Equal Opportunity Act has been a great help in reducing gender based discrimination in employment.
We have now reached a stage where 51% of the workforce is estimated to consist of women [McDougall, 1996]. A research report from Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) claims that women are inadequately represented in top management jobs [Treanor, 2007]. According to the report there should be 6000 more women in top management position for a fair representation in accordance with their population.
The report carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) for EOC presents some interesting statistics and gives us an opportunity to discuss the direction the Equal opportunity should take. I am certain that if PwC had further classified the women in top jobs, they could have easily concluded that the stereotypical image of blondes is preventing them from moving into top jobs!I believe that statistics of this kind should only be treated as an indicator of our success in overcoming the prejudices irrelevant to the performance of an individual in his/her job. My point of view therefore is that it does not matter if there are 6000 fewer men or women in top management position as long as we can be certain that gender of the person was not a barrier in the selection process [Smith et al, 2006]. For many people material wealth is becoming less important and other social factors are becoming an important criterion in making professional and career based decisions.One part of PwC report that gives me cause for optimism is that in a 2002 survey of FTSE 350 companies had shown “that 40% of senior positions were occupied by women” and the figure has now fallen to 22% [Treanor, 2007].
This is an indicator that gender has gradually become less important and a variety of other factors could be responsible for the decline in women’s share in top management position. It is possible that the women leaving their position due to retirement or personal reason were replaced by the next senior person without a consideration for gender. The need for a positive discrimination in favor of women cannot be justified when their representation has touched as high as 40%.Sex Discrimination Act was published in 1975 [HMSO, 2006], when compared to other forms of discriminations such as racial, ethnic and sexual orientation, the gender equality has made excellent progress.
As mentioned above, 51% of the workforce is estimated to consist of women [McDougall, 1996]. This advance is impressive and we need to be happy at this achievement. From an equal opportunity for women perspective, I believe that instead of paying undue attention to the fluctuating level of women employment in senior management positions, we need to work to remove millions of years of indoctrination and prejudices built about the gender’s role in society. This can only be achieved through education and training to alter the attitudes, and through regulations to ensure that people become aware of legal implications of their old prejudices and attitudes. Sex discrimination act has made people aware of sexual harassment in work place, quality laws have also made the women aware of their rights and opportunities in all professions and not just those in which have traditionally been considered appropriate for women [BBC, 2004]Fortunately gender based discrimination has received support from all sections of the society. Compared with other kind of discriminations, it has proved to be easier to raise voice against sex discrimination. Gender based discrimination is spread among all races and a majority of people of all races accept that the sex discrimination exists and are willing to work to remove this discrimination.
Unfortunately this has not been the case for discrimination on grounds of race, ethnic origin and sexual orientation and that is area in most need of attention of the EOC [EOC, 2003].[Curtis, 2007] reports that coloured representation in politics and in senior management position is pathetically low. “There are only two black women MPs, four non-white top 100 FTSE directors and nine top civil servants from ethnic minority backgrounds” [Curtis, 2007]. It would be a good guess to suggest that many of the black top civil servants are in race relations and EOC. This clearly shows that EOC should more actively direct its efforts towards the other much more negatively impacting discriminations in the society.An End to sex discrimination is importantThis does not mean that I consider under representation of women in top management positions as ‘much a do about nothing’. I am just happy to see that we are finally beginning to recognize the undesirability of discriminations and we must be prepared to work hard to remove the barriers that are preventing the women to move up to the top.
These barriers include:· Importance of Children for many families· Attitudes of women towards work· Society’s expectation of male being the main bread-winner· Some persistence discriminatory attitude towards women (sex discrimination)· Women generally being employed in selected professions (diversity of professions)Many families recognize that parental controls have an important role in bringing up the children. Senior jobs often require long working hours, absence from home due to overseas assignments and other job related responsibilities. When both parents spend a long time away from home, the children often grow out of parents control and become involved in undesirable activities such as drinks and drugs and teenage sex.
For those who consider the family life and upbringing of children to be an important part of parents’ responsibilities, the choice often is in favor of taking time off from work and the ‘mummy track keeps women from top jobs’ [Ward, 2004].Prolong absence from a career appointment affects the seniority in job and no doubt suitability for top positions. The government and regulatory bodies need to play their role in making it easier for those women who do want to continue working and are forced to give up work due to ‘mummy track’. On the other hand we must be prepared to acknowledge that for some families, bringing up children, seeing them grow and ensuring that children are not spoilt due to lack of parental supervision may be more important than climbing up to the top in an organization and we must be prepared to accept that view point too [Barrow, 2007].
In an article recently published [Barrow, 2007] introduces women who gave up their £200,000 senior jobs to spend time with their families. One woman has been quoted as, “I didn’t want to be the type of career-driven mother I regularly saw at the bank – in the office before the baby was barely awake. I wanted to be at home as my mum had been with me”.This may seem insane to some of us, but we have to respect personal choice that people make. The government role is required in cases where young women wanting to work have to give up work due to the cost of childcare. A qualified nurse who had to give up work is quoted as “As a qualified nurse, I lose money each month.
Two young children needing paid childcare takes up more than I earn. I wonder how people cope on minimal wage – I can understand people not working”[Barrow, 2007]. The EOC and employers can help by providing affordable childcare to those women who want to continue to work but are forced to give it up due to economics [Nay, 2007].The social attitudes still expect the men to be the bread winner.
If a woman has good job prospects and is in a position to earn much more than her husband, it is still not socially acceptable for a man to stay at home while the woman goes out to work. A woman can comfortably declare herself to be a housewife but a man will have to do a lot of explaining to justify being a ‘house-person’. Even the women are not prepared for this yet.
We still pity the woman, who has to pay her husband in case of a marriage breakdown due to her income and assets, but we do not show the same sympathy to the man as he is expected to end up paying to her ex wife.It would be foolish to believe that male complex of superiority, sexual harassment and discrimination on the ground of sex does not exist anymore. Discrimination is alive and kicking and we must be prepared to acknowledge and fight this discrimination in women’s rise to the top [Biznet, 2007].
Another reason for lower representation of women in top position is the diversity of profession women often choose [Scotsman, 2007]. The statistics shows that women are more concentrated in selected professions; education, health and public administration. Lack of adequate representation in other professions reduces their chances of reaching to the senior management positions in those professions. As women are increasingly selecting professions which were considered men’s domain, there is no doubt they will be heading these professions soon.Discussion and ConclusionsIt is encouraging to find that Sex Discrimination Act 1975 has played a positive role in reducing gender based discrimination and women have been able to achieve 51% share in total employment. The main aim of bodies like EOC is to create an environment where race, ethnic origin and gender do not remain the ground for discrimination in employment [Fairness for All, 2003].
The statistics provides a useful means to assess the success of these efforts but in view of the importance of other social factors slightly lower representation of women in top jobs is not a major cause for concern. Anti-discrimination bodies [EOC, 2003] need to work more effectively in ensuring that much more evident discrimination on the ground of race and ethnicity does not leave a particular segment of our society below the poverty line [Rockwell, 1994]. The EOC efforts in this area have clearly left a lot to be desired [Equality Act, 2006]