Discrimination Against Women in the Workplace

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Gender can be difficult to define. In an article written by Tim Newman, however, he describes gender as being the role that men and women undertake, or the view that men and women have of themselves (Newman 2018). Traditionally, it is thought that gender is socially constructed, whereas sex is biological. We are born a certain sex and our gender is learned through years of socialisation. Gender is so familiar to each of us that it usually takes something drastic to disrupt out view of how both men and women should act to notice how it is produced (Grusky et al, 2018). Just as is it is expected of women to wear dresses and skirts and it is expected of men to wear suits, they are also expected to fulfil certain roles. Today, however, there is a difference in the way in which we understand and see gender. In more recent times, especially is the twenty first century, there has been an increase in the different categories of genders that people conform to. Although there has certainly been a change in how gender is viewed, there is still a definite sense of discrimination against certain genders.

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Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the role of a women was to stay at home, looking after the house and raising the children, and men went out to work, earning money. As a result of the Industrial Revolution, women began to enter paid work. This allowed them to gain some independence from their male partners. Although the Industrial Revolution brought change to the lives of women, it still meant that they lived lives of hardship. The jobs that women entered were difficult and tiring. They worked mainly in factories where the conditions were unsanitary and dangerous, their education suffered as a result of entering the workforce so early in life, usually at the ages of 12 and 13, and they were supervised by men who received higher wages and better standards of work (Reese 2019). Although there had been a definite increase in the number of women in the work force and working in positions of power, there is still an obvious difference in the way men and women in the workplace are treated. Women account for less than a quarter (24%) of senior roles globally. (Thornton G. 2018) It is reported that women earn 80.7 cents for every dollar made by their male counterparts. (Catalyst, 2018) In 2017, a study showed that the gender employment gap was 11.5%, meaning the proportion of men of working age in employment exceeded that of women by 11.5%. (European Commission 2019). A prime example of gender-gaps in the labour force is in the private sector. According to a study by Helen Russel et al, they found that 3 years after graduation, there is an 8% pay gap between male and female in the private sector. (Russel et al. 2010)

Historically, the role of men and women have differed greatly. With the beginning of the feminist movement of the 1960s, women first began to officially join the workforce. Since then, there has been a constant level of discrimination and segregation against women in the workplace In Ireland. From the foundation of the State in 1922, a frequently held view was that the male partner was the ‘provider’ and that most women were expected to marry and to devote themselves to the care of their children. (Bercholz et al, 2019). This meant that many women were not able to take advantage of education which would enable them to join the labour force. Today, things have changed majorly, with the entrance of Ireland into the EU, legislation made it so that women were able to enter the labour force even after they had been married. Although there has been a definite decrease in the gap between the number of men and women in the workforce, there is still a need for improvement.

As well as general discrimination against women in the workplace, patriarchy remains extremely apparent. Patriarchy is described as a general structure in which men have power over women (Napikoski 2019). It is said that the subordinate position of women is linked to the fact that women are the only gender able to reproduce. With the addition of pregnancy and childcare, it has meant that some women have had to miss out on job benefits such as promotions and increased job opportunities. In Grint and Nixon’s book, The Sociology of Work, they describe how the only way to rid the world of patriarchal power is by creating a reproductive system that does not solely depend on women (Grint et al. 2016). However, patriarchy is dependent on this biological link and it would be irrational to allow the development of a reproductive method which allowed the patriarchal society to be broken. Patriarchy and capitalism are linked in how they both exploit women. Capitalism exploits women economically while patriarchy exploits women politically and socially. In a capitalist society, it is usual for capitalist men to employ women as they work for cheaper and are much more compliant than men. (Grint et al. 2016)

Gender discrimination has been taking place since women first entered the workforce, in the 1960s. Numerous studies have been undertaken to underline the key issues associated with gender discrimination in the workplace and to try and grasp an understanding of how to minimise the discrimination women are faced with.

