Chapter 1: Introduction
The attitudes, actions and conditions that have worked to either challenge or support the advancement of women in the workplace have been the subjects of research for more than half a century. Women have been given various degrees of importance as part of the American workforce since colonial times. However the variability of their role and position began most strikingly with World War I, when they were enlisted to support American troops and the nation as a whole by filling jobs that were created as part of the war effort (Greenwald, 1980). Since that time however, women have, with only variable success, attempted to enter the workplace with the objective of improving their social, political and economic position in American society.
The variability of that success has been attributed to several different factors that have been found to influence the advancement of women in the workplace including sexism, gender discrimination, equal pay, labor issues and the glass ceiling on upward mobility. This study is designed to investigate the advancement of women in the workplace, with an emphasis on determining the perceived presence or absence of these factors, as women throughout their careers have identified them. Specifically, the study seeks to determine how female workers perceive the presence or absence of factors influencing the advancement of women in the workplace throughout their careers. Secondly, can these perceptions be translated to describe female workers’ opinions and / or attitudes on the advancement of women over time? Finally, what implications do these perceptions present in terms of policies and practices designed to promote the advancement of women in the workplace.
Purpose of the Study
An examination of the established research offers identifiable evidence that advances have been made by women in the workplace, including proof of more equitable wages, greater representation in the workplace as well upward mobility in many industries. However, the present study is designed to investigate not only the published research for such evidence but also to investigate the perceptions of working women on the factors that influence such advances in the workplace, with the primary goal of discovering timely, real-world evidence that such advances have been made over time. Based on these assertions, the following objectives were developed for the study:
1. To demonstrate that identifiable changes have occurred in the advancement of women in the workplaces of several different industries.
2. To demonstrate that these changes are proportionate with changes in the factors that influence the advancement of women in the workplace including sexism, gender discrimination, equal pay, labor issues and the glass ceiling on upward mobility.
Importance of the Study
The present study is important for at least three primary reasons. First, an examination of the research reveals a significant body of literature on the various barriers to the advancement of women in the workplace. These advancements can be manifested in numerous ways including, but not confined to, equal pay, improved working conditions, employee benefits, and especially gender-related benefits, as well as upward mobility in the workplace. However, there are characteristics of the workplace that, when present, have precluded the advancement of women or, at the very least, these characteristics have demonstrated that the advancement of women in the workplace is not a priority.
These characteristics include the evidence of influential factors such as sexism and gender discrimination as well inequity on issues such as equal pay, labor issues and upward mobility. Next, the present study is also important because it is designed to establish not only the presence or absence of these factors in the workplace but also to establish if and how the presence or absence of these factors has changed over time. Finally, the present study is important because it works to establish if and how the perceptions of women on these factors translate to positive or negative perceptions of advancement in the workplace throughout their careers.
Scope of the Study
The evidence that has been collected from the primary and secondary data is not simply proof of an increase in the number of women in the workplace. Neither is it proof of an identifiable rise in the positions that they hold. Rather, it also shows that the perceived presence or absence of barriers to advancement will ultimately reflect the perceptions of women on the advancement of women in the workplace in general.
The present study does not propose to answer the problem that it presents through the simple and direct question to its subjects “How has the advancement of women in the workplace changed throughout your career?” On the contrary, this study looks for perceived changes in attitudes about women as well as changes in how women are treated in the workplace, with improvements that are manifested in almost any regard considered evidence of advancement. At the same time, the scope of the present study has been delimited in a few ways. Primarily, the restricted size of the study sample points to the possibility that the results might not be descriptive of similar populations working over different industries for different periods of time.
Secondly, although the study was not purposefully delimited to a specific age group, the self-imposed requisite for selecting study subjects that have worked for twenty-five years or more delimited the study to a relatively restricted age group of women. Their ages ranged from their mid-forties to early seventies. Finally, the scope of the study is, for convenience, delimited to a specific geographic location. Therefore, it may not be possible to generalize the findings derived from the study to other geographic areas.
Rationale of the Study
Even the most preliminary examination of the research presents evidence that women have made identifiable advances in the workplace. However, there is a dearth of research examining the perceptions of women on whether or not the factors that influence advancement in the workplace have existed as well as evolved across the length of their careers. This study not only begins to address this deficiency. It also uses both the established research on the subject in combination with the data derived from the study instrument to confirm that identifiable changes have occurred in the advancement of women in the workplaces of several different industries. Additionally, this study also looks to confirm that these changes are proportionate with changes in the factors that influence the advancement of women in the workplace. This includes sexism, gender discrimination, equal pay, labor issues and the glass ceiling on upward mobility.
Definition of Terms
Equal Pay – For the purposes of the present research, equal pay is the condition of or demand for comparable wages among male and female workers for comparable skills.
Gender Discrimination – For the purposes of the present research, gender discrimination is any action that specifically denies work-related opportunities, privileges, or rewards to a person or group because of their gender.
Glass Ceiling – For the purposes of the present research, the glass ceiling is an invisible, unofficial barrier to advancement; based on attitudinal or organizational bias in the work force, the glass ceiling has historically prevented women from advancing to higher positions or positions of leadership in the workplace.
Labor Issues – For the purposes of the present research, labor issues are those issues that often underscore, exploit or capitalize on gender differences.
Sexism – Although often used interchangeably with gender discrimination, sexism is more accurately viewed as an identifiably biased attitude or language against gender rather than an action like gender discrimination. Sexism is a prejudiced attitude and/or language that foster acts of discrimination against those of a specific gender, a phenomenon that is most often directed at women, especially in the workplace. According to Seidler (1992), sexism has worked to foster and support the idea that men are superior to women, an ideology that has contributed to the social and economic subjugation of women around the world (Seidler).
Overview of the Study
The following chapter offers a comprehensive review of the related literature. Primarily it focuses on the factors that have worked to either challenge or improve the advancement of women in the workplace. By the presence or absence of these factors, it is possible to determine such advancement has occurred and to what degree.
Chapter three provides a description of the methodology employed in this study. It focuses on what data is collected and how it was collected. Chapter four provides a detailed analysis of the data collected from the study subjects, with the objective of eliciting perceptions and attitudinal nuances on the advancement of women in the workplace that might otherwise be ignored.
