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Gender and Equality at Work in Comparative Perspective

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 3057 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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After more than 30 years of equal opportunities legislation, how can we explain why inequalities between women and men persist in the labour market, both in the UK and elsewhere in the EU?

Each one of us has gender identity that influenced by biological and social factors. Gender difference caused kinds of other differences among social activities or family roles. In a labor market, the gender difference is presented as gender inequality where women and men are treated differently in their jobs. Those inequalities are showed in many different ways such as pay gap and the importance of the job allocated to women and men. Since women spent most of their time in childcare, men have to become the breadwinner in the family. Thirty years after the equal opportunities legislation has been implemented, inequality is still exist and worldwide validity. Legislations that developed in the UK and EU are already more inclusive than other developing countries but it is not as comprehensive as people expected. They are still on the process of developing new legislations such as current legislation of non-standard job. By looking back at the history, women are with high expectation in taking responsibility in family rather than in work. Myriad people believe women are less productive than men and that is why women and men are treated in two different ways. Many professionals suggest plenty other reasons that may explain this historical gender inequality. In order to provide a critical investigation, different reasons of gender inequality is still persist and some inequality examples will be analyzed in the rest of this essay.

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To begin with, gender segregation has been found in almost every country and contains two different forms: horizontal segregation and vertical segregation. In terms of gender segregation in workplace, occupational gender segregation is known as the unequal distribution of men and women in their jobs. Horizontal segregation stand for the segregation of the work types that women and men dominated. For example, women are more likely to be a nurse by comparing to engineer and men are preferred to be in construction industry rather than to be a nursery maid. This kind of segregation involves the gender inequality that women are expected to be the person gives care and men are expected to be a breadwinner in the family with stable wages (Tomlinson 2010). Vertical segregation refers to the order or level of the job such as managerial position and staff. This type of segregation does not necessarily involve with inequality since it concerns more to the difference of status of occupations. Occupational gender segregation is simply means employers tending to offer different occupations to women and men. In the consideration of gender issue, gender segregation may be is the beginning of widening the difference between women and men in labour market. People believe women are more suitable in the kind of jobs that men are not supposed to participate in or vice versa.

