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Gender bias in the work place

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 2643 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Gender bias in the workplace. Why are women paid less for comparable jobs performed by men?

In this essay, a brief history of women in the workplace as well as gender stereotyping with gender specific jobs are discussed. There is a belief that men are paid more than women for the same tasks. Is this notion true in the 21st century? An examination on literature and recent research shows that women are gaining more and more but still have not reached what men are being paid for a comparable job. The reasons this is still happening are thoroughly examined and proposals for changing this are suggested. For this essay, western and industrialized societies are only examined. Studying other cultures and societies would help answer questions raised about universality of this issue, but due to insufficient space this aspect is not included.

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In traditional societies the division of labor has always been based on gender roles. We have grown up by learning what traits are suited to our gender and the roles each gender has in a family. Men were always considered to work outside the household being the ones that brought the bread home, thus called the 'breadwinners'. Women were working in the house taking care of everyone and everything relating to the daily life and were (and still are) called the 'caretakers' (Koskina, 2009). It is only that women have actively participated in the career oriented jobs since around the middle of the 20th century and have actually studied in the fields of their work at equally high demanding standards as men who might be seeking to be employed at a job of comparable worth. In contemporary societies, the notion of the traditional family has changed. We also see various forms of 'family' with quite a growing number of single parent families where the main caregiver as well as breadwinner/provider is often the woman. Women nowadays almost all work outside the households while still having to find time to engage in childcare activities playing a dual role. This double role women have might lead them to work fewer hours outside the home thus having to accept lower-pay jobs. The human capital approach agrees with the above as it states that women invest less in the jobs, thus 'harvest fewer rewards' (Lips &Lawson, 2009).

The feminist argument views the same thing from a different perspective. They highlight women's different needs and experiences within the workplace through motherhood and the importance of maternity rights (Bryson, 1992; Hare-Mustin and Marecek, 1994) Women still have primary responsibility of their children and their household as they did 'traditionally' during the past century. However there are approaches that criticize biological determinism and equating roles of caring and mothering and for over-generalizing women's experiences. (Evans, 1994; Guerrina, 2001)

Robbins (1999) said that the informal slogan of the decade for women was "Women do two-thirds of the world's work, receive ten percent of the world's income and own one percent of the means of production." There are still in the Western World some societies that have not adapted into a gender-free job compensation system. UNICEF noticed that women who work outside the household earn on average far less than men. They get low earnings, little financial security and no social benefits. (UNICEF, 2007) Gender discrimination affects girls and women throughout their lifetime thus women suffer the most poverty.

From the Daughters of Liberty in 1765 to the first Brazilian woman president in 2010 a lot has changed. During the World War I women's role in society was expanded as they entered the workforce. In 1963 the Equal Pay Act makes it illegal for companies to make inequities between men and women for the same job. But to what extent did that happen? Do they have equal opportunities for jobs that until recently were thought only to be open for men? In 1968 the Supreme Court decided that women with the abilities can work in jobs that have previously been considered typically suitable only for men. In the 70s, women begin to study more and more at University level entering professions like medicine, law, dentistry and business. An amazing statistic is that during the 80s 17% of total doctors in the USA were women!

Although history has shown that women progressed in the workplace quite fast, unfortunately we still live in patriarchal societies and men seem to be able to further in their careers than women. Rees and Brewster (1995) suggest that 'where women are segregated into professions and working patterns that are characterized by low pay, we have examples of capitalism and patriarchy working hand in hand'.(Koskina,2009) The notion of the family in capitalist societies plays a vital factor in the gender pay gap. Having children has a positive impact on men's wages and negative ones on women's. According to Glauber (2007) having 2 to 4 children can decrease a women's wages from 4-8%. Budig and England (2001) found a 7% reduction in wages per child. This decrease does not happen for men with children. Glauber (2008) suggested the 'fatherhood premium' which means that when men have children wages increase (Lips &Lawson, 2009). In 1967 Blalock hypothesized that the sudden increase of members of underrepresented groups into work environments would be perceived by members of majority groups as an intrusion and as a result would increase bias (Ambady &Richeson, 2001).

