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The Suggestion of Gender Equality in Organisations

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This essay is going to discuss that gender equality in organisations today will never be possible or completely achieved due to organisations being gendered in and of themselves. Using Acker’s (1990) theory of gendered organisations to explain systematic inequalities that have compromised professional advancement of women in organisations they choose to join. This essay will support the argument of organisations being gendered in and of themselves as well as providing evidence on how organisations are built upon assumptions about gender and how they reproduce gender inequalities in the work place (Whitehead, 2013).

Gender represents more accurately than sex the social construction of identities and roles dividing societies into men and women (Acker, 1992). Gender is social and variable to change while sex represents unchanging physical differences in human beings (Acker, 1992). Equality is defined as the equal treatment in the workplace in terms of rights, benefits, opportunities and obligations (Wu, 2016).

Gender is important because it is the major aspect along which disparities in pay and opportunities arise and systematize (Bowman, 2015). Gender equality is achieved when women and men enjoy the same rights and opportunities in organisations. This includes the needs of women being equally valued and considered (Baert, 2014). Currently, women are offered better access to flexible working, there is more support for maternity pay. There are several polices and legislation in place to protect women and men from discrimination in the work place. The Equality Act 2010 strengthens protection in some situations with protected characteristics including gender and sets out ways in which it is unlawful to treat someone including direct and indirect discrimination (Equality and human rights commission, 2015). The existence of gender equality legislation would insinuate that inequality has been addressed but, the significance of legislation depends on its implementation (Ross, 2010). Immediately after The Equality Act was passed, the extent to which it would be brought into force was uncertain and a 2007 policy statement on equality and men stated that legislation has and will not result in gender equality and a lot of societal change in attitudes is required before women can achieve equality (Ross, 2010).Women currently have greater promotion potential and higher social economic status thus showing significant progress in gaining gender equality in organisations (Baert, 2014).

In spite of the growing number of women in the work force, they continue to be underrepresented in senior level positions in the work place. Recent statistics show that women hold less than 5% of CEO positions (Kim, 2018). Unfortunately, the labour market is strongly gender segregated leaving women and men exposed to different work environments in different occupations and hierarchical positions (Elwer, 2013).

While first generation gender biases were considered intentional acts of gender discrimination, second generation gender biases are powerful but invisible barriers to women’s advancement in the work place and are mainly an effect of gender stereotyping (Baert, 2014). Gender stereotyping occurs when employees are judged according to traditional stereotypes based on gender and are generally rooted in the culture and practices of organisations (Kelly, 1993). “The maternal wall” can be used as an example of these patterns of bias and stereotyping in organisations. It is described as an invisible barrier faced by women in organisations with families and those that seek maternal leave (Williams, 2004). Jobs in organisations require extensive over time and this excludes virtually all women with families and obligations at home. Women that return from maternity leave may face negative competence assumptions by colleagues and superiors who may consider them to have low competence and these women are often denied important assignments and this limits possibility of progress in their careers (Williams, 2004). Thus, leaving women to experience “the maternal wall” way before reaching other barriers such as “the glass ceiling” (Williams, 2004). This therefore shows that organisations are gendered in a sense that jobs requiring long hours or over time are more favourable to men who are unencumbered by family obligations (Whiteside, 2012). These barriers arise from cultural beliefs about gender, work place structures and patterns that inadvertently favour men (Baert, 2014). Acker argues that organisations themselves are gendered and were constructed for and by mostly men. Organisational structures and work practices reflect masculine experiences and values (Acker, 1990). The term ‘gendered organisations’ means that gender is present in the practices, ideologies and processes in various sectors of social life (Acker, 1992). Firstly, It is important to understand how gendered organisations operate and learn how the practices are created and incorporated within an organisation (Mastracci, 2015). Acker mentions that organisations are not gender neutral but systematically privilege men and masculinity, marginalize women and therefore contribute to gender segregation (Acker, 1990). Chersterman states that organisations are very resistant to the advancement of women to higher positions. It is in these very organisations where attributes of masculinity such as aggressiveness and assertiveness dominate (Chersterman, 2005). While organisations celebrate male attributes such as independent, dominant and ambitious, communal behaviours such as kind, gentle and nurturing are attributed to women. This makes women feel less empowered and the general source of inequalities in organisations (Sabharwal, 2013). Acker states that organisations themselves and not just the people in them are bearers of gender. She further added that organisations create and reproduce gender divisions of labour, cultural definitions of masculinity and femininity and ways of articulating men and women’s differences (Connell, 2006). At institutional level, gender is embedded within organisations that create differences between women and men. An example of this is the existence of occupational segregation by gender and wage disparity (Gazso,2004). Similarly, Sabharwal states that organisations and their strongly possessed values, beliefs and perceptions about the social role and behaviours of women, are a major source of discrimination (Sabharwal, 2013). Research conducted shows that organisations begin with the patterns and values of their creators, and women stand out against these largely male backgrounds. Mastracci agrees by stating that organisations and jobs are inherently gendered meaning they have been identified, conceptualized and structured in terms of a distinction between femininity and masculinity (Mastracci,2015). These gendered practices and processes bring about and maintain inequalities between men and women in organisations making gender equality impossible.