Secondly, series of new legislation were introduced in the UK and EU aimed at creating a gender equality society for women in 1970s. The equal pay for equal work principle was clarified by developing series of directives that aims at ensuring equal treatment of men and women in the workplace. Key gender equality legislations in the UK are prohibiting discrimination in pay and employment based on sex which mentioned on Equal Pay Act 1970, Sex Discrimination Act 1975. Similarly, in EU, Article 119 Founding Treaty of Rome 1957, Equal Pay Directive prohibits unequal pay with equal work and Employment Protection Act 1978 concerns maternity leave in the EU (Tomlinson 2010). Rice (1999) pointed out that in most EU countries, court and tribunal are the main agent dealing with complaints and UK has a high awareness of equality issues since its legislation are predates the EU’s. After these new laws came into force, people are expecting considerable change in women’s lives. Based on the European Commission’s report concerns gender equal opportunity at 2002, more women get the chance to participate in decision making. According to Rodgers (1999), gender-related legislations focus on making armor for women to own their right and to be in a more neutral position. However, some may dispute whether those legislations are performed well and question how many achievements have been made after they came in force. Rubenstein (1996) argues that “whether the aim of the legislation is to treat women like men when they are like men, i.e. challenge inaccurate stereotypes and labels, or to revalue and accommodate gender difference. Thus the legislation as it stands does little to challenge the ‘male’ norm against which women are rated, or to bring pressure on male lifestyles.” As she stated the legislation may not sufficient to prohibit discrimination in gender inequality and therefore does not lead to an effective prohibition. In addition, Rubery et al., (2004) claims that legislation has been long contradictory and it is breakable. He thinks those gender-related legislation are implemented in the surface of trying to build an equal gender society. There is no clear dividing line of whether company obeys the legislation or not and the unequal situation barely changes. Bellamy et al., (2006) said the reason that gender inequality is persistent in Britain is because the inadequacy of protection that current equality legislation. Besides, although the participation rate of women in labour market is much higher than before, major inequality still remains in working conditions and the pay gap may be considered as the most distinct unequal between women and men in the UK. “Women working full time earn 17% less per hour than men, and women working part time 39% less per hour than men working full time… Mothers of young children face the widest pay gap, earning on average just 67% of the male hourly wage. And despite the Labour Government’s focus on improving work-life balance for parents of young children, 30,000 pregnant women are still unlawfully dismissed from their jobs each year” (Bellamy & Cameron 2006). The evidence indicates that mothers still face inequality in terms of losing jobs even legislation is there for protection. However, women who do full-time jobs are getting more and more equal with men since they may have same level of education and occupation level . For women chose part-time jobs are paid in lower wages and lower occupation level. Gender discrimination has been found as the major contributor to the pay gap and ineffective gender equality legislation can be seen as one reason of this gap. Moreover, some arguments are raised about legislation itself on how it implement. Other than dealing with the causes of discrimination, the existing legislation concentrates too much on fixing the consequences of gender inequality. The idea that those legislations are patchy is widely known by people and their ineffectiveness is not only for individuals but also for organizations. Another support idea is all the legislations focus on how to improve women’s role in labour market but none of them mention what men need to do. For example, if both men and women highly participated in labour market, there will be no carer in family. Without challenging the model of men are breadwinners, women are unable to gain stable employment. One possibility is that no matter how much time women spend on their work, men are still considered as more suitable to make decisions. Emphasizing on women goes out working without concern about men’s role may cause other problems such as children are left without guardian. Patriarchy may occur in the absence of women making economic contribution to the family as men do and then, next generations are more likely build the same sort family for their own in the future. Thus, men and women are continued to be breadwinner and housekeeper respectively. Everything remains the same even legislations are seem so protective to women. In addition, as the lack of knowledge of the law, workers and employers did not associate with the government to enhance equality legislation. Also, women tend not to make a tribunal claim because she knows there will be only a financial compensation which benefits her for a short time. In order to gain the equality of gender participations of both organizations and individuals are needed in terms of ensuring the effectiveness of legislation. Furthermore, women working in both temporary employment and part-time worker are not protected until recent legislations have developed 1998 Working-Time Directive and 2000 Part-time Workers’ Directive. In some EU countries such as Italy and France, gender pay gap are mainly caused by high involvement in non-standard jobs because workers were be paid at a much lower level of wage. Finally, the current legislation places the onus on individuals but not on employers. Employers should aware of the vital role of various changes of legislation. Tomlinson (2006) said that legislation is too soft to be diffused into organizational spheres such as policies and practices. To some extent, legislation does not integrate sufficient to protect individuals. Particularly insufficient to support mothers and thus result in women quit jobs when they start to have a big family.

Inequality problems may also rise by good implement of legislations as well. Under the employment condition, women face another difficulty of finding a job or get equal pay for equal work. Due to legislative policies protect women from work overtime or night time working; a much higher cost is needed to employ a female worker than a male worker. All firms are willing to earn additional profit and those women right protections are kind of pushing away the extra profit. “On the supply side, if the regulations are binding, women will most likely supply fewer working hours for a given wage. A night-work prohibition reduces women’s flexibility in determining the time of day at which they work and, when binding, leads to fewer working hours” (Rodgers 1999). Company may keep female employee in a lower wage level as a consequence to the low expectation of their productivity. Also, it is not surprise that corporation consider maternity leaves as a taxation of hiring female employees in terms of financial matters. European maternity leave is longer and compensation is high and this would encourage employers to hire more male employees. However, legislation does not provides the absolute protection of women from being treated unequal and ineffective policy make the situation even worse for women. In fact, it is difficult to measure the productivity of women or men and sometimes it becomes empirical issue that women usually do less by comparing to men. As the examples illustrated above, legislation is developed to protect women right and prevent unequal treatment but somehow it breaks the commitment it original sets for. Finally, among the UK and other countries in the EU, Sweden has been seen as more gender equality than others. Take the maternity leave as an example. According to Rice (1999) a minimum level of provision has set by EU legislation and relatively Germany, France, Italy and Belgium provide lower amount of provision to parental leaves than Denmark and Sweden. Also, Sweden and Denmark government expenditure on childcare are at a much higher level than other EU member states and Rice said these countries are less male dominated and hence “weak breadwinner states” (Rice 1999).