Finally, chapter five presents a discussion of the study findings. In combination with this, it is possible to interpret the research already established in the literature, in the form of a summary of the findings. It is then possible to explore the conclusions that can be drawn from them, as well as the implications and recommendations that they present for further research and policy-making.
Chapter 2: Review of Related Literature
The following review of the literature seeks to establish the following:
1. If the advancement of women has been achieved through an examination of the factors that have worked to either challenge or improve such advancement over the last several decades.
2. When the advancement of women has been achieved through an examination of the factors that have worked to either challenge or improve such advancement over the last several decades.
3. How the advancement of women has been achieved through an examination of the factors that have worked to either challenge or improve such advancement over the last several decades.
Advances in the Workplace
It could be argued that the best way to approach the problem that is addressed in the present research would be from the perspective of simply identifying the advances that have been made by women in the workplace. While it is true that the identification of such advances would be sufficient to support the argument that the advancement of women in the workplace is much easier and more frequent, it does not speak clearly to the evidence of such advancement over time. This is essential to establishing if and how the position of women in the workplace has changed over time.
According to the research, the reasons that are offered as an explanation for the emphasis on the advancement of woman in American society are quite diverse. These reasons generally take on an historical form or approach. For example, many experts have argued that the change in the types of jobs pursued by women similarly affect changes in the types of jobs that are made available to them (Cohn, 2000). It is fair to suggest that more than one woman or feminist sociologist would counter such an argument.
The historical approach further advances the notion that women at the turn of the century were generally content with very traditional jobs that reflected their similarly traditional lifestyles. Indeed, such women “only wanted standard women’s jobs such as teacher, nurse, and secretary” (Cohn, 2000, p. 52). On the same line, the historical approach points to the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s as a period when women’s consciousness and ultimately their job desires changed.
According to Cohn (2000), “Women became a lot more ambitious and career oriented”. This was characterized by the development of grander ideals of where they wanted to work. On top of that, they were looking for work that was more demanding, involved greater responsibility and paid a better wage (p 52). Cohn (2000) also suggests that it is not surprising therefore that the occupations that women now pursue or are encouraged to pursue are those that pay more and have been traditionally “reserved exclusively for men” (p 52).
Clearly, women are not new to the workforce. However, the opportunities and benefits that they have been provided by a traditionally male-dominated corporate culture, as well as the treatment that they have received in the workplace, have varied over the last century. The entry into a new millennium has created an even greater imperative for an understanding of where this variability has led, and what it means for the role, position and advancement of women in the workplace today.
Among the most important advances that women have made in the workplace are those that have worked on closing the gender gap in the workplace. However, it is fair to suggest that even these advances would not have occurred without the enactment of anti-discrimination laws. One of the founding anti-discrimination laws of the twentieth century was Title VII, which was enacted with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It barred employment discrimination, with the primary goal of creating equal employment opportunities in the workplace for “women and racial, religious and national minorities” (Gregory, 2003, p. 27).
In addition to Title VII and its subsequent enhancements since 1964, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) would also develop, distribute and enforce mandated anti-discrimination guidelines that were designed to equalize the employment opportunities available to women (Gregory, 2003).
Sexism as Barrier to Advancement
Initiatives such as Title VII and the EEOC anti-discrimination guidelines were designed to address several prominent factors influencing the advancement of women in the workplace. Not least of which is the attitude and language of sexism. An examination of sexism and its influence in the workplace is vital to establishing the prohibitive nature of sexism to the advancement of women in the workplace. Especially significant to this examination is establishing that sexism is a generally hostile response to gender and the female gender in particular. According to Kilianski and Rudman (1998), the hostility that is manifested in sexism stems from several sources. These include “a desire to dominate and control women”, “a tendency to perceive, magnify and generalize the differences between men and women with the primary objective of devaluing women”, and viewing women with disdain for what is perceived as their ability to use “sexual attraction to manipulate or “toy with” men” (p. 1).
The research that exists on perceptions that are related to the factors influencing the advancement of women in the workplace is also research that focuses primarily on sexism and the consequent gender discrimination. According to Cameron (2001), the perceptions that women develop on the factors of sexism and gender discrimination in the workplace are influenced by their social identity. That social identity will, in turn, be influenced by the group to which the individual belongs as well as the values and beliefs that they embrace (Cameron).
Interestingly, the social group to which many women consider they belong is the group that makes up their work environment. This is a condition that can have serious implications for a woman’s ability to recognize and respond to sexism and its consequent gender discrimination. In particular, both present major barriers to their advancement in the workplace (Cameron, 2001).
An investigation of the early literature on sexism reveals that sexism as a barrier to advancement was an issue as long as four decades ago. At that time, sexism began to gain prominence as a social, political and economic issue, and the blame for sexist attitudes and language was regularly directed at systems of religion. A largely feminist body of researchers argued that religious systems worked to enforce the subordinate images of women. They contended that these systems were historically responsible for keeping women socially, politically and economically oppressed (Ruether, 1974).
Unfortunately, the research is not clear on whether the average female worker in the 1970s embraced this argument as much as the feminist sociologists disseminating it did. However, the argument was sufficient to take the attention away from the possibility that it was a sexist corporate culture that was responsible for such oppression. What is clear is that by the 1980s, liberal feminism was still pointing to the sexist attitudes of corporate capitalism as the barrier to women’s advancement in the workplace, by submitting that they “treated women as a marginal labor force to be hired when needed and fired at will” (Ruether, 1983, p. 218).
The most prominent research on the issue suggests that the women of the 1970s and 1980s, or at the very least, the feminists who represented them, were not experiencing the advancement that they either desired or expected. For those experts who argue that sexism is no longer evident or no longer thwarts the advancement of women in the workplace, Swim, Mallett and Stangor (2004) suggest that they take a closer look for what they believe has become simply a more subtle example of sexism in the workplace. According to the researchers, while the blatant sexism of the past might no longer be identifiable in the workplace, a new version of sexist attitude and language has emerged that they call “subtle sexism” (Swim, Mallett ; Stangor, 2004, p. 1).