Hart suggests that not only are organisations gendered, most them hold the notion of the ‘ideal employee’ that is unencumbered by family obligations and other distractions. However, the average female employee is not free from such obligations (Hart, 2016). Gender norms in work or family arrangements still assume women having the primary responsibility for home and childcare (Bolzendahl, 2014). Research by Kanter agrees that opportunities, successes and failures of women do not depend on their individual abilities and motivations but on the gendered organisation of the occupations and companies they are apart of (Kanter, 1977). Organisational gendering highlights institutional construction of gender including the creation of divisions along gender line, use of symbols and images that express and encourage those divisions (Bolzendahl, 2014).

Institutional practices that limit access to networks and create ambiguity around promotion have disadvantaged women. Even if these women are promoted, they experience obstacles such as “the glass ceiling” along the way that they had to either work around or slowed them down entirely (Hart, 2016). The “glass ceiling” is defined as an artificial barrier based on attitudinal or organisational bias that prevents qualified individuals from advancing in their organisations to management level positions (Whiteside, 2012). The “glass ceiling” for female workers is subtle yet a strong barrier that keeps women from moving up the corporate hierarchy (Wu, 2016). Many cases show that women begin their careers at the same level with men and either lose ground over time or continue to progress at the same rate as men until their progress is blocked (Kolade, 2013). Women therefore have one option in gendered organisations which would be to crack the “glass ceiling” and rise up the corporate ladder through work performance, where they would be considered to function and act like men (Gazso, 2004). However, some researchers argue that the “glass ceiling” is a myth and a self-created issue that does not exist. They argue that women are paid lower salaries because they leave the job half way, work lesser time and get low risk jobs (Bombuwela, 2013). This statement makes one wonder why women indeed choose to leave jobs half way, are paid lower salaries and forced to get low risk jobs. Thus, showing that organisations are gendered and more favourable to men than women.

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“The sticky floor” is another example of how organisations are inherently gendered. The theory encapsulates women trapped in low wage and mobility jobs (Still, 1997). It refers to the largely invisible low-level jobs in organisations that are predominantly occupied by women (Still, 1997). “The sticky floor” is believed to be the reason most women cannot move out of certain positions and progress in an organisation. Once a woman is labelled as having a “sticky floor” job, her ability to handle higher level jobs is often questioned. Due to the sticky floor phenomenon, many women may never experience the “glass ceiling” and “the glass cliff” (Still, 1997). According to (Vokic’, 2016), obstacles to women’s development could be assigned to the gendered structure in organisations that reinforce these obstacles. There is evidence that employers are starting to promote women more systematically and introduce family friendly polices to attract and retain them. However, women still find it difficult to break through barriers reinforced by gendered organisations (Kolade, 2013). Organisational level patterns are directly linked to negativoutcomes for working women such as lower pay, fewer employment benefits and disparities in advancement opportunities (Bowman, 2015).

However, (Bombuwela, 2013) argues that women can get higher positions based on their competencies, hard work and aspirations. Similarly, (Browne, 2018) argues that the few women in the highest positions is a representation of the qualified women available to fill them and not a result of employers barring them from these jobs. To equalize the sexes would require an elevation of less able women over highly able men and potentially leading to poor institutional performance (Browne, 2018). However, Browne’s argument does not put into consideration that women can be more able or competent than some men. The argument simply assumes that all men are highly able as compared to women.

Though women in the workforce are shattering the glass ceiling to reach management positions, they continue to face challenges within those organisations (Sabharwal, 2013). Women in leadership positions rarely get support from their colleagues and receive greater criticism compared to men. These challenges are said to set women up for failure and “push them over the edge” a phenomenon known as the “glass cliff” (Sabharwal,2013). Women seeking senior positions in companies should be prepared to find themselves at a disadvantage with their qualifications and experience being more harshly appraised (Earle, 2012). It is likely for men to be given favourable roles during the recruitment process and women given higher risk projects and face their own individual “glass cliff” (Earle, 2012). This is the disadvantage that women face in the work environment that serves to undermine them as they seek to advance into leadership positions. O’Neil suggests that women do not advance to the highest ranks of leadership because of the prevailing structures and systems that exacerbate work/life balance concerns. This is an effect of gendered organisational contexts remaining firmly in place and women remaining under represented at highest ranks of organisations (O’Neil, 2015).

