Gender And Employment Essay, Research Paper
GENDER AND EMPLOYMENT
The debate about the relative significance of gender has been important to the understanding of structural force in people s lives. The meaning of place has to be incorporated into this understanding for us to fully appreciate the ways in which these structural forces work. There is a need to make a distinction, also between women and men concerning their perceptions and roles within the workforce in today s contemporary society.
The distinction between sex and gender made popular in Britain by Oakley, that sex relates to the biological division whereas gender relates to the parallel and socially unequal division into femininity and masculinity (Oakley, 1972:128-57, 1981:41-62) has been extremely useful both politically and theoretically. It allowed the development of thinking that stressed the social rather than the biological determinants of a wide range of behaviours and enabled an oppositional stance to biologisms that attempted to tie women to subordinate positions on account of largely immutable biology. The influence of the distinction has been extensive not just within sociology where it became commonplace but in a wide range of social science thinking and in journalism. It is frequently heralded as having made a profound contribution to feminist thinking and to have placed a powerful argument in the field of sociology.
Before the outbreak of World War Two women did not play a major role in the workplace. Giddens argues however that women in pre-industrial societies had considerable influence in the household, which in those times were not separate from the various productive activities (Giddens, 1998:318). This idea changed after the Industrial Revolution, as many men moved away from home to mechanised factories, lessening the involvement of women in the economic process. Women soon became more associated with domestic values and responsibilities, which feminists would argue have tied them to inequality past and present.
The labour shortage during the war years of both World War One and World War Two however majorly influenced women s participation in the paid labour force. By June 1941, the number of women workers was already higher by 100,000 than in 1931, an 89% increase in keeping with the general upswing in employment. Soon after this date, an unusual demand for female labour outside the home began to make itself felt. At the peak of female employment, in Canada, in the autumn of 1944, more than 1,000,000 women were working full time alone. (Pierson, 1994:5)
Women contributed greatly to the war effort, in the armed forces, in factories and in previously considered male jobs, such as welding and shipbuilding. In the course of the war, an unprecedented proportion of women left the domestic sphere to enter public employment and service. Finally, a few women rose to positions of considerable responsibility and influence.
During this time there appeared to be an equalising of the roles and responsibilities of men and women in society. However, those supporting this trend did not pay any attention to the possibility that equalisation usually involved a masculining of women s roles. Post-war planners also saw most women returning to the home at the end of the war, or women being the secondary earner, or only unmarried women having jobs and when the war ended men returned to their old jobs, however the pre-established pattern had been broken.
Gender inequality, therefore, is nothing new, both paid and unpaid forms of work consistently exhibit patterns of inequality. Analyses illustrate the way jobs are immutably assigned to one sex or the other, for example McEwen, 1990. Only men were considered breadwinners, with women s role to supplement income, wars aside. (Milkman, 1987:68) For example, the traditional image, and one gaining resurgence now with employers, was that employees put in extra effort beyond the paid circle. This however, does not allow for other responsibilities in the lives of women.
Women now account for half those employed in total, the most significant rise being among married women. (Giddens, 1998:319) However, women are proportionately much lower than men in the paid labour force, 74% of the male population between twenty-five and sixty is in paid employment, and the proportion of men in paid employment has not altered much over the last century. This is compared to the overall rate for women in the UK being 53%.
Only a fraction of these women however were employed in managerial positions (Grint, 1991:157). For example, in 1986 only 1.8% of managers at National Westminster bank were women. With growing recruitment to the ranks of junior and middle management, the issue of gender has become crucial in understanding the route organisations will follow into the next century. This has been a marked change from the composition of the workforce in past decades. Figures suggest this will happen sooner rather than later, with a general increase in jobs for women and a decrease in those for men (Evans, 1990:176). With the steady rise in single parent families, evidence of greater inherent intelligence and the better communication skills of women, there has been a surge in women s employment and the grades they achieve once they get there.
Analysis has traditionally viewed discrimination of women employees through both horizontal and vertical divisions of labour. This perspective argues it is likely to be the men who move to the top of the ladder. Indeed less than 5% of directorships in British companies are held by women; four out of five firms have no women directors at all (Giddens, 1998:320). Traditionally therefore, it is assumed that women are excluded from the benefits of a core workforce. Bottero (1992) argued however, that women are kept out of certain occupations until men can leave, or at the very least there is an emphasis, for women, on not appearing career minded and accepting that a woman s place is ultimately in the home ; all the while watching men gain promotion over them (Morgan, 1990:51).