Unlike blatant sexism, which is manifested in the obvious “unequal and unfair treatment of women relative to men” and covert sexism, which is manifested in the “unequal and unfair treatment of women that is recognized but purposefully hidden from view”, subtle sexism is manifested in the “unequal and unfair treatment of women that is not recognized by many people because it is perceived to be normative, and therefore does not appear unusual” when it is exhibited in the workplace (Swim, Mallett ; Stangor, 2004, p. 1). The identification of a subtle type of sexism has important implications for the present research because it suggests that, even when asked, women in today’s workplace might not recognize the sexist attitudes and language in the workplace because they have simply become used to them over the lifetime of their careers. Even more, it suggests that any method of garnering perceptions on sexism in the workplace must be sufficient to elicit educated and thoughtful responses – responses that might otherwise be ignored as evidence that sexism does or does not exist in the workplaces of those questioned.
Subtle sexism aside, some experts maintain that employers in many industries continue to manifest blatant sexism. According to Gregory, even the anti-discrimination laws that have been developed over the last two decades have been unable to alter the deeply ingrained biased attitude and language that fosters “overt sexual discrimination, sexual stereotyping, and the disparate treatment of women” (Gregory, p. 38). Gregory goes on to offer the disconcerting example of a female insurance agent who was promoted from sales agent, to manager to district manager of the company’s Ft. Lauderdale office before a newly appointed regional manager quickly demoted and ultimately terminated her (p. 38). Speaking to the woman’s direct supervisor, the regional manager, who was male, stated “We can’t have women in management because women are like Jews and Niggers; they hire like themselves, and the trouble with that is that when they leave they take the workers they hired with them” (Gregory, 2003, p. 39). In a similar case, an elementary school teacher in Kentucky, who had achieved both her Master’s degree and a degree as an educational specialist, sought promotion to an administrative role in her district. Over a five-year period she was overlooked for as many as nine administrative positions that became available, all of which ultimately went to lesser-qualified male applicants (p. 39).
One of the most relevant and equally compelling approaches to sexism is the concept that women have ultimately learned to reconcile with sexism by accepting and approving of what experts call “benevolent sexism” (Kilianski & Rudman, 1998, p. 1). Unlike the more familiar “hostile sexism”, benevolent sexism is manifested in “favorable stereotypical beliefs regarding women” that appear to be supportive of the female in the workplace. In fact, this worked only to perpetuate the gender stereotypes that have dominated the workplace and, even worse, created “long-term consequences” that are “anything but benevolent” (p. 1).
The research supporting the concept of benevolent sexism can potentially offer some interesting implications for studies like the present research. This is supported by the assertion that benevolent sexism is most often accepted by “women who are less eager to embrace social change and who believe gender differences are biologically determined and therefore not amenable to change” (Kilianski & Rudman, 1998, p. 2). Although, the researchers do not define or provide identifying descriptions of such women, it is fair to suggest that they are those women who are older. These women generally accept concepts that are associated with older more conservative and old-fashioned individuals including the belief that gender difference is, in fact, biologically determined and not amenable to change. A type that fairly describes a number of the women selected as the study sample for the present research.
Another compelling approach to sexism in the last decade is based on the assumption that the definitions of sexism vary across individuals as well as organizations. This is due to the fact that they are “inextricably based on individual perceptions, values and beliefs” (Brant, Mynatt & Doherty, 1999, p. 1). Interestingly, this approach essentially takes the middle road on sexism. It submits that, while overt and blatant sexism has declined in many industries because of state and federal laws, it is still manifested in many others (p. 1).
At the same time, it recognizes that a new form of sexism has emerged. A sexism that is covert or hidden, not only making recognition difficult but also causing many workers, including female workers, to essentially accept and internalize sexist behaviors as “normal or acceptable” (Brant, Mynatt & Doherty, 1999, p. 1). In either case, this approach to sexism points to the significance of discovering the individual perceptions on sexism that exist in today’s workplace and how they reflect its evolution over the last two or three decades. According to Brant, Mynatt and Doherty (1999), the different definitions and manifestations of sexism in the American workplace indicate that a consensus on the advancement of women in the workplace might still be a long way off. The present research is designed to test assumptions such as these.
An examination of gender discrimination must be approached with an understanding of how it differs from sexism. The primary difference being that gender discrimination is an act of prejudice, as opposed to sexism being the attitude or language of prejudice that fosters it. It is also important that gender discrimination be examined separately from sexism in order to establish the manifestations of prejudice directed at women rather than just the attitudes that foster such prejudice. Like sexism however, sexual discrimination can be blatant, covert or subtle. The only difference being that it is the act or acts of discrimination themselves that are obvious, hidden or internalized by women and their male counterparts as normal behavior (Gregory, 2003, p. 5; Swim, Mallett & Stangor, 2004, p. 1).
Cleveland, Stockdale and Murphy (2000) suggest that gender discrimination does not have to occur in the workplace in order to exact a negative influence on where and how women advance themselves in the workplace. According to the researchers, this phenomenon is evidenced explicitly in the way that many organizations endeavor to recruit female workers. Consider, for example, the newspaper advertisement placed by one organization calling for dancers who are interested in having fun and getting paid. The advertisement indicates that no experience is necessary. Indeed, it also states that applicants must be 18 years of age and can earn as much as $400 a week to start (Cleveland, Stockdale & Murphy, 2000, p. 156). Also, consider the newspaper advertisement placed by another organization. It called for females willing to travel locally, to apply for a position as an office assistant and personal secretary, with the disclaimer that typing is not required for the position (Cleveland, Stockdale & Murphy, 2000, p. 156).
A comparison of the two newspaper advertisements reveals that the first advertisement makes no reference to the gender of the applicants that the organization is seeking. However, anyone that reads the advertisement is likely to assume that it is directed at women and that the applicants who will be hired for the job will be women. Nevertheless, the organization chose to construct and release and advertisement that was “carefully written to be gender-neutral” (p. 156). In contrast, the second advertisement calls explicitly for female applicants along with offering job specifications that are likely to raise some eyebrows on the integrity of the organization placing the advertisement as well as any female that chooses to apply for the job.
Not unlike the responses elicited from the subjects examined in the present study, Cohn (2000) similarly sought to elicit people’s perceptions on the issue of gender discrimination. However, in this case, those perceptions were on why women have typically failed to advance in the workplace. The findings from Cohn’s (2001) study reveal that many people, men and women alike, tend to blame women for their inability to advance in the workplace. A more accurate statement might be that it indicates an inability to advance themselves in the workplace.
