a number of initiatives to ensure that more women are recruited and progress in their careers with the company. Diversity policies are used by companies to gain access to talent. BT reports that equal opportunities and diversity policies have resulted in the company attracting 37% of female graduate applicants. By creating a working environment where all employees feel included, valued and rewarded on the basis of their talents and skills, companies increase employee morale leading to improvement in the quality and motivation of the workforce which in turn leads to an improved company performance.
Effects of gender discrimination in the work place
Learning about sex-roles takes place among men and women during the early phases of their lives, and this can translate itself into an attitude that creates difficulties later in work life, (Larwood and Wood, 1979). A lot of people would concur that these issues and discrimination of women is improper and unlawful and should not be tolerated. Nonetheless, many women have continued to be discriminated in their workplace.
As rational people, employers seek to put the right person for the right jobs e.g. when the work demands public relations, appearing on advertisements, employers prefer attractive women as marketers to sell their products. For technical, manual and production work however; they prefer to hire a man, (Tom and Adrian, 2009, p.351). Some employers believe that the cost of employing women is higher and that the productivity of female workers is low due to truncated and intermittent breaks for child bearing and rearing. Women for example are questioned if the family responsibilities could hamper their performance at work and at times questioned about their competency. These beliefs pose particular challenges in decision to employ women at work. The choice of an individual to accept work in a particular occupation or an employer’s choice to employ either mainly men or mainly women, are decisions influenced by learned cultural and social values that often discriminate against women (and sometimes against men). The “preference” is largely determined by learned, gender-related factors which stereotype occupations as “male” and “female”.
Occupational segregation by sex and Stereotyping
The resultant segregation of occupations by sex places a limitation on what jobs male and female can do. The early stereotyping of certain occupations as ‘male’ and ‘female’ is one factor that influences the subject choices of children and adults (Archer, 1992). Miller and Hayward (1992) examined children’s perceptions of who should, and who actually does, perform a range of jobs. Both Miller and Budd (1999) and Miller and Hayward (1992) found that individuals’ preferences remained largely restricted to those jobs that were viewed as gender-congruent (i.e. in keeping with stereotypes about the jobs that are appropriate for their own sex). Boys gave significantly higher preference ratings than girls for nine masculine occupations (airplane pilot, air traffic controller, architect, carpenter, fire fighter, lorry driver, police-officer, scientist and TV repairer). Conversely, girls gave higher preference ratings for seven feminine occupations (dancer, hairdresser, librarian, nursery school teacher, secretary, school teacher and shop assistant).
In the UK, research conducted for the Department for Education and Skills (DFES) indicated that parental attitude was one factor which influenced the decisions of young people regarding whether to remain in education or training, or to leave (Payne, 1998). In the USA, Farmer, Wardrop, Anderson and Risinger (1995) have identified parental support as a key factor influencing subject choice. Firstly, the mother’s attitude is a key factor in developing the child’s own view of the importance of the subject itself; this then influences the development of favourable attitudes towards the occupational area. Secondly, the child’s perception of the extent to which their mother believes in the importance of doing well has a positive influence on the child’s belief that their success is dependent upon their own efforts, which in turn impacts on their achievement and thereafter on their attitudes (Miller, Lietz and Kotte, 2002). Parental aspirations are usually viewed as an important influence on career decisions in general (Erikson and Jonsson, 1996). Schoon and Parsons (2002), also using a path modelling approach has shown that high parental aspirations are strongly correlated with high aspirations in their children and with good academic achievement.
Stereotyping against women at work is either due to employers’ attitude or to what women bring into the labour market in terms of qualification, family demands and feminine differentials.
Cultural restrictions contribute to the establishment of what is acceptable work and how some countries signify sexual differences for certain occupations. In Moslem countries, ‘Purdah’ (kirton, G and Greene, A, 2005) effectively forbids women interacting with unknown men in public, as a result, many Muslim women are strongly discouraged from taking sales jobs except in shops where the customers are all women.