In a 1993 study, carried out by Coates, through various sections of industry researching managers, with reference to organisation and gender, the split between levels of management typified management in general. By far the most important level of management for men was the middle management, 45%, with junior management the most important for women, 60%. While women represented a third of overall managers in the study, they nevertheless only represented 4.3% of executive positions against 9.9% of men. By far the largest single group overall was middle managers, 47%, even here only 25 of the women studied had attained this level. The vast majority of women were thus junior managers.
In today s contemporary society, women workers are concentrated in low-pay, low-status and routine occupations. As well as changes in the organisational culture, sex- role stereotyping has also contributed to this. The twentieth century has seen a general downgrading of jobs previously possessed by men, for example a clerk, after women began occupying them. Women came to fill these occupations as the pay and prestige associated declined. In 1991, nearly 98 per cent of secretaries in the UK were women (Giddens, 1998:319).
Another factor holding women back are their other responsibilities . In the aforementioned Coates study, promotion affected their abilities to meet domestic responsibilities, which were not taken up by a spouse or partner, 89%. Additionally men were able to work longer hours due to there lack of participation in domestic chores, 86%. This study also revealed that most managerial women work a 41 50 hour week at their job which is then supplemented by any domestic tasks (Warde, 1990:503):
I usually have to do the chores when I get home, Brian wouldn t know where to start. Sometimes the kids do them, but usually it s me.
Almost 90% of the women who took part in a poll in Prima (The Daily Telegraph, 4.2.1999), felt it was harder than ever to balance demands of home and work. Around 12% blamed employers attitudes for making life harder, while 8% did not get enough help from their partners .
A fundamental point to be made about the experience of women workers is that they share the common ground of wage labour as experienced by all workers engaged in alienated work. . Yet within this shared experience, differences between men and women emerge. There is the constant recurrence of the sexual division of labour, and attitudes towards it. And what is apparent is women s widespread acquiescence to the status quo, to the inferiority of women s work to and to marriage and the family as careers for women, although this is slowly beginning to change.
According to research printed in the Observer, 70% of the lowest paid workers in Britain are women. The report presents statistics that for every successful woman, her male equivalent is better paid. It also states that the UK has the largest gender gap between women s earnings and men s earnings, and while in most European countries this gap is narrowing, in Britain is widening.
Moreover, corporate success for women in society today has meant learning male-type behaviours and male emotional expression competing with men on men s terms. Traditional identity is of the male breadwinner in masculine occupations, which tends to devalue a female identity at work. This is part of the need for women to be noticeably better than comparable to men at the same job to be considered equals. This subtle sexual stereotyping power defines who has control of the presentation of self and the image individuals must perform to (Coates, 1994:185)
To present the correct image, for example, of an engineer, a woman must present an idealised image of womanhood , by which she is judged first, and only then does the ability to perform the task come into the reckoning. In spite of attempts to promote the image of good employee, employers judge individuals on the feminine qualities. It is the way to identity and recognition. In some cases, this has lead to sexual abuse and to individuals feeling their selves have been seriously affected.
The Equal Opportunities Act, in Britain was passed in 1970. Through this, it is illegal for men and women to receive different rates of pay (Giddens, 1998:322) but this legal regulation and redress has proved inept and outdated (York, 1989).
Of the women who make the household and family their employment, a substantial proportion live in poverty. However, unpaid domestic labour is of enormous significance to the economy. It has been estimated that housework accounts for between 25% and 40% of the wealth created in industrialised countries. Domestic work props up the rest of the economy by providing free services on which many of the population in paid work depend.
In conclusion, it is fair to say that discrimination is not the problem that plagues society. This is shown with the increase of 93% of women in the computer industry, in auto industry 89%, and in pharmacy 84%. In contemporary society women express themselves in similar terms to men. This has not necessarily been the wholesale eradication of female attributes, but a meeting of paths, on women s part. For example, men now see the family as increasingly important in their career decisions, whereas women do so less. However, women now compare favourably with men in terms of commitment, loyalty and trust, and are, in some cases, better bets for long term future employees, as they are less likely to relocate to wherever the organisation decides. This however has encompassed a loss of femininity.
Furthermore, despite women becoming progressively happier to stay with or move on behalf, of the organisation, they continue to be marginalised through their domestic roles as mothers and housekeepers, as well as the persistent expectation that they will not stay with the organisation for any considerable length of time.
It remains to be seen how employers will cope with this altered reality of workplace gender expression, but Coates suggests that at present it appears to be poorly received and understood (Coates, 1994: 459). Women for the time being will still be viewed as poor bets for promotion, better pay and organisational commitment.
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