Consider, for example, three of the most compelling responses generated by Cohn:
1. “Women don’t work as night clerks in convenience stores because they might get held up. Who wants to hang out with the rowdy crowd who buys beer at 4:30 in the morning?” (Cohn, 2000, p. 52)
2. “Women work as light assemblers in factories because, being more patient, they don’t object to boring work nearly as much as men do” (Cohn, 2000, p. 52).
3. “Women don’t work as corporate managers because who wants to have to take all that responsibility?” (Cohn, 2000, p. 52)
Blatantly biased statements like these fairly demand an examination of what constitutes prejudice and discrimination and how they come to bear on the perceived attributes of women. Cleveland, Stockdale and Murphy maintain that discrimination is an inherently human response to individuals or groups that are perceived to be different (Cleveland, Stockdale and Murphy, p. 157). At the same time, the researchers suggest that discrimination and prejudice must be accurately defined to establish their differences.
A comparison of the terms discrimination and prejudice differ in much the same way that gender discrimination and sexism differ. Like sexism, prejudice is a biased attitude toward an individual or group that is perceived to be different. On the other hand, discrimination, gender discrimination specifically, involves the action that is directed toward an individual or group that is negatively perceived (Cleveland, Stockdale & Murphy, 2000, p. 158).
The increasing number of women in upper management or top executive positions in American society has led to the thinking that gender discrimination is no longer a problem for women. However, Gregory (2003) argues that there are still specific trends in gender discrimination that can be identified in today’s workplace. For example, despite the celebration of women in upper management or executive positions, it must be noted that only five Fortune 500 firms have allowed women the opportunity to advance to top leadership positions in their organizations (Gregory).
Even more, the fact that women held only eleven percent of the senior executive positions in Fortune 500 companies in 2003 is overshadowed by the fact that eighty-nine percent of senior executive positions were still occupied by men (Gregory, 2003). According to Gregory (2003), women of all types and places, continue to be affected by the discriminatory policies and practices in workplaces today. These include, but are not confined to, “older women, women of color, pregnant women, and women with children” (Gregory, 2003, p. 6).
The issue of equal pay merits specific discussion because it has been, and remains, one of the most identifiable indicators of gender equality in the workplace. For many decades, the issue of equal pay has been one about the clear disparity in the wages received in the workplace by women and their male counterparts. The research indicates that the issue of equal pay between male and female workers began to gain considerable theoretical interest and focus in the research in the mid 1970s (Blau, 1977). Interestingly, much of that research was centered on establishing what differences in the work characteristics of male and female workers could be attributed to pay differentials. According to the purpose of such studies, any portion of a pay differential that could not be attributed to the differences in the work characteristics of male and female workers was considered discriminatory (Blau, 1977).
Even more interesting perhaps is the fact that much of this research worked to establish that there were large differentials in the pay received by male and female workers. These factors could not be attributed to differences in work characteristics, a discovery that subsequently shifted the research focus from differences in work characteristics to the incidence of gender discrimination in the labor market (Blau, 1977). By the 1980s the issue of equal pay was one of claiming, rather than establishing, the comparable worth of female workers and of identifying the factors that prohibited its recognition in the workplace (Blau, 1977).
Gregory (2003) offers some disturbing wage statistics that marked the decade of the nineties, many of which are the legacy of the practice of pay differentials over the last half-century. While white women alone continued to earn less than men in the same workplace throughout the 1990s, the disparities in compensation for women of color and their white male counterparts is even greater. For African American women, the road to equality in pay is a slow one, with the gap in compensation closing by only four percent since 1985 (Gregory, 2003). The statistics for Hispanic women are even worse, with the average college educated Hispanic female earning less than white male high school dropouts (Gregory, 2003). In terms of statistics for today, while the average lifetime cumulative earnings of a fifty-year old man is more than $1 million, the cumulative earnings of a fifty-year old woman are less than half that amount (Gregory, 2003).
The research suggests that labor issues have been a volatile element in the workplace own their own. However, add the issue of gender and these labor issues often work to foster some of the most extreme examples of sexist corporate culture in the workplace. Gender discrimination is also very apparent.
Working conditions fall under the category of labor issues that are especially relevant to the problem that this study addresses on at least two counts. Firstly, the research suggests that the issue of working conditions has been used against women in a discriminatory fashion. For example, women have had to endure hostile work environment by the very fact that their male counterparts were not happy to share their workspace with women (Gregory, 2003). Secondly, there are examples of where working conditions have been considered too dangerous for women to work in. Women have been excluded from those jobs that fall under such hazardous conditions based on the assumption that the characteristics of their gender make them more vulnerable to such hazards (Gregory, 2003).
The hostile work environment as an example of how working conditions have influenced the advancement of women in the workplace has been evidenced in a number of high-profile cases over the last two decades. Although it is not addressed separately, the issue of sexual harassment is inherently associated with the hostile work environment. According to Gregory (2003), despite Title VII and the anti-discrimination guidelines enforced by the EEOC, even government workplaces have manifested sexual harassment and subsequent hostile working conditions for their female workers.
Consider, for example, the case of Kerry Ellison who worked as a revenue agent for the San Mateo office of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Although Ellison had tried repeatedly to discourage the romantic advances of a male co-worker, his pursuit of her persisted until she was compelled to report the problem to her supervisor. Although the man was transferred to another office shortly after, he proceeded to fight the transfer, and was ultimately transferred back to the San Mateo office. Ellison, herself, asked for and received a transfer to another office however not before she filed a formal complaint with the EEOC. The court found that her unsolicited suitor’s behavior was “sufficiently severe and pervasive to alter the conditions of her employment and thus create a hostile work environment” (Gregory, 2003, p. 136).
The practice of excluding women from positions in dangerous working conditions has existed for more than forty years. This emerged first as women voluntarily seeking industrial jobs in the 1960s were prohibited by laws and regulations that limited where they could work and for how long they could work (Gregory, 2003). In some states, women were also barred from working at night and from jobs that required them to lift. While other jobs enforced mandatory rest periods, this only worked to support the assumption that women were the weaker sex and created rifts between them and their male counterparts. This ultimately devalued the female worker and seriously limiting the employment opportunities available to her (Gregory, 2003).
