Gender Inequality in the Workplace
241E Men and Women in Society: Gender Issues in Sociology
Professor M. Branco
This paper aims to discuss the gender inequality issues in today’s global workplace and will be supported by a series of relative journals. In today’s society, the awareness of gender issues is rising. The evidence in support of these claims are situations that are becoming more and more prevalent within the world we live in. Even in the most technologically, and economically advanced countries in the world, the female occupation of the labour force is low, their levels of unemployment are high, and their average income continues to be lower than that of their male counterparts.
Personally, when looking closely at these particular issues my concern runs deeper than most would generally consider. As Mahmoodi Yousefi discusses in his journal Economic Dimensions of Gender Inequality: A Global Perspective, a major focus must be obtained on the agendas of political leaders, both in developing and developed countries. Of course economic issues, poverty and other social issues must first obtain attention, but after these problems have been sought out and addressed, the issues surrounding inequity of gender must be recognised. Although it was only in the early 1960’s when these situations became forefront in society, an organised concern with these economics of gender inequality is a must for a just society especially in our world’s highly developed countries. (Yousefi)
The general standpoint within today’s economy in developed countries is mainly biased and focused upon the needs and satisfaction of the male gender. This is mainly due to the fair-weather view that the contributions of females to the growth of our society, socially and economically is insignificant in many areas of expertise. On the contrary to this wide spread belief, in developed countries the education levels of woman has been steadily increasing. This rise in education in itself has enabled females to seek and obtain higher level jobs and more prospective opportunities.
Research clearly depicts that even in the job selection process there is a particular job scope that limits who is able to apply and therefore receive the job. Most would believe this particular scope is determined by experience and education, but this is not the case, it is based upon superficial prejudices especially gender. This is more commonly seen as invisible limitation and happens most commonly in the case of female applicants. Jobs that females are type cast into receiving include positions such as secretary, assistant, or basically any underlying job that simply involves following protocol. This screening process inevitably results in a low performance level by females because they feel there is no point in setting themselves up for disappointment. Ridgeway explained it perfectly as she states that “Interactional sex categorisation also biases the choice of comparison of others, causing men and women to judge differently the rewards available to them. Operating in workplace relations, these processes conserve inequality by driving the gender-labeling of jobs, constructing people as gender-interested actors, contributing to employers’ discriminatory preferences, and mediating men’s and women’s perceptions of alternatives and their willingness to settle for given job outcomes.” (Ridgeway, 1997)
Another major issue in relation to workplace inequality is the known gap in wages between male and female employees. Since the 1950’s the number of females employed has risen from 30 percent to over 47 percent, and by the year 2001 female workers were still only earning 76 percent of that of men in the same positions. Another prominent fact stands that females who were occupying occupations that were identical to male occupations tended to be paid lower. (Bardassi.2008) “One of the things that make this development especially dramatic and significant is that the recent changes contrast markedly with the relative stability of earlier years. On the other hand, there is still a gender pay gap. Women continue to earn considerably less than men on average, and the convergence that began in the late 1970s slowed noticeably in the 1990s” (Blau and Kahn, 2007) Most would agree when I proclaim that working women are a vital component of our growing society and should not be taken for granted. In these passing years, as their participation in economic and social situations has grown, so has their political influence. These statistics might have you thinking that women have grown to the plateau that they have been trying to attain for an exponential amount of time, but this is not the case, major inequalities still exist in the workplace. The most prominent factor of this discrimination is the gap in the wages of the genders, and due to its widely public nature I am surprised that laws haven’t been developed to target it. (Bardasi 2008)
One argument that is constantly referred to in defence to the hiring screening process, lesser opportunities and lower wages stands to be the supposed higher numbers of females that take more vacations or leaves. One obvious point that is highly stressed and focused on is maternity leave. In this time, this situation should be lessening in importance when determining job placement or advancement due to the fact that recent statistics have proven that the male spouses in a relationships are commonly taking time off when their partner is expecting. But of course, this crucial information is continuously not brought to the table when making crucial decisions in the workplace. Statistics from the US have also studied this issue, focusing on whether mothers (with high levels of education) are deciding to leave the workplace due to having children. The journal by Heather Boushey explains it “child effect on women’s employment has fallen since the end of the 1970s. The child effect was -21.8 percentage points in 1979 and has fallen consistently over the last two decades to -12.7 percentage points in 2005.” Overall, these documented declines are more likely an effect of a weak labour market for all woman, whether they are mothers or not is definitely not the deciding factor. (Boushey 2008)
