Are you an equal opportunity employer, or do you still discriminate between the sexes? While stereotyping is part of human nature, it takes an open mind to accept that you might be guilty of it.
Being an equal opportunity employer is not a question of ensuring that there is a 50-50 mix of males and females. It always will be a case of hiring the right person for the job. Incorporating gender mainstreaming into the organisation is a commitment to equality between men and women that is integrated into an organisation’s strategy, policies and operations by assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation. It ensures that both women’s and men’s concerns and experiences are taken into account in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of all activities.
Your aim as an equal opportunity employer is to develop interventions that overcome barriers preventing both men and women from having equal access to the resources and services they need to improve their livelihoods. Discrimination is one of these barriers.
Not a numbers game
There never will be identical employment statistics for both sexes, and we could argue that it is not even an ideal. While it is interesting to numbers-crunch, what really concerns us is whether women have the opportunity to work and feel safe in, the trade or profession of their choice.
From the period 2000-2003, there was a gender imbalance in the sector of craft and related trades, namely manufacturing (8.9%) and construction (7.1%). By contrast, the percentage of females employed in the education sector exceeded the male by -1.3% in the same period. The least form of gender imbalance occurs amongst professionals and skilled agricultural and fishery workers, whilst females employed in education, private households, and financial inter-mediation exceeded men. The gender pay gap is more of a concern, revealing an average of 10.9% between males and females.
Why do we stereotype and discriminate?
If you have ever totally dismissed the idea of a woman taking on a particular role, simply because of her gender, then you are not only doing women a disservice, but you are blocking your company from all of the potential that women can bring. If you remember the advent of stereo speakers, you are aware that stereo means ‘two’. So stereotyping is thinking and prejudice based on an, ‘us and them’ mentality. Black-and-white thinking is the opposite of the open-minded way to problem solving. It is so blinkered, that if you were to apply the same rationale to other areas of management, you would immediately realise that it is inherently faulty.
Stereotyping is an unconscious behaviour that is ingrained within us, unless we were brought up in totally radical communities where there was no traditional division of roles and duties. Humour, for example, is based on stereotypes – whether gender or cultural related – and it would not function unless we all understood the stereotypes. We constantly ‘sum-up’ everyone we see, according to wealth, intelligence, attractiveness and social status. It is our way of knowing where we stand, who we identify with.
Women’s rights, men’s wrongs?
There are many gender stereotypes used to define each sex. Some stereotypes associated with women are: submissive, emotional, quiet, touchy-feely, neat/clean, clumsy, artsy, housewife, child-rearing. Stereotypes associated with men: aggressive, no emotions, loud, messy, athletic, maths- and science-oriented, CEO, money-maker.
While we all know people of both genders who embody characteristics which fall under the stereotype of their opposite, when it comes to making decisions about which gender would better suit a particular job, we are all prey to falling for the cliches. If you were to ask anyone to quickly separate jobs into their association with gender, most people would classify secretarial, reception, craft, cleaning, baby sitters as women’s jobs, while drivers, technical, managerial, industry and night-time work are seen as male territory.
The real difference
Employers need to be acutely conscious of their gate keeping function in society, of the role they play in allowing women the same access to jobs as men. Let us make one thing clear: it is not only men who discriminate against women. Women are equally as guilty in this regard.
Realising that you may be discriminating against women is the first step towards being an equal opportunity employer. You cannot then act on the premise that men and women are identical. To date, it hasn’t been politically correct to think about the differences between women and men, but we all know they exist.
Men tend to focus on one thing at a time, while women do many things at the same time. Women’s multi-dimensionality is obvious in that they do everything: work, shop, clean, do laundry, take care of the children and arrange social functions (while men mostly just work). Isn’t that an ability that can be maximised in your workforce?
The way ahead
To take your business successfully into the third millennium, you cannot afford to ignore the women in the workforce. Your organisation needs to weed out discrimination against either gender in any aspect of employment, such as: Hiring and firing, compensation, assignment, or classification of employees; transfer, promotion, layoff, or recall; job advertisements; recruitment; testing; use of company facilities; training and apprenticeship programmes; fringe benefits; pay, retirement plans, and disability leave.
Are promotions automatically given to male staff? This phenomenon has even been noted in organisations where women are in the majority. Remember to give promotions upon merit, not upon maleness!
The heading of this article shows how idiomatic expressions reflect old-fashioned ideas that shape our thinking. (It’s the right ‘person’ for the job.) Our language also forces us to make gender choices, especially when speaking Maltese. So watch out for your (and your colleagues’) use of gender terminology, which can signal a discriminatory frame of mind.
As part of your new equal opportunity and gender mainstreaming strategy, analyse the various stages in the recruiting process where stereotyping about women’s abilities and commitment to their careers is likely to occur. During the interview stage, are you and your staff aware of the need to use politically correct questions? Many non-PC questions deal with age, family responsibilities, and lifestyle and are directed towards women, which would never be asked to men. Ronald L. Krannich Ph.D has listed some potentially illegal and sensitive questions:
- How do you feel about attending conferences with (men) (women)?
- What childcare arrangements have you made?
- What type of position does your spouse have?
- Do you think that you can supervise (men) (women), and how do you think they will react?
- This job has always been handled by a (female) (male). Do you think you can handle it?
- How do you feel about women’s liberation?
- How do you define sexual harassment?
- Are you married, divorced, separated, or single?
- How many children do you have?
- Do you plan to have any more children?
- What does your spouse think about your career?
- What do you think about romance in the office?
- Do you have plans to get married?
- Tell me about your family.
Providing a caring, flexible workplace
If you as an employer rely on stereotyped assumptions about what people of particular genders can do and can’t do, you are not just breaking the law, but you are also losing in terms of productivity and creativity. Companies will have to evolve to keep the female talent on board, creating a more female-friendly workplace. Women are much more likely to stay with a company in the long haul if that company makes their lives richer in all senses, and easier.
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