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Other than the legislations’ problem, plenty other reasons could cause gender inequalities such as economic circumstances, cultural influences, reconciliation of work and family, and so on. First of all, regarding to the influence of economic circumstances inequality between women and men may be easy to explain. In high developed countries, women are more motivated to participate in labour market in order to become financial independent. However, women in developed country are expected to take more responsibility on housework because people believe women are unable to earn much money and can distract by children or housework (Lippe 2010). He said that income will be used in domestic tasks and women are not expected to earn much money so that they are expected to do chores instead of working outside. Another economic factor affect gender inequality is economic crisis when people lose their jobs. During the economic recovery period, organizations would hire employees that are expecting to be more productive. However, women usually recover slower than men and they are considered as less productive. Moreover, all kinds of social awareness are influenced by different cultures and the stereotype of women and men exists in every sphere in our life. For example, women spend most of their time at work in Denmark but the normal situation in Spain is men have less involvement in household chores. These kinds of culture themselves are against gender equality and weakening the legislation effect on sex discrimination. Culture influence could illustrated by human capital theory that women on average are less productive by compare to men in physical and abilities in certain aspects (Anderson et al., 2001). People may have a preconceived idea that woman is more suitable to do domestic tasks taught from their culture. However, this theory criticized by Bradley (1989:30) that “claiming that the link between genes, hormones, instincts, physique and sex differences and behavioral patterns has never been satisfactorily proved and that reliance on biology ignores the extent to which all forms of human behaviour are cultural and variable.” Bradley believes no sufficient evidence indicate female gene can cause worse performance of women than men in labour market. Also, women’s participation in jobs has long been affected by their carer role in family. Europe Commission shows the statistic evidence “In 2008, the employment rate for women aged 25-49 was 67% when they had children under 12, compared to 78.5% when they did not in EU” (Report On Equality Between Women And Men 2010). However, men are in the totally opposite situation, they participate more in the labour market when with children than without. This has a negative 11.5 percentage differences of the parenthood impact on women employment. In the United Kingdom, the negative impact is higher than 15 percent. Once the women give birth to baby they tend to spend more time at home rather than at work. Due to the high family responsibility of female, they may find it is hard to strike a balance between work and family. In addition, pay gap between men and women is a direct result of the allocation of jobs. Head of company prefer to allocate men in managerial position rather than women and thus the pay is different. Another reason is low wage rate are dispensed to women because they need flexible working time to take care of domestic tasks. Employer believes women have difficulties to reach top managerial positions in the result of choosing part-time jobs that can reconcile work and family in a better way. Normally, women are unavailable to work in unplanned time that company requires such as business trip and overtime working (Ponzellini et al., 2010). However, it is notable that pay of women in full-time work is clearly an increase trend and those work in part-time are not gaining same trend. Even new developed part-time legislation is implemented in the UK and other member states in EU, the deep-rooted diversity between men’s and women’s position in the labour market still exist. Nevertheless, some social policies are developed to help women spend more time out of house. For instance, government spending on child care facilitates working condition for women in the labour market. However, it is an arguable issue that household tasks are private and public policies may not be able to make a comfortable working condition for women. Hence, this diversity of gender cultures may still continue to exist in next hundred years.

To sum up, thirty years ineffective implement of legislation lead to gender inequality still existing in both UK and elsewhere EU. Legislations tend to provide a safe ground for women work outside but lack of mentioning the men’s duty in both UK and other parts in EU. To illustrate, higher involvement in domestic task when women go out for working. Another similar omit of legislation is no specific requirements to organizations and only put obligation on individuals. Based on certain statistic evidence women are in the situation of unequal pay for equal work. Women that take non-standard jobs even gain fewer wage than men on the same condition. One unintended situation is the development of legislation itself causes low employment of women since legal protection for women restrict business profit earning. Firms are having difficulty to consistent with those protective legislations for women. They tend to lower women wage or participating in company to reduce the cost input of hiring women employees. Apart from legislative policies, there are many other reasons why women and men are treated differently such as economic circumstance, and cultural influence. Women spend different length of time on work in different economies and have different thoughts of working outside as an independent individual. Organization claims there are a huge difference of recovery rate of men and women that women are less willing to work than men after economic crisis. Social expectation of genders probably is the strongest determination in gender roles. Women and men are labeled with different strengths and weaknesses by expectations from tradition. Many traditional social values and norms are still exists and whether women work outside is a good change depends on the background of the country. Also, as always there is the difficulty for women to strike a balance between work and family. Finally, in terms of promoting women in workplace men and organizations are necessarily to be associated with legislations.


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