The estimates show that women are only paid about 70% of the wages paid to men for comparable work (Sorensen, 1994). Unfortunately, sex stereotyping in the workplace still occurs and men get the higher paying jobs. Men have access to higher paid jobs probably because they have been working far longer than women, who only started to work outside the household in the past 30 or so years and another reason may be motherhood. It still happens to date, when a man and woman with the same experience and academic qualifications are interviewed for a job position, the man has many more chances to get the job because the human resources person knows that the woman might soon start a family and that work will become her second priority and family the first.

Organizations are afraid that accepting a woman to work for them, means that someday they will have to outweigh business with family responsibilities. There have been studies looking into women's and men's work related values. In three separate studies, women rated 'achievement, work environment, co-workers, supervision, prestige, lifestyle values, work hygiene, and social values as more important than men did, whereas men rated creativity, independence, income, and extrinsic values as more important than women did' (Duffy & Sedlacek 2007; Rottinghaus & Zytowski 2006; Sinisalo 2004). Frieze et al. (2006) suggests that men and women already working have similar work values in their careers. Their research found no gender differences in ratings of work values relating to recognition, helping people, and earning a lot of money. However, women in this study rated "doing an excellent job" as more important than men did. Most studies of work related values have not included values specifically related to accommodation to family responsibilities (Lips & Lawson, 2009). According to Blau and Kahn, two important factors in explaining the pay gap and its decline are occupational distributions of men and women and differences in their age experience profiles (Renner & Rives & Bowlin, 2002).

There is a lot of research on the issue of pay inequities between men and women and researchers have been debating about the reasons that this occurs. As already mentioned men have access to higher paid jobs and get paid more than women for performing equivalent tasks. In the 1980s this gender based disparity raised the concept of comparable worth, or equal pay for equal work. It seems that despite the legal actions, men continue to get paid more than women and it might be because of exceptioning. Exceptioning is 'the practice of ignoring pay discrepancies between particular jobs possessing equivalent duties and responsibilities' (Riggio, 2008).

Limitations placed on women like motherhood or lower level jobs are referred to as glass ceiling. This glass ceiling prevents them from advancing to better paid positions. In fact, 'very few women have managed to break through the "glass ceiling" to occupy top jobs' and where they have succeeded, this is usually in the public sector (Vinnicombe and Colwill, 1995). As 'women are confined both to lower-grade jobs and to different jobs' (Abercrombie and Warde, 2002), the gender pay gap remains a familiar and persistent feature of all European economies.

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Research indicates various factors affect women's ability to get past the glass ceiling. Traditional organizational cultures often reflect continuing gender stereotypes (Bible & Hill, 2007; Boselovich, 2006). For example, the difference between men and women was that 'women take care and men take charge and that women are not as good at problem solving as their male counterparts'. (Bible & Hill, 2007). Another study by Hymowitz (2005) reported that men felt that they were superior to women in problem solving, inspiring, delegating, and influencing superiors. (Sipe & Fisher& Johnson, 2009) Unfortunately, despite the success of a lot of women worldwide in the workforce, stereotypes of women and of what job they should do, still prevail.

Women are still confined to certain roles based on societies, cultures and religion and limit their participation in economic life on an equal basis with men. Traditional gender roles such as, women are responsible for their family and for their children and elderly, makes it difficult for them to fully participate in the workforce. This unfortunately works both ways. Even if women were able to participate fully in the workforce, discrimination against them persists. Another explanation is related to the lack of information that employers may have about their women employees, resulting in their tending to underestimate the productive potential of women, and, therefore, paying them less and confining them to lower grade occupations.

