Gender inequality in the workplace

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Gordon, Kevin
Issue Date
BA (Hons) in Human Resource Management
Dublin Business School
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Most of us believe in the autonomy of the individual and his or her rights to equality, freedom of choice, and personal self-fulfilment. We live in what we call a democracy and would like to believe our organisations treat the individuals who live and work in them with fairness and respect. But those who work in organisations are not an equal or enlightened and there are formidable barriers preventing the advancement of women in organisations. What are the causes and roots of the behaviour in organisations which mitigates against women? From as far back as the nineteenth century women have been segregated in terms of their participation in the workforce. We can see that in the nineteenth century, labour for men were more varied and higher paid than fur women, and also there were fewer opportunities for training and advancement. Organisational Behaviour, and the study of work and the workplace environment has not really recognised that there is a problem in relation to the participation rates of women in the organisation. Gender inequality is a common form of discrimination, and usually it can be detected in the work environment. There are many forms of gender inequality, which includes sex segregation, differences in authority and inequities in promotion and pay. Many corporations discriminate against their female employees through sex segregation. Among the paid workforce it is usual to find women in secretarial or administrative positions rather than on a general assembly line or doing physical labour. In 1990, the index showed that 53% of women would need to switch jobs with a man in order for the arrangement of gender in jobs to be similar. Also, the idea that women are neater than men are, and that women take more time with their work and women's work is neater than men's work further leads to divisions. While sex segregation holds advantages for men, it is a deterrent for women. In 1995, Wilson said that the study of management theory "has chiefly represented the work of men. The assumption is that it is chiefly men who work, who are the breadwinners, and therefore men who should be studied. Half the population of organisations has been ignored, left on the edge or just tagged onto organisational behaviour tests". "Virtually all theories of effective management have been based on observations of male managers" - (Powell, 1988). They have made judgements about effective management, not recognising that the majority of managers are men and judge their adherence to the masculine gender stereotype. The division of labour can be closely linked to society's views and influences on the different roles that both men and women play. Women have traditionally been associated with domestic duties, home making, been the main player on the childminding stakes, while the men have taken the role of provider, going out to work providing for his family. In the course of the research conducted, 20 women from two different organisations were asked to answer a questionnaire giving their views on various issues that confront women in the workplace today in Ireland. Having looked at the feedback from the questionnaires, and also the diversity data from the multi-national company, it seems obvious that there still exists a gap between male and female participation rates within organisations. On one hand, it is surprising in this day and age, with an emphasis on continuing education, people staying in formal education longer, and with the increasing competitiveness of the job market (especially in the IT sector), that the gap does still exist. This would lead me to believe that the gap is not as a result of lack of education, qualifications and ability on the part of females, but is actually on the part of societies perceptions of male/female roles, and also organisations and senior management's perceptions of females in the workplace as a result of this. While societies perceptions will always be there, it is up to the individual organisations to start the process of change. Organisations, and in particular the two organisations targeted in this study need to be aware of the needs of female employees and work closely with them in determining a proper career structure. More flexibility is needed on the part of the employer, in relation to part-time work practices and working from home. Organisations will have to put in place a structure, which not only encourages flexible work practices, but also allows for equal opportunities between those who choose to tele-work, part-time and those who work full-time. This is something that is not completely the fault of society, but rather older traditional perceptions of the workplace. It is clear from the respondents that they, as females, feel that they are not valued or regarded as importantly as their male colleagues, and this shows in the data presented. Organisations will have to concentrate more on diversity within the workplace and work towards an equilibrium point of male/female participation rates in the workplace. Integrated childcare support as part of the total package foe the employee could be considered. Childcare is very expensive today and this could be viewed as an attractive element.