This form of inequality I am about to discuss is one so prevalent in work places, that most women are actually unable to rise above it. It is definitely a topic worthy of further discussion because it effects all career women. This issue is called the glass ceiling effect, and was coined in 1986. (HR Magazine. 2004) This concept refers to the top level of achievement women are able to attain, and surrounds issues that entail advancements in their company or monetary raises. These barriers entail that these situations of advancement are limited because of their gender, and mostly adhere to females who wish to climb up the corporate ladder and attain senior executive positions. This is common place with employers because from their perspective in most cases, senior positions are more efficiently filled by men due to the intense, and demanding long term commitment they require. An example of this is apparent in Law Firms, because throughout history the founding fathers (hence the word “fathers’) have all been of the male persuasion. Now, in this day and age due to equal opportunity laws they are hiring women, but it is still difficult for a female to rise in the company. This is deemed true when there are talks of promotions, in most cases the other partners are most commonly biased towards men. This is a clear depiction of the glass ceiling that is faced by today’s career women, as they continue on the quest for excellence. Gorman explained it perfectly when he stated that “Professional work involves three forms of uncertainty — problem variability, strategic indeterminacy and dependence on autonomous actors — that weaken the association between performance and ability, leading organisational decision-makers to weigh gender more heavily in promotion decisions. Strategic indeterminacy also increases the need for trust, so decision-makers feel more comfortable promoting candidates of their own sex.” (Gorman, 2006)
Woman in the workplace are living in a world where their expertise is not being judged by their quality of work and responsibilities they are assigned. Woman are separated from men and this has a lot to do with the frequent common place of harassment in the workplace. Both verbal and sexual situations often occur, as well as the ever popular element of intimidation. Whether it be there difference in pay for the same position as a man, or the limited opportunities they have in their future with a particular company, the glass ceiling basically sets out limitations and a plateau that most females find it impossible to over come. Another term that is commonly used to describe this type of situation is “occupational sex segregation” (Yousefi) In that women are placed in job titles, where their salary may be lesser than those that are considered as “men’s jobs” which usually require similar or identical training and experience tactics. The issues surrounding harassment are also accountable for a large portion of this problem involving inequality. Harassment is common place in a career woman’s workplace, whether it be verbal or physical, and in many situations it is very hard to fight and/or prove. This is true because women are usually in subordinate positions to their male counterparts that are responsible for the harassment, and due to fear of loosing their job, or fear of further discrimination, women tend to stay silent. In the early 1990s Wall Street was bombarded by a series of sexual harassment charges. An exceeding number of law suits were fought involving allegations of companies being involved in inequality of the genders, and sexual harassment in the work place. Following such accusations an article named Women on Wall street stated that “many firms on Wall Street implemented strict sexual harassment policies, and even family friendly work-life balance policies.” (‘Women on Wall Street’, 2007) In the end the law suits brought forth knowledge of the issues but ultimately favoured the corporations making for a future of this type of behaviour that will only slowly decrease. A quote that I found rather interesting regarding this topic states that “Although women have made enormous gains in the business world–they hold seats on corporate boards and run major companies–they still comprise only 10% of senior managers in Fortune 500 companies.”(Meyerson & Fletcher, 2000) This basically describes the push over nature woman are being forced to attain by the companies they are working for. Moreover, these large companies in some cases are indeed giving the women the managerial high positioned occupations, but only on the premise that they are more like men, and any time they are being considered for a position they are being compared to men. In my opinion, the only way to attain workplace equity, the perceptions of the decision makers must be focused on and altered. Unfortunately this is an impossibility on a short scale, because something this drastic will take years to slowly gain ground in industries as powerful as these. This is inevitably true because all prejudices and inequalities that are apparent in business workplaces are derived from withstanding culture and traditions that have been imbedded into society for many years. As a result, this issue must be reformed collectively as a culture.
An obvious resolution to the issues surrounding gender inequality in the workplace is that it must begin internally. Human resource professionals must learn to base candidate profiling on factual information, experience, and references. They need to be well educated of the laws of employment and must focus on adhering to the rules set out by the clause of equal employment. They also need to fully be aware of the damage situations like verbal or sexual harassment can cause, as well as the unfair and unconstitutional nature of the barriers presented by the glass ceiling. Another aspect of the world that can fight this inequality is on a more personal level. This is easily done by parents utilising their stature and power with the younger generation of the world, and taking time to teach them to change culture and focus on a just and equal world. Also, focusing on the future prospects of the business community is essential in this process of equality, because in reality they are the individuals that will soon be making these crucial decisions. Whether they are students in professional business schools, or individuals in entry level positions, focus must be drawn towards education in this matter because negative gender inequality issues are going to be the downfall of many businesses in the future. In a perfect world, any individuals personal level of efficiency and performance should be the ultimate factor that will persuay employers to hire suitable candidates, raise levels of salary or grant promotions.
As per the above discussion, gender inequality surrounding women in the work place has proven that females are at a disadvantage in the working world. The issues mentioned above along with many other influential solutions are being derived to slow these situations, and hopefully soon enough they will be diminished. These implemented alternatives will strive to develop solutions to abolish inequality of women in the workplace and develop better work conditions for both genders, as it always should have been.
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Blau, F.D., Kahn, L.M., “The Gender Pay Gap: Have Women Gone as Far as They Can”, Academy of Management Perspectives, 2007, Vol. 21 Issue 1, p7-23. Accessed November 9, 2007 from
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