While taking this class this summer, we have discussed numerous ideas that address issues that have primarily dealt with communication in an organizational setting and the many management theories that are accompanied with it. As I found myself gaining a better understanding of how communication processes can be used to manage behaviors of individuals in my newly acquired organizational context, I realized that there are many issues that, although addressed, have yet to be fully taken into consideration by many people. A self-described feminist, I believe that one particular concept that many refuse to acknowledge is Female Discrimination in the workforce/ sexism against women in the workforce (used interchangeably).
I consider this particular issue extremely important in any organizational setting. The purpose of this presentation is to educate those who are in positions of power (i.e. employers, managers, administrators, etc.) in any organizational setting in regards to the issue of sexism against women; and to make certain that everyone has an understanding of what sexism against women is as well as any procedures that are associated with it given that this form of discrimination takes place.
Female discrimination in the workforce has often been described as a “glass ceiling” because it poses invisible barriers for progress beyond middle management in corporate America. In fact, according to the US Department of Labor-Women’s Bureau in 2000, almost 65 million or 60 percent of the 108 million women aged 16 and older are in the labor force; only 46.5 percent of the workforce is female. This social problem is important to learn about because this affects an enormous amount of women in the United States. It affects an enormous amount of women coming from various and diverse backgrounds. Hopefully, by the end of this presentation, eyes will be opened to the prevalence and differences of female discrimination in the workforce.
Discrimination against women in the American workforce is very much alive and well today. Although this fact has changed for the better since the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Pay Act, and various other prohibitions against employment discrimination based on sex, women continue to experience serious obstacles in regards to equal job opportunity. Women are continuously passed over for employment and promotions that they are qualified for; paid less than men for equal labor; sexually harassed while at work; and still face many other disadvantages based on the fact that they are female, rather than their abilities or their qualifications.
Sexism is commonly known to be discrimination against a particular group of people based on their sex, rather than their own individual merits; in this particular case, sexism against women is being discussed. In many patriarchal societies, women are viewed as the weaker sex. Women’s “lower” status is evident in many cases. Discrimination against females in the workforce shows no discrepancy between women who work in corporate America and women who work in a “blue collar” setting. One example of women working in corporate America is female lawyers. According to USA Today (2002, p. 8), “female lawyers do not have equal access to obtain power, as a result of sexual stereotypes and inflexible workplace structures.”
Women in general working in a corporate or professional setting face many double standards. For instance, an assertive, self-assured man is considered to be confident and secure with himself, whereas an assertive, self-assured female is considered to abrasive and rude. Infante who reported from the US Census Bureau (Workforce, 2002, p. 31), found that “women still earn-on average–79 cents to every dollar made by a man”, resulting in the double binds also imposed on women. With regard to this example, higher standards apply to working mothers more than they do for working fathers. When women try to adjust their work schedules around a home life, they are seen as lacking as professionals and visa-versa. Infante also finds that:
Only 5.1 percent of all women in the workforce take more than a week off for any reason-including maternity leave-beyond regular vacation time. This is not significantly more than the 3.3 percent of men who do the same, and seems an inadequate justification for the disparities (Workforce, 2002, p.31).
Besides the double standards and double binds that affect women working today, one huge set back that women are faced with is sexual harassment. As stated in The Maryland Bar Journal (Hughes, 2002, p. 26) “During the last two decades of the 20th century, sexual harassment has become one of the most notorious and controversial issues raised in the workforce today”. There is a wide range of actions that can be considered or believed to be forms of sexual harassment. Examples would be requests for sexual favors in exchange for employment rewards, or something as simple as an implicating whistle. It is very common for women to be disrespected, insulted, or intentionally harassed sexually or otherwise, simply because they are women. Hughes reported from The Maryland Bar Journal (2000) that:
While the definition of sexual harassment is in some cases still a largely subjective and intensely personal one, the law has made tremendous strides in defining sexual harassment. One must bear in mind that this defining process is ongoing-requiring continuing education of entire businesses and the attorneys who represent them. The long overdue acknowledgement of this problem is leading to an evolution in workplace behavior not previously demanded or recognized by employers and employees. The era of “see no evil, hear no evil” is in the past and the future requires accountability and prevention (p. 26).
