A kaleidoscope of factors has merged to culminate in inhibiting women’s movement in the public arena, even as we enter the 21st century. Despite modernization in various spheres, it is evident that Orwell predicted correctly when he said “All animals are equal but some are more equal than others”. The psyche of the masses plays a pivotal role in creating a “naturalized discourse” around the concept of women, rendering it synonymous with nurturing and confinement to the home; what is in reality a social construct, is often made to seem a biological given.
One cannot entirely disregard recent efforts made to include women in the occupational sector, yet a cursory glance around the developing world suffices to show that they have not culminated in adequate, effective changes. Men usually derive their power and authority in society from the kind of work they do and the position they might hold in their organization whereas traditionally women have done this through their roles in the family (Wolf, 1979).
This has been due to the conventional societal settings where the primary responsibility of females is of marriage and child-bearing and their role as bread earners for the family is considered secondary and thus they are not able to attain positions of power in the work setting. According to gathered data, even as the society progresses and women shift towards paid work they are unable to obtain positions of authority and power in higher level management positions from where they can influence the setting of the workplace (Jacobs, 1995).
Preference is still given to men over women even if they have the same kind of education and professional skills. (Wolf, 1979) This goes in line with the functionalist sociological perspective according to which women and men have clearly specified roles in society, with women performing the expressive roles (i. e. providing children with emotional support, etc) and men performing the instrumental roles (i. e. being the primary bread earners for the family). According to the functionalists this is the most efficient way for a family to operate.
During recent years women have made a significant progress in entering the managerial positions in corporations as the proportion of women managers increased by almost 26% between 1970 and 1992 (Powell, 1994). Here as the conflict perspective states, a change was brought about in society due to the power struggle between men and women for power and prestige. But still they are held back from reaching top managerial positions as statistics indicate that between 1979 and 1991 the ratio of women in top management positions increased by only 2% (Powell, 1994).
This is what is often referred to as the glass ceiling phenomena (Powell, 1994). This is an invisible barrier that prevents women from reaching top management positions not because of lack of skills or abilities but just because of their sexual orientation. The position this barrier is placed at differs depending on the organization as well as the Industry. Certain factors have been outlined which could explain the glass ceiling. One of them being that the bias is inherent in a patriarchal society where men intentionally want to keep women in positions where they remain dependent.
Another bias which exists, centers on the similar-to-me effect. Here a person would give more favorable evaluation to someone who is similar to him/her in terms of background and attitudes. Thus if top management positions are mostly held by males they would unintentionally prefer to promote a man rather than a woman to a top management position (Powell, 1994). In the same way organizations which have a high number of female managers experience relatively lower levels of discrimination (Johns, 1996).
Becker’s “Human Capital Theory” could also explain the discrimination that is observed in corporations. According to him, the promotions, authority and the pay that is received by an individual not only depend on his education but also the amount of money or resources that the individual has invested in further broadening his skills. So if a woman has the same level of education as a man but lacks the invested capital which could be in the form of training, etc would be at a disadvantage when considered for a promotion (Dieter, n. d).
Allocative discrimination is the unjust treatment of women in the workplace in terms of recruitment policies or promotion opportunities. Here women are generally provided with jobs which are relatively low paying (Hultin & Szulkin, 1999). For example a woman who is highly qualified might end up in a management position but in the HR department where there isn’t much scope for further promotion or exposure whereas a man with the same qualifications might start from the marketing department where he gets a lot of exposure as well as chances of being promoted and reaching a position of power.
This type of discrimination supports the glass ceiling a phenomenon which has been discussed before. Evaluative discrimination is when women workers perform work which was primarily considered to be a man’s work but are paid relatively less than the males even when they possess the same skills and abilities as men and perform the same tasks just as efficiently. This has also been linked to the wage setting process whereby the high presence of females in an occupation is said to relative lower the wages of that particular occupation.
This has been shown by studies which reflect that the occupations with high concentration of women workers have relatively lower wages when compared to male dominated occupations which require the same level of skills and work. Thus evaluative discrimination does not target an individual but the whole occupation. (Hultin & Szulkin, 1999). On the other hand within-job discrimination targets individuals rather than the occupation. Here women performing the same job as men, within the same organization are discriminated against with lower wages.
Though unjust treatment like this is illegal in most of the developed countries it still exists in third world countries where women are paid less than men when they are performing the same work (Hultin & Szulkin, 1999). This is exactly what the conflict perspective states about gender stratification. Men have devised the sexual division of labor which lets them have an upper hand in their relations with women due to the higher prestige and income men receive. A lot of corporations around the world have identified the problem of discrimination and to some extent are working towards making fair and bias free policies.
There has been a certain issue about pregnancy leaves for women workers. Traditionally it wasn’t thought of as normal disability for which the employee should be given grants and leaves because according to them it was in the employees hands when she wanted to be a mother. In some corporations like IBM, female workers are given grants for up to a year when they are on pregnancy leave.
Even though a lot of corporations have already adapted this policy, when this amendment was proposed in the U. S House of Representatives the chambers of commerce representative argued that this would work against the equal hiring of women and male workers because it would raise the cost of hiring women workers for the firm (Berch, 1982). This develops into a Catch-22 situation where on one hand the corporations are trying to give equal rights to women workers by granting them paid pregnancy leaves and on the other hand discouraging the hiring of women workers as it increases the cost for the organization and would result in lower pays for them.
Sexual Harassment One of the major issues plaguing the workplace is sexual harassment. It is not unusual for a woman to be the target of sexual advances, unwanted request for sexual favors and offensive conduct of a sexual nature. All this comes under the definition of sexual harassment. More importance is being given to this issue as more and more women have started to move into the corporate world and into the offices.
The high number of women in the corporate world is considered a threat by the men. They think of the workplace as their turf and women as intruders (Williams, 1999). This is especially true in developing countries like Pakistan where there are fewer job opportunities. Once again this conforms to the conflict sociological perspective as both men and women try to outdo each other for control over scarce resources which in this case is the limited number of jobs.
Instead of leading to healthy competition this leads to aggressive behavior by the men towards the women, which in turn leads to a negative attitude and harassment. Whenever the notion of sexual relations in the workplace arises there are two opposing views to it. There are the “pro-sex” feminists which argue that women should be allowed to enjoy sexual freedom, even in the workplaces where they should not be oppressed in expressing themselves (Williams, 1999). Opposing the “pro-sex” feminists are the people who are associated with “radical feminism”.
These people work towards removing sexual harassment from the workplace as they argue that there can be no mutual sexual relations in the workplace because of the inequality and discrimination already present in the workplace (Wiliams, 1999). According to them women are oppressed by men in the workplace because of their higher incomes and status. Both of these extreme positions are unsustainable because sexual relationships at work are not always troublesome or sexually harassing neither are they always mutual, the people themselves are able to differentiate between them.