Among the reproductive issues that have influenced the advancement of women in the workplace, the most important is the issue of maternity leave. This is especially evident in cases where it is denied or where women must literally fight for the opportunity to carry their babies to term and deliver them with the confidence that they have a job when they return. The influence of this labor issue on the advancement of women is manifested by the research, which indicates that women who have guarantees from their organizations that their jobs are secure are more likely “to work later into their pregnancies and to return to work sooner after childbirth” (Lyness, Thompson, Francesco & Judiesch, 1999, p. 1). Even more, “women who perceived supportive work-family cultures were more committed to their organizations and planned to return more quickly after childbirth than women who perceived less supportive cultures” (p. 1).
Another reproductive issue that has the potential to negatively impact the advancement of women in the workplace is the issue of toxic exposure during pregnancy. The issue of toxic exposure gained major attention in the 1980s. It was in this decade that as many as twenty million American workers were involved in jobs that exposed them to toxic substances that were hazardous to reproductive health (Gregory, 2003).
As a result, companies like Johnson Controls, Inc., a major battery manufacturer in the 1980s, adopted a fetal protection policy that prevented pregnant women from occupying positions that exposed them to the toxic substances associated with battery production. This policy was expanded to include the exclusion of all women capable of child bearing from such jobs. However, it must be noted that the company’s fetal protection policy did not hold up for long because the company’s female employees successfully sued, claiming and proving that the policy was a violation of Title VII.
Equal Employment Opportunities
As recently as 1964, American women in more than forty states were prevented from working the same hours that their male counterparts were allowed. This was based on laws and regulations that limited “the daily or weekly hours that they were permitted to work” (Gregory, 2003). Since that time, the opportunities provided to women, especially opportunities for advancement in the workplace, have been less-than-regular.
Almost every organization bases its promotion or advancement practices on specific qualification criteria. The research demonstrates that at least four dimensions of advancement qualification are most common. These include educational qualification, quality of performance on the job, length of employment in a specific position and length of employment with the organization (Lemons & Parzinger, 2001, p. 4). These dimensions are significant because they would appear to remove or exclude any gender bias when it comes to deciding who qualifies for advancement in the workplace. However the research indicates that bias still exists.
Lemons and Parzinger (2001) who found that women in the field of information technology are often refused the same opportunities as their male counterparts support this assertion even though the fact that they meet or exceed the qualifications required for advancement. For example, the researchers found that the factor of educational qualifications was a non-issue because male and female workers in the field met the educational requirements equally. They also found that the quality of performance on the job was not an issue. Neither was the length of time the employees had held their current positions nor the length of time that they worked for the organization (Lemons & Parzinger, 2001).
The only conclusion that could be drawn from findings such as these was that the corporate culture of many organizations continues to manifest its influence on the advancement of women in the field of information technology (Lemons & Parzinger, 2001, p. 5). This can also be translated as corporate bias or corporate prejudice. Conclusions like these indicate that the barrier to advancement called the glass ceiling still exists, at least in the technology industry, but likely in many more.
The Glass Ceiling
The glass ceiling can be associated with any distinctive or differentiated group that experiences barriers to advancement in the form of organizational prejudice. The concept is investigated in the present research for its association with women in the workplace and the barrier it presents to their upward mobility in the workplace. An examination of the research on this invisible barrier reveals that, while the glass ceiling has been at least raised in many industries, allowing some degree of upward mobility for women in the workplace, it has not been completely shattered.
In the 1980s, researchers began to publish findings suggesting that the corporate barrier to the advancement of women in the workplace was clearly rising. In fact, researchers seeking to prove similar demographic projections made in the 1970s found identifiable evidence that women were increasingly entering the workforce. This phenomenon significantly improved their representation in the workplace (Schreiber, Price & Morrison, 1993).
By the 1990s however, the research began to demonstrate that, despite increasing representation in the workplace in general, women were not manifesting “a corresponding increase in their representation at upper management or executive levels” (Schreiber, Price & Morrison, 1993, p. 51). It is important to note that it was at this point in the research that the term “glass ceiling” was first coined as a metaphor for the corporate bias or prejudice that worked to prevent the advancement of women in the workplace (p. 51). Just as important is the evidence that the glass ceiling, however hard to distinguish for the outsider, is as firmly intact as ever in the academic workplace. This assertion is supported by Berryman-Fink, Lemaster and Nelson (2003), who describe the environment as one that has “the dubious privilege of likely remaining the most male-dominated in the world in relation to career advancement” (Berryman-Fink, Lemaster & Nelson, 2003, p. 59).
There are a number of cases that can be examined for evidence of the presence or absence of the glass ceiling. On top of that, it is possible to see how they have influenced the advancement of women in the workplace. Interestingly, most involve women who have either made it to upper management or top executive positions or failed to reach what they believe was their highest potential in the workplace.
The case of Carleton “Carly” Fiorina is one that supports the argument that the barriers to advancement for women in the workplace may have subsided. Fiorina was appointed to the position of President and CEO of the Fortune 500 Company Hewlett Packard in 1999, an event that was lauded as clear evidence that the glass ceiling was being shattered. However, as of February 2005, Fiorina was let go, and was replaced by a male counterpart (La Monica, 2005).
Chapter 3: Methodology
The present study takes an applied approach to the research, with the objective of testing the established research on the advancement of women in the workplace over the last several decades. The study employs an historical research methodology. This includes the examination and analysis of both primary and secondary data describing the factors that have influenced the advancement of women. It goes on to examine the experiences of women over time that might establish if and how these factors still exist and influence such advancement.
The study involved the administration of a guided questionnaire – interview to a convenience sample of study subjects. A convenience sample was essential in this case for several reasons. Based on the assumption that the length of work experience might limit the degree to which the existence of barriers to advancement are recognized, it was deemed essential that the length of work experience for the study subjects selected be set at twenty-five years or more. It is expected that a period of work experience spanning a quarter-century or more is sufficient to manifest any changes in the factors that influence the advancement of women if they should exist. Consistency in work experience was also essential to the identification of the presence, absence and/or changes in these factors, it was deemed necessary that the study subjects selected also worked in the same business environment, job location or industry for twenty-five or more years. Finally, it was deemed essential to select women from several different industries in order to provide a broader representation of industries and the women that work in them.