In a paper by Alison Konrad and Kathy Cannings, they researched the effects of gender role congruence and statistical discrimination on managerial advancement. Statistical discrimination describes the inequality apparent between certain groups due to traditional stereotypes. (Moro 2004) Their research found that although there has been a clear increase in the number of women in the workforce, organizational roles have remained the same. This has meant that women are expected to show the same amount of dedication and commitment to their work as men. The static job roles that some firms have, were originally designed for the “disembodied worker”, specifically men with a wife and family. Now that women are in some of these jobs, men have more of an obligation to help at home with children. This means they are unable to give their full commitment to their work which can lead to poorer performance and a decrease in career advancement. Due to the traditional view that women were the homemakers and child-rearers, they never seemed to fit the job roles set out by organisations until recently. Even with an increase in the number of women fulfilling more advanced roles, employers still often view women’s commitment to work as suspicious and are generally reluctant to hire or train women for advanced positions. Women are seen to be more suited to lower-paying roles that are more repetitive, whereas men are seen to be able to handle positions of authority and responsibility due to the fact that women have always been seen to have less interest in their work than men.

A major sense of discrimination in the workplace is seen through the “rational-bias theory”. This theory underlines the discrimination in the work place as being the outcome of self-interested managers trying to progress in their careers, and how this affects the employees they choose to undertake certain jobs.

In a journal by Laurie Larwood et al, three such studies were looked at in relation to the rational-bias theory. In their journal they noted that in 1986 only 37% of executive, administrative and managerial positions were filled by women, and only one woman was a chief executive among the largest 500 US firms.

Study one observes managers employing candidates outside of management consulting firms and looks at the views of client firms and how they respond to managerial positioning. In this study 61 management consulting firms were observed. Larwood et al noticed that as the hierarchical level increased, the number of women in these positions decreased. Women held 9 percent of support roles, and only 4 percent of women were consulting partners. The owners of these firms explained that clients were less likely to listen and trust women, that women were unlikely to be able to deal with the types of problems faced by the clients, and that they had a harder time trying to establish relationships with clients. Study one also surveyed 52 client firms, in order to get a rounded view of the reasoning behind the discrimination faced by women in these firms. All but three of the surveys handed out were completed by men, generally the chief executive or vice-president (Gutek et al 1988). On average, client firm executives stated that they would rather work with a man as they believed men would provide better advice, would be quicker at gaining a rapport with clients and would be more credible in the information they supplied (Gutek et al. 1988). It was clear from study one that rational-bias existed in the firms observed, however the link between discriminatory client attitudes and actual discrimination faced by women in the workplace needed to be examined further.

Studies two and three took a different perspective, they both focused on students of a business school and how they believed management in a firm would make decisions regarding personnel advancement. As well as focusing on gender during these studies, they also brought in race as a second factor. This was included as studies before had found that white women were more consistently discriminated against in the workplace. This could partly be because there are more women in the workplace than any other race. The participants in this study undertook a computerized experiment that presented a hypothetical situation in which they would have to act as a manager of a firm. They were given two possible job candidates, both from top MBA graduating classes, one male and one female. In study two, the focus was on the gender of the candidates, while in study three, both gender and race were being examined.

Questions were asked based on whether the participants felt as though the firm would benefit from selecting a woman for an assignment, or whether it would be detrimental to the success of said assignment.

As a result, participants felt that the firm would be more likely to choose a male subordinate for larger contracts, and a female for smaller contracts. They also answered that they would be more likely to send a male themselves for a larger contract rather than a female. Results from both study two and three found that male subordinates were much more preferred on important assignments than their female counterparts.

Although the above three studies do not prove that rational-bias theory exists, they give a clear indication into how it works and how it has been used by many managers in firms when promoting or hiring new staff members. It also emphasises the idea that there is a subconscious thought in peoples minds which leads them to automatically discriminating against women, even if they do not realise it.

Another study observing rational-bias theory of the workplace was by Susan Trentham and Laurie Larwood in 1998, they looked at how people behave in their firms and how they respond to conditions eliciting rational bias discrimination. Their study included 306 participants, 158 of which were women. All participants had graduate business degrees from a public university, meaning all participants were of equal education. Each participant underwent a survey on how people respond to conditions eliciting rational bias theory, and how people behave in their own firms, whether they evoke rational bias theory in their behaviour or not. Gender and participants’ locus of control were found to be related to the rational bias theory.

The results showed that discrimination is still extremely apparent in the workplace, with women scoring lower than men on most measures of economic equity, such as income and unemployment (Trentham et al. 1998). Although some women are now occupying managerial roles and roles of higher importance, it is still apparent that men hold most positions of power in the workplace.

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