Raymond Gregory’s Women and Workplace Discrimination, reviewed by Ann-Marie Ahern in Trial (2003, p. 66), “…traces the roots of gender-based workplace inequity, the history of legislation to end discriminatory practices, and the likely future face of gender bias in employment”. Ahern also finds in her review which was recognized by Gregory, that women in today’s workforce have considerable advances, where he includes statistical evidence on continuing gender differences.
For instance, even the youngest women now entering the workforce cannot reasonably expect to achieve income parity in their lifetimes. According to Gregory, census data indicates that the average income of women is still 77 percent of men’s, up from 68 percent 15 years ago. At that rate, women’s income will not close the gap for another 50 years. Gregory also highlights pay data for professional and nonprofessional positions and delineates the pay disparity in the fields of law, medicine, and higher education (Trial, 2003, p. 66).
Ahern (2003) also reviews that, “… significant discussion of the social, economic, and psychological factors that cause sex discrimination in the workplace delves into the invisible barriers the “glass ceiling” that prevent women from progressing beyond middle management in corporate America” (p. 66).
Susan Wells reports from HR Magazine (2001) that, “women hold 43 percent of executive, administrative, and managerial occupations, but they account less than 3 to 5 percent of top executive positions nationwide according to the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor” (p. 40). In the American workforce, women are moving up slowly, but surely. Wells asserts that even though women are advancing in the corporate world, there may be a few key factors affecting women’s careers.
Women have a tendency to leave and re-enter the workforce more than men do-interrupting their careers for childbearing, child rearing, elder care, and other family and personal responsibilities. 80 percent of women bear children at some point in their lives, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau; and research shows that women are more likely than men to take on responsibility for elder care. The interruptions to women’s careers can affect their ability to advance in position-and pay.
Women who leave the labor market for family responsibilities often return to find that their wages lag behind those of women at comparable stages in their careers who did not leave. First, women who leave the labor force lose seniority. Second, job skills may get rusty during extended leaves or absences. And finally, employers may view gaps in work history as a signal that women who leave may do so again (p. 40-41).
Because there is such a wide range of Female Discrimination in the Workforce, women are faced with various difficult and problematic situations that they have to face everyday; ranging from unequal pay, to sexual harassment. There have even been reports of women needing valid “excuses” to go on maternity leave or care for a terminally ill elderly relative. A direct result of these problems, are of course, the solutions. There are not any known solutions for women needing to have “excuses” for maternity leave and caring for a sick relative, there is one known solution for sexual harassment.
As stated by Hughes in The Maryland Bar Journal (2000), in order to eliminate sexual harassment against women in the workforce, it is essential for employers to first acknowledge that this problem exists. Employers find themselves having to address sexual conduct among their employees and the effect that it has on the work environment. As a result, employers start programs that further educate themselves as well as their employees about sexual harassment and discrimination against women and what particular proceedings might take place if and when any form of sexual harassment and female discrimination takes place (p. 26).
Instances of deliberate discrimination against women in the workforce are not hard to come by. According to the National Women’s Law Center, in 1999, nearly 24,000 sex discrimination complaints were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The following examples are court cases drawn from judicial decisions and newspaper articles between the years 1991 and 2000. The experiences described occurred in every part of the United States and in various kinds of workplaces. Affected were secretaries, college professors, prison guards, stock brokers, factory workers, attorneys-women from just about every walk of life. These court cases involved sexual harassment, discrimination in hiring, firing, promotions, job assignments, and unequal pay for equal work. Keep in mind that these examples are only a small representation of the immense number of cases that demonstrate the sex discrimination that women continue to face in society today.
* Washington Post, January 1997 issue:
A federal court found that Lucky Stores (a grocery store chain in California) discriminated against women in promotions and hiring. Notes from a meeting on discrimination issues attended by store management included comments such as: “men do not want competition from women”; “women don’t have as much drive to get ahead”; “customers might object to seeing a woman in management”; and “it is impossible to find qualified women”. The company eventually settled and paid an estimated 12,000 female employees $107 million.