Study subjects were asked to participate in an interview that was guided by closed as well as open-ended questions designed to generate responses relevant to the work experience of the study subjects over the lifetime of their careers. More specifically, the questions directed at the study subjects were designed to establish their perceptions on the presence, absence and/or changes in factors that have worked as barriers to advancement over the last half century and that have been identified in the literature. For the purposes of the present research, these barriers include sexism, gender discrimination, the issue of equal pay, labor issues and the glass ceiling.
Data Gathering Method
The data for this study was gathered with the assistance of guided interviews administered to the study subjects. These interviews facilitated the documentation of first-hand accounts and experiences of the subjects related to the study problem and therefore served as the primary data essential to the research method selected. In addition to the primary data, the study also included the collection of secondary data, which provided something of a historiography and chronology of the advancement of women in the workplace. This is seen as the ideal backdrop upon which to examine the perceptions of the study subjects on the advancement of women in the workplace.
Identifying established factors that have been cited in the literature as significant to the advancement of women in the workplace was essential to developing the questions that were administered in the interviews. An examination of the research indicated that the most important of these factors have been sexism and gender discrimination as well as the issue of equal pay, other labor issues and the glass ceiling on upward mobility. In addition to closed and open-ended questions related to these factors, questions were also presented as a means for gathering demographic information such as age, number of years employed, industry or field of employment and position or rank of employment. Although the demographic data derived from these questions were not deemed as significant as the data derived from the other questions, their analysis proved that they were actually quite significant to better understanding the findings as well as to drawing conclusions and making recommendations based on the findings.
Database of the Study
The following data sources have been utilized in the present research. The primary data is derived from the guided interviews. The secondary data is drawn from scholarly books and journals that address sexism, gender discrimination, equal pay, labor issues and the glass ceiling as well as the advancement of women in the workplace in general. These sources have been supplemented by drawing examples from newspaper and internet articles.
Validity of the Data
The validity of the data derived from library and online library sources such as journals and books is supported by the purposeful attempt to use books and journals that have either been peer-reviewed or whose authors are associated with established research institutions or institutions of higher education. The validity of the data derived from the guided interviews is supported by the purposeful attempt to avoid influencing the responses of subjects. The attempt was also made to accurately transcribe and categorize those responses according to patterns in perception, common themes as well as unique perceptions.
Originality & Limitations of Data
An examination of the available literature reveals an identifiable dearth of research addressing the individual perceptions of women on the presence or absence of factors that influence their advancement in the workplace. Based on this assertion, the present study is considered original because it seeks to identify these perceptions. Additionally, it interprets them in terms of how they reflect the perceptions of women on their ability to advance in the workplace throughout their careers.
The primary goal of establishing the perceived ability of women to advance in the workplace over the last several decades is limited on a few counts. For example, the study is directed solely at women and their perceptions on the advancements that they have made in the workplace, a condition that precludes the investigation of the perceptions of male workers on the advancements of women in the workplace. A comparison of male and female perceptions might have contributed to a better understanding of the gender dynamics that either preclude or support the advancement of women in the workplace.
In developing the data instrument for the present study, it became clear that some of the factors it addressed might present some difficulties in avoiding the possibility of leading subjects to respond a certain way or with certain information. This was especially apparent with regards to the factor of sexism. This assertion is supported by the research, which suggests that individuals often develop their own definitions of sexism based on their own experiences, values and beliefs (Brant, Mynatt & Doherty, 1999).
As a result, it was considered a strong possibility that the diverse definitions of sexism developed by the study subjects would limit the analysis and use of the data associated with this factor. It is anticipated that this potential limitation was adequately addressed. Prior to each interview, a clear explanation of the difference between sexism, as gender-prejudiced attitude and/or language, and gender discrimination, as the acts that it fosters was given to each interviewee.
At the same time, it was evident during the interviews that a limitation existed by the fact that some of the closed-ended questions were insufficient in terms of eliciting very important relevant and supplementary information on some of the factors addressed. For the most part, these questions were modified during the interviews to provide for open-ended responses from the study subjects.
Chapter 4: Data Analysis
This portion of the study begins with an analysis of the demographics of the study sample. This provides a descriptive representation of the personal and career attributes of the women interviewed for this study. The questions directed at each study subject during the interview were designed to establish the perceived evidence of and changes in factors that often work as barriers to advancement in the workplace.
The data derived from the guided interviews is categorized according to the five factors that are considered most influential to the advancement of women in the workplace including sexism, gender-discrimination, equal pay, major labor issues and the glass ceiling on upward mobility. This analysis identifies clear patterns in subject responses as well as common themes and unique perceptions on the presence or absence of these factors over time. Only the most significant responses are provided for the presentation of the data analysis.
The sample of women selected for this study included 10 women from one geographic location and working in several different industries or fields. The women have been in the workforce for twenty-five years or more. The industries or fields of occupation represented by these women include nursing, health services, hospitality, banking, education, technology, public administration, food services, manufacturing and clerical.
The ages of the women range from 43 to 71 years of age, with the average age calculated at 48 years of age. Eight of the women in the study sample have worked at least 25 years but less than 30 years, with the remaining two working more than 30 years. Finally, only three of the women have spent at least some portion of their work careers in management, supervisory or administrative positions.
Perceptions on Sexism
The results of the data on the influential factor of sexism demonstrated some identifiable similarities among the responses made by the study subjects. Not surprisingly, however, the women were relatively varied on how they defined sexism, despite an explanation of the difference between sexism and gender discrimination offered before the start of each interview. Definitions of sexism ranged from “sexual harassment” to accusations of chauvinism. All but one woman expressed having experienced sexism in the workplace. It bears mentioning that the woman who responded with a “No” was employed in public administration and held the highest position among the women examined. By having a clearly flawed assumption that all of the woman would respond with a “Yes”, the questionnaire that guided the interviews did not include any additional question to elicit further response explaining a response of “No”. Nevertheless, after what seemed like a rather lengthy pause, the woman added, “Sexist attitudes are not tolerated in our organization.”