Researchers believe that other than women being screened out or stopped by “the glass ceiling”, many highly able women choose to pursue other priorities especially juggling family and work obligations, women may choose a position with more flexibility or part-time jobs or exit the work force completely during their careers. Thus, interrupting their advancement to senior-level positions. This is known as the “leaky pipeline” (Repetti, 2010). Correll discusses another side to this argument by stating that the issue is on the supply side rather the demand side. Women internalize expectations and set their career goals based on those expectations (Correll, 2004).

One of the most common inequalities are the wage gap between women and men and sex segregation of jobs (Acker, 2012). The gendered substructure includes gendered identities that are formed as women and men participate in work processes that creates great variation and women in professional positions may face pressures to ‘act like a man’ (Acker, 1992). The gender wage gap is a complex phenomenon that represents the difference in the salaries of men and women for doing comparable work with men who get higher salaries than women (Qazi, 2018). The gender wage gap is influenced by many factors of society and organisational structures (Qazi, 2018). (Kanter 1977) claimed that women were confined to low level jobs where they are frustrated and alienated by lack of opportunities. As a result of women tend to gravitate towards organisations that employ higher levels of part timers and flexible hours and thus accepting lower wages (Gazso,2004). The wage gap is therefore documented to be higher within low prestige occupations and additionally women still earn less than men because they are more likely to be employed in lower paying industries (Vokic’, 2016). These individual barriers point to the fact that just as the concept of working day is gendered, so is the work place itself and the image of the ideal employee. Thus organisations are gendered in their structure and reproduce held beliefs of femininity and masculinity (Acker, 1990). Similarly, (Still, 1997) agrees that organisations are indeed gendered and favourable to men while women are concentrated in weak organisational units where they have little opportunity and receive a significant wage gap in their earnings.

Despite the value of Acker’s theory to dissect organisations and decide whether they are gendered, the theory has some short falls and has been criticised by other researchers (Hart, 2016). (Kanter,1977) interpreted issues such as obstacles to women’s advancement in organisations as result of their location in the organisation and not the inherent differences between men and women. Kanter continues to state that with few women occupying top positions, and the masses in lower ranking positions, it gives them token status (Kanter, 1997). Researchers claim that institutions are defined by the absence of women and domination of men, but as more women enter all types of organisations, those organisations will begin to evolve over time (Bowman, 2015). (Britton, 2000) argues that research on gendered organisations indicates other aspects of sex typing in an organisation. Research should instead investigate whether and in what ways roles are dominated by one sex or the other than simply assuming that it is the case. Kanter argues that the gendered nature of an organisation and its norms are more complicated than relating the sex of an employee with the gender of the occupation or the proportion of men or women in an organisation. Although masculinities and femininities generally coincide with sex of an employee, the link between the two is not determinative (Kanter, 1993). Acker’s theory of gendered organisations disregards any implication of rationality and reason in organisations. Ideally, organisations value rationality, efficiency and various job-related skills in achieving their organisational objectives not because they want to help men dominate women (Clarke, 1940). Researchers claim that Acker’s theory equates gendered with masculine and insinuates that if the masculine organisation were to be dismantled, thus creating a feminine organisation, it would not be any less problematic (Hart, 2016). Acker’s theory also fully concentrates on the experiences of women and ignoring the implications that gendered organisations have on men and their career trajectories (Hart, 2016).

Despite the various barriers that women face as a result of working in gendered organisations, a range of policies and directives have been put up by the EU to protect people from exploitation and combat discrimination (Reid-smith, 2018). Sex discrimination law was amended to create a separate category for pregnancy discrimination. Pregnant women are treated equally (Reid- smith, 2018). The right to equal pay for men and women has been incorporated into the Equality Act 2010 and although progress has been made, there is still a significant pay difference (CIPD, 2018). Employers have the benefit of enjoying employee retention and productivity (CIPD, 2018). Employees or claimants find it costly to file claims and very few pursue cases thereby proving the equal pay law somewhat ineffective (Davies, 2018). The U.K government is not necessarily prepared to confront these policies and consider it to be a radical and complicated change to the policy making process (Rubery,2009).

In conclusion, gender equality in organisations will never be possible because of organisations being gendered in and of themselves. Evidence and explained theory above proves that the patterns and practices in organisations produce inequitable outcomes for women and men (Bowman, 2015). If an organisation were to be dismantled and random assignment of roles and individuals were to be done, inequalities between men and women would still arise due to the accepted practices defined and reinforced in the organisation (Bowman, 2015). Arreola suggests that gender equality will only be possible when the proportion of women reaches critical mass then work and life balance will be easier because women facing family care responsibilities, will advocate for changes to be made in their respective organisations (Arreola, 2016). Acker’s research is criticized because it only explains the persistence in gender inequality at work but does not explain if change is possible or identifying conditions that maybe useful in dismantling the gendered organisation. Despite policies, laws and directives put in place by government that have led to a significant change in equality, people in organisations are afraid to address bias head on, employees regularly see their managers challenge gender-biased language or behaviour. Less than half of employees see day to day evidence of any change in the organisational culture (Dominic, 2017).


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