Patriarchal societies construct women as belonging in the home, better suited for raising children and performing housework. Feminists have argued that this notion keeps women in their homes reproducing privileges towards men. Women have the same rights and privileges and have the opportunity to choose not to marry, not to have children and to have a career. Female gender identities are changing with aspirations beyond marriage producing changes in social practices and in the workforce. 'Part of the social constructionist task is to identify the conditions of possibility for the emergence and take up of any given discourse, often attributed to large-scale material shifts in power bases' (Foucault, 1977). Any individual woman can take up the positions offered by discourses to construct a particular identity at a given time (Dick & Nadin, 2006).

O'Neill (2003) argues 'that since the gender gap can largely be explained by non-discriminatory factors, it is unlikely the gender wage gap will decrease further, even in the absence of labor market discrimination, unless what she terms women's household responsibilities decrease'(Green & Ferber,2005). The study showed that the main reasons for the above are that, compared with men, women spend more time and energy caring for their families, they are more likely less on-the job training, they are less stable workers who often quit their jobs for family reasons, causing their employers concern about discontinuity and they expect their labor force participation to be intermittent, and therefore choose occupations with wages that are higher early on although they increase less over time.(Green & Ferber, 2005)

Women often work more than men yet are paid less. In 1984, Major et al. suggested that women work longer, do more work, and complete more correct work and work more efficiently than men for the same amount of pay. There is research that shows that there may be a difference between men and women in their sense of personal entitlement for pay. Women and men allocate rewards differently between themselves and others as when they were asked to 'divide a joint reward between themselves and a co-worker, men tend to take more of the reward for themselves, and give correspondingly less to the co-worker, than do women having the same performance level'( Major, 1989). These factors as well as difficulty to access resources and other basic services, contribute to weakening women's capacity to earn their own income.

Discrimination against women that are also mothers is another factor. For example, between 2001 and 2003, just under 40% of U.S. women who were pregnant with their first child had to take unpaid time off of work (Johnson 2008). Inadequate leave policies and lack of childcare resources for mothers in the United States appear to contribute to the wage gap (Sigle-Rushton & Waldfogel 2007); such inadequacies may cause mothers to feel as if they must decide between work and family (Williams& Cohen &Cooper 2004). Working fewer hours, taking time off for children or completely stepping out of the work force for young children comes with an economic cost, resulting in lower earnings for mothers (Lips & Lawson 2009).

An approach grounded in Expectancy-Value theory (e.g., Atkinson 1964; Eccles 1989) would suggest that, given 'heavy domestic and childcare responsibilities, the constraints they expect to face in the workplace and the consequent low expectancy of success, women may place less value on work and more on family, thus falling neatly into the pattern, predicted by the human capital approach, of investing more in family than in workplace success' (Lips &Lawson, 2009). In contrary, men would be expected to value work more, given a higher probability of success in that area. Thus, they would tend to value achievement, status, power, and success at work. As Frieze et al. (2006) showed through his study, achievement and power related work values are significant predictors of salary. This shows that gender differences in work values might be a reason for gender pay disparities. Another finding of Frieze et al. (2006) shows that work values and career engagement are related but research is inconsistent as to whether there are gender differences in work values.

It is clear that there is a gender bias toward women in the workplace, but evidence shows that it is because of gender roles in patriarchal societies and biological determinism. Women didn't start to work outside the household until recently, so in a way it's logical that men have gained higher positions in organizations. The structure of a family is constantly changing nowadays, were we see allot of single parents struggling between jobs and childcare. There are some women who are career oriented rather than wishing to have a family, who strive on being the best in her job position and some are able to get bigger wages than others and sometimes men. There is some other research that entails the idea of women having to choose to work or have a family. Why should a woman have to leave the dream to create a family in order to be able to have the same benefits with a man? 'Gender is something people do rather than people have' (Eveline& Todd, 2009). In light of this quote, anything is possible. There has been plenty of research on the gender gap and other ethnic minorities, concluding that there is a bias toward women with a family or young but as times change maybe stereotypes will alter.


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