Concerning sexist attitudes and language in the workplace, all but one of the study subjects offered a surprisingly diverse array of what they believed were examples of sexism in their workplace. When asked if the evidence of sexism in the workplace changed over the course of their careers, half of the women responded with a “No”, while the remaining half responded with a “Yes”. This question was flawed by the fact that it did not allow for an explanation of when such fluctuations or changes occurred in the course of the respondent’s careers. The question was supplemented with the question “If yes, when did such fluctuation or change occur in the course of your career?” Among the most significant responses to this request for additional information included: “I noticed about ten years ago that the sexist attitudes of the men around here started to get worse, which seemed to go along with the fact that the facility was taken over by a new all-male management team at the time.”
The strong sexism that continues to persist in British society today is but a reflection of the strong gender stereotypes that pervade amongst its constituents. This phenomenon is extensively discussed below, in an attempt to explain the contributory role that sexism plays in the persistence of the glass ceiling phenomenon. Moreover, sex-role stereotypes are identified as a strong influence to continued gender segregation in the workplace.
Currently in British society, the specific differences between the concepts of sex and gender are not clearly articulated. Sex refers to “the physical and biological differences between men and women” (Tischler, 2002, p. 270). Kottak and Kozaitis (2003) purport that sex differences are biological whereas, gender includes all of the traits that are culturally assigned to males and females. According to Tischler (2002), gender refers to “the social, psychological and cultural attributes of masculinity and femininity that are based on the previous biological distinctions” (p. 270). Herman-Jeglinska, Grabowska and Dulko (2002) suggested that sex-role identification was “…the degree to which one self-identifies with masculine and feminine characteristics.”
Based on these distinctions we learn how to be male or female and the choices we make are determined in part by culturally derived expectations that are based on biological sex.
As a result of the differentiation of expected male and female behavior, sex-role stereotypes pressure individuals to behave in prescribed ways (Broverman, Vogel, Broverman, Clarkson, & Rosenkrantz, 1972). Shinar (1978) found that both males and females were perceived more positively based on the sex-appropriateness of their occupations. Broverman and colleagues (1972) purported that females in non-traditional occupational roles have more role conflict relative to male and female characteristics of self-concept. Bem (1975) asserted that individuals with a sex-typed self-perception engage in less cross-sexed behavior than those with an androgynous self-concept. Schlossberg and Pietrofesa (1973) found that college counselors expressed more bias toward females pursuing non-traditional career choices. Thus, it appears that males and females continue to engage in sex-role identification, and as a result their occupational choices are likely determined by the amount of sex-role identification that they engage in, as well as, the occupational choices that the society deems appropriate for their sex.
Hutson (1983) identified the period between the second and third years of life as the time when sex stereotypes are acquired by children, and argued that, by the time a child reaches the age of 4 or 5, they acquire stereotyped occupational goals, such as boys expecting to be doctors and girls expecting to be nurses. Craig and Baucum (2002) argue that, although 2 ½ year old children are able to label people as either boys or girls and men and women, they may not actually understand that sex is fixed. For example, if a boy puts on a dress, some children believe that he becomes a girl. However, children understand that sex is permanent at about 5 to 7 years of age (Craig & Baucum).
Kohlberg (1966) argued that once children reach gender constancy at about 6 or 7 years of age they understand that their gender is fixed and they behave in ways that are congruent with their gender identification. In other words, when children achieve gender constancy their behavior is designed to confirm their gender identity. Thompson (1975) found that children at two years of age are able to sort pictures of masculine and feminine toys, clothing and even appliances based on gender relatedness. Bussey and Bandura (1999) argued that before a child was able to label themselves by gender around 2 years of age they were able to differentiate between males and females. In fact, Bussey and Bandura suggested that parents begin the process of gender orientation with their children at the onset of development through the physical environment provided and their social interactions. It is apparent from these explanations of gender development that gender is embedded into human existence very early in an individual’s life and continues to influence behavior throughout the lifespan.
Not only does gender affect every aspect of an individual’s life (Bussey & Bandura, 1999), but it also influences the career choices of males and females. Historically in the United States, gender segregation has been pervasive in the labor market (Lease, 2003). Females have increasingly entered the workforce since World War II (Betz & Fitzgerald, 1987). By 1990, female participation in the workforce reached 57 million and it is expected that females will compose 47% of the workforce by 2005 (Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS, 2004). In 1950 females made up just 10% of technical and professional careers, which increased to 20% in 1990. In 1950, 25% of all female workers were employed in clerical and kindred occupations, which increased to about 33% in 1990 (BLS, 2004). Therefore, although there has been an improvement in the incorporation of females into the workplace, gender segregation in sex-typed occupations is likely still present.
McGowan (2003) argued that the bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) is used to discriminate against females and represents resistance on the behalf of courts to implement sex equality. The BFOQ states, that, “sex is a bona fide occupational qualification for that action, such that consideration of sex with regard to such action is essential to successful operation of the employment function concerned” (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964). In other words, sex can lawfully be used as a discrimination factor among job applications in certain situations. This law may be used to discriminate both against males and females looking to enter occupations dominated by the opposite sex.
Trentham and Larwood (1998) claim that, despite regulations, workplace discrimination against women continues to take place. In addition, males and females have been relegated to sex-typed occupations or occupations historically performed by a large percentage of one sex (McKenna & Johnson, 1986). Researchers report that sex inequality occurs within occupations as well as between occupations. For instance, male-dominated occupations favor males and disadvantage females. Although females are employed in male sex-typed occupations, they occupy the lowest paying and least powerful positions (Anderson, 2000; Marshal, 2000; Heisz, Jackson & Picot, 2002; Roberts & Davis, 2004; and Begley, 2005). In fact, Auster (2000) reports that, although disparities between females and males in college enrollment and grades are disappearing, they persist in the workplace. Furthermore relative to educational leadership, Roberts and Davis report that significantly fewer females achieve success at the top, compared with their male counterparts. For example, although females account for 86% of teachers they only account for 14% of K-12 administrators (Roberts & Davis).