Women are usually stereotyped to their traditional and cultural roles of child bearing, rearing and home-keepers and are usually disadvantaged in preferences for occupations and promotion. In societies where women are at a disadvantage by sex segregation, parents tend to give their daughters less education than the male thereby adversely affecting the future generation of women and limiting them to the traditional ‘female Occupations’ (teaching, child-care, nursing, catering). Until recently, Nigerian parents believed that it was a waste to invest in the girl-child because they would eventually end up in the ‘kitchen’ and were therefore not given formal education but were groomed to attract suitors. Several women are constrained to ‘female jobs’ in certain sectors either through custom or through the prejudice and discrimination of employers. Some other factors like early marriages affect the education of the female, the role of the woman as “helper” and not the “breadwinner” also impedes their aspiration for higher challenges. Many women are unable to improve themselves educationally after marriage and childbearing.
Masculine stereotype play a role in determining the occupations which become typically “male occupations” (engineer, police officer, construction worker, security guard) and of course the “breadwinner. There are fewer men in “female occupations” and when men move into typically female areas of work, there is no equivalent ‘glass ceiling’ – in fact, the opposite almost seems to apply. Examples of areas in which women constitute the majority of the workforce are education and health. In secondary schools, women hold the majority of teaching positions in schools, yet men constitute the majority of head teachers (68 per cent) Source: Department for Education and Skills (DfES) (2003e), Statistics of Education: School Workforce in England. Male nurses were found to have poorer qualifications at both pre-registration and post-registration levels, yet to advance more quickly into senior posts, the average time for male nurse to reach a senior post was 8.4 years, compared with 14.5 years for a female nurse who took no career breaks (Davies and Rosser, 1986). Similarly, male nurses were twice as likely to be found in higher grade nursing posts, although females had better post-basic qualifications (Finlayson and Nazroo, 1998).
Women also feel there is relatively poor career progression in male dominated occupations, in terms of pay and status but UBS Investment Bank has a group called ‘Raising the Bar’ which looks at the glass ceiling and whether women are treated differently and how they progress in their careers. Women find it difficult to break through this ceiling because of the ways in which they are viewed by the society and the individual organization (Stephen Linstead, Liz fulop and Simon Lilley, 2004) as being emotional, irrational, less committed, under-educated and not strong enough to earn top managerial positions. This creates vertical segregation where men predominate in top ranked positions of the organisations. Also because women sometimes prefer to work part time with flexible working conditions, it is therefore difficult to reach senior management positions. However, the role of women in society is radically changing in most countries and even in Nigeria. Vast numbers of women are beginning to work full-time and to aspire to climb the same “organisational ladders” as their male counterparts (Davidson and Cooper, 1984). Women are attaining higher levels of education and they are competing favourably with the men especially in occupations which were formerly reserved for the men.
Female – Male pay differentials
Income inequalities between men and women from all backgrounds still persists, despite the equal opportunities legislation as women’s annual salaries are 25 per cent lower than men’s even when overtime and bonuses are taken into account (Sharon and Maeve, 2007, p.163). Women are making progress, but it is still relatively slow, Sean O’ Grady (2007), states that “women working part-time earn 38 per cent less than their men counterparts working part-time as well. Even full-time female employees earn 17 per cent less than men”. Hence, it makes it difficult to find women at the top of any business, political career or even the law.
It is true that the pay gap among women and men is becoming much smaller than it used to be, even though there are still restrictions for women in top managerial positions and politics. Women are more confident because they are enlightened and have role models like Margaret Beckett who became the first U.K female foreign minister, Dora Bakoyannis the first women ever appointed to a senior cabinet position in Greece, Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala the finance minister to foreign affairs. More women are willing to stand up to the law, even if men are still reluctant to give up power to women as a result of the ‘Masculine’ perception (it’s a man’s world).