* USA Today, June 1998 issue:
Mitsubishi agreed to pay $34 million to settle claims that the company allowed male employees and managers to sexually harass hundreds of female workers at its plant in Normal, Illinois. Supervisors routinely called female workers “sluts”, “whores” and “bitches”, rather than by their names. Women who complained of this treatment were ostracized, physically threatened and sometimes forced to resign. The EEOC claimed that between 300 and 500 women were affected by this hostile work environment. The maximum individual monetary compensation awarded was $300,000.
* Journal of Labor Economy, July 1993 issue:
A study that tracked lawyers 15 years after graduation from the University of Michigan Law School revealed significant wage differentials between male and female lawyers; even when hours of work, family responsibilities, choice of careers and other potential variables were held constant.
The reasoning behind sharing these three examples was to reiterate the fact that sexism against women in the workforce not only happens against women in prominent employment fields, but it also happens to women who are employed by general employers. The problem in the Washington Post example was the fact that management refused to recognize the fact that their female employees were in fact, being discriminated against. The discriminatory comments that were made against the female employees were not addressed and ignored, and it seemed as if management enabled such behavior by their actions, or lack thereof.
The hindrance given by the USA Today article was the fact that not only did the male employees sexually harass the female employees, but management seemed to deliberately abuse its authority and overlooked the fact that female employees were indeed being sexually harassed. By continually addressing the female workers by derogatory and misogynistic slurs, management of the Mitsubishi plant made a conscious decision to sexually harass, demean, and discriminate their female employees. The issue of sexism against women in the workforce that was evident in the example from the Journal of Labor Economy article was the fact that it illustrated the idea that women remain disproportionately clustered, unrecognized and underpaid in professional occupations that are viewed as traditionally male-dominated.
Given the examples provided, it is evident that even today, women across the country continue to face a variety of arbitrary, subjective and bias obstacles to equal opportunity in the workforce. Failing to address and take a combative stance on the issue of female discrimination in the workforce can not only lead to court cases and lawsuits like the examples above, but it could cause the production/efficiency in employees to decline. According to Chapter 8 of the Keenan and Long readings, lowered productivity is direct consequence of destructive conflict. The reading suggests that tasks within an organization require coordination and cooperation. However, when conflict takes precedence, cooperative efforts are reduced and productivity levels become suppressed (Chapter 8, pg, 7).
If an organization aspires to be successful in all avenues, it is pertinent that it take issue of female discrimination seriously. Policies and guidelines need to be created and put into action if organizations want to alleviate the idea of discrimination against women in their companies. In doing so, it is possible that a creative alternative could be reached. Chapter 8 tells us that creative alternative strategies have the ability to benefit all parties involved in conflict; resulting in a win-win philosophy (pg. 14). Although this can be an exhaustingly time consuming strategy, the aim is to reach a general agreement, in which all parties accomplishes its objective(s).
One significant action that I personally believe should take place in regards to female discrimination in the workforce is that employers as well as employees must be well educated and well-informed about the many different forms of sexual discrimination. If this particular step is taken, each individual would be aware of what he or she can and cannot do and what will and will not be accepted in a working environment. Although this can be considered to be a small step in the discontinuation of the discrimination of females in the workforce, I strongly believe that in order to fix a problem as immense as this one, the employees and especially employers must be educated on how discrimination against women will not be tolerated in a court of law.
Now that the issue of female discrimination in the workforce has been presented and the many issues that accompany it, I have prepared a few discussion questions that will allow the class to think critically about what was presented and further discuss why sexism against women in the workforce is such an important issue with respect to communication in organizations.
1. In your opinion, what type of behavior would you consider sexist against women in an organizational setting?
2. Do you believe that an employer has the right to hire, fire, or promote a person based on sex, rather than job qualifications?
3. Why do you think many employers favor male employees, rather than female employees in traditionally male-dominated professions?
4. How would you try to establish a sexist free work environment?
5. What steps do you think should be taken if discrimination against women is evident in an organization?
6. If you were in a burning building and were dependent on a fire fighter to save your life, would you want the fire fighter to be a male or a female? (they both share the same training and qualifications) Does your answer reflect gender bias? Explain.
7. Why do you think women are fired after they return from maternity leave? Why do you suppose this does not happen for a man who goes on paternity leave?