Even more surprising is that female sex-typed occupations favor males (Hunt, 1993). Despite female dominance in an occupation, males who cross-over to female occupations hold higher paying and more powerful positions than females (Hunt). There is also evidence that these workplace distinctions can be traced back to the differences in educational experiences of boys and girls (National Women’s Law Center, 2002). Thus, sex-role identification and occupational cross-over as well as their interaction, remain important phenomena in the contemporary workplace.
According to Bussey and Bandura (1999), gender conceptions are the result of social influences that operate independently in a variety of societal subsystems. For example, educational institutions are primary to the development of gender orientation, fostering gender differentiation for boys and girls (Bussey ; Bandura, 1999). These researchers have also found that inadequate pre-college preparation is due to a lack of support and encouragement from teachers, counselors and parents rather than from differences in abilities of boys and girls.
Perceived Incidence of Gender Discrimination
The questions directed at the study subjects on gender discrimination elicited a number of responses drawn from their personal experiences. It is important to note that examples of gender discrimination were not provided to the study subjects as part of the interview. This was in order to prevent any bias and to avoid undermining the legitimacy of their responses.
In assigning personal meaning to gender discrimination in the workplace, the majority of responses reflected wage concerns and career advantage disparities. The majority of the group (7 out of 10) believed they had been discriminated against in manners such as job assignment and ability speculation. Interestingly, the same number of women (7 out of 10) voiced the opinion that discrimination was still occurring in their workplace at the same level and under the same conditions as when they first entered the workplace and felt discriminated against. This question was intended to be closed-ended. However, it might have been more effective if it had asked how often and in what manner gender discrimination was a common occurrence in their respective workplaces.
Consistent with the results of the study, Halpern (2004) argues that many jobs are still segregated by gender. To this day, females’ abilities in male-dominated occupations are still being continually questioned. Such disbelief in their capacities are consequently reflected in inequitable wages and upward mobility.
For instance, the clerical field is 90% female, whereas engineering is predominantly male (Halpern). Furthermore, very few females hold top leadership positions in both the corporate world and in governmental positions (Halpern). National Women’s Law Center (2002) conducted a national investigation at the high school level to determine the extent of sex segregation in vocational and technical programs. The findings from this study indicate that sex segregation is pervasive in both vocational and technical programs nationwide (National Women’s Law Center). Of the students enrolled in cosmetology, 96% were female, of the students enrolled in child care courses, 87% were female, and of the students enrolled in health assistant programs, 86% were female (National Women’s Law Center). Male students, however, made up 94% of programs for electricians and plumbers, 93% of students enrolled in welding and carpentry, and 92% of the students enrolled in automotive technologies. This data clearly demonstrates that sex segregation exists in American society.
Research has shown that females have successfully crossed over to male sex-typed occupations, while the same does not appear to be true for males (Fassinger, 1990). For example, Barkley and Kohler (1992) found that although a vast majority of male high school students had a positive perception about nursing, they did not plan to enter the nursing profession, suggesting that males are underrepresented in female sex-typed occupations. The focus of this research is to establish the presence of sex-role identification and the relationship between sex-role identification and occupational cross-over of females and males.
Gender and sex are complex interrelated concepts. Because of the overlapping features of gender and sex, the terms are often used erroneously throughout the literature, as though they are interchangeable. Howard and Hollander (1997) report that gender and sex are inconsistently used in both books and journals. To demonstrate this Matlin (2000) offers an example; “a highly regarded scholarly journal is called Sex Roles though a more appropriate title would be Gender Roles” (p.6).
Rosenblum and Travis (2003) argue that sex can be understood as a socially created dichotomy. However, the researchers found this troubling and suggested a clarification; “sex refers to females and males-that is, to chromosomal, hormonal, anatomical, and physiological differences-and gender describes the socially constructed roles associated with each sex. Gender is learned” (p. 23). It is apparent from this discussion that sex and gender are so closely related that it is difficult to discuss them in isolation. In an effort to clearly understand sex-role identification and occupational cross-over the distinction between sex and gender must be clearly defined and operationalized with each individual study.
Stereotypes and employment segregation relative to occupations manifest in the belief that specific occupations are suited for females and males; for example, elementary school teacher, secretary, and nurse are female occupations and automotive mechanic, engineer, and medical doctor are male occupations (Gatton, DuBois, & Faley, 1999). The issue of sex-role identification deserves significant consideration because the outcomes result in differentials in pay, promotion, recruitment, and hiring practices between males and females (Gatton et al.). According to Cohen (2004), these outcomes contribute to pervasive occupational segregation. Furthermore, Cohen asserts that the economic and social construction of gender identity is apparent in the gender division of labor and that the labor market is riddled with gender discriminatory practices. Wells (1998) found that sex segregation in the workplace began to decline very slowly in the 1960s; in the 1970s the decline was rapid and continued in the 1980s and in the 1990s, but at a much slower pace. Rendon (n.d.) found that, although women’s participation in the workforce has grown significantly over the past three decades, sex segregation in the workplace continues to persist today.
The Issue of Equal Pay
The issue of equal pay did not elicit the impassioned responses that were expected when the questions for this issue were developed. On the contrary, the results of this portion of the guided interview reveal that the women in this study appeared to be largely unaffected by the issue of equal pay and, even more, that few women gave it regular consideration throughout their careers. Unfortunately, the questions designed and administered for this part of the interview would ultimately not be sufficient to elicit the responses that might explain this phenomenon.
A basis for job satisfaction was first established, and all but one of the women interviewed responded with a “Yes” as to whether she was satisfied with her current wage at her job. Three of the women, as well as the woman who responded with a “No”, qualified their answers by suggesting that they would not mind making more money. These four women also held the lowest positions in terms employment ranking, with one working as a nurse’s aid, another as a receptionist in a local optometrist’s office, another as a waitress at a local diner, and the fourth on the line of a local carpet manufacturer.
Wage increases were found to be perceived as increasing in a proportionate manner with experience for seven out of the ten women. However, half of the study participants noted a disparity in the pay that they received as opposed to the pay that male employees in comparable positions received. When asked if pay differentials had fluctuated or changed over the course of their careers, the respondents demonstrated some degree of difficulty in answering because they were either unaware of the existence of pay differentials for as long as they had been at their workplace, or did not have enough information to make an informed response. In almost every case, the respondents ultimately chose to respond with a