Child bearing and family responsibilities
The debate on work and family life still tends to be focused on working mothers (Esther and Katherine, 1988). Mothers make significant changes to their working lives to accommodate their family and just a small minority of fathers make major changes that enable them to be more involved in family life (Suzanne, John and Melissa, 2006). Many employers view pregnant women as someone who is about to leave them hanging for a couple of month, instead of seeing them as professionals who are competent and can perform. Some employers deny pregnant women the opportunity to advance in their careers by assigning them menial jobs since they feel that they cannot handle challenging problems. These are just attitudes which do not have any basis. For example, it is believed that women typically leave their careers following the birth of children often in their thirties, some women may return after a period of maternity leave or after early years of child rearing, many do not return at all. Some reasons for not returning are work-life balance issues such as, wanting extended maternity leave, part-time working not being possible for some jobs and the cost of children.
Organisations have the feeling that the society is fast moving and when maternity break is taken, technology moves on to such an extent that it is difficult for returners to keep up and a lot of re-training would be required when they return. Therefore, when the women return, companies may have progressed and maybe their previous job has changed to such an extent they have to trade places or move out. Some organisations therefore offer flexible working hours for women who indicate that they would like greater flexibility at work. Flexibility has its own loop holes; it could lead to career death in terms of promotional opportunities (Jerry and kathleen, 2004). Women choose such career comfort in order to balance work with their family life responsibilities.
Recommendations to curb gender and diversity discrimination in the workplace
The use of gender equality mainstreaming strategy will enhance the management of gender diversities in the workplace; it will address the specific and often different needs of women and men. Targeted interventions should be taken which is aimed to overcome sex discrimination, empower women in the world of work and advocate equitable sharing of care responsibilities between both sexes. This approach will help to prevent gender-blind interventions that perpetuate inequality, by ensuring that both women and men benefit equally from management policies. The use of “good practices” as well as ILO strategies and tools such as the Action Plan on Gender Equality are encouraged in promoting gender equality in the workplace. Gender Audits could also be carried out at intervals.
Research and publications, training courses on upgrading mainstreaming skills, and mobilizing gender network should be encouraged in the workplace. Women workers should be given assistance in getting organised and being represented in various sectors especially sectors where they form the minority. There should be a Human Resources specialist to oversee and support the Managing Gender Policy.
In the area of Diversity, to attract and retain staff from diverse backgrounds, companies may need to revise existing employment contracts, benefits packages and working conditions to accommodate measures, such as flexible working programmes, maternity/paternity benefits and leave, and childcare schemes. Companies should set up some form of monitoring and reporting processes, by warding off change resistance with the inclusion of every employee in formulating and executing diversity initiatives in the workplace. Leaders and managers within organizations must show commitment by introducing diversity policies amongst organisational functions. The overall participation and the cooperation of management as well as training are essential to the success of an organization’s plan.
Conclusion – Gender, Diversity and Equal opportunity
In this essay, findings indicate that gender should be managed in organisations in such a way as to minimise any differences between the employment chances available to men and those available to women. Equal opportunity should aim at allowing women the same level of access to and participation within every level and area of the organisation. As employees gain the benefits of increased equal opportunity for men and women in the workplace, all family members gain from an easing of the strain of juggling work and caring responsibilities and some children will gain the social and development benefits of quality childcare facilities. There is also the danger of promoting such case because equality of opportunity may not be seen as a case of social justice but that of organisational self interest.
The benefits of diversity in the work place has its challenges which workers have to put up with, such challenges include prejudices, cultural and language barriers that employees bring into the lime light of work. Such challenges need to be overcome for diversity programs to succeed. There are always employees who will refuse to accept change and the fact that the workplace is changing as a result of the diverse nature of workers. The preconception of following “the rules” outlooks new ideas and hinders progress. “The profits of a globalized economy are more fairly distributed in a society with equality, leading to greater social stability and broader public support for further economic development”, (ILO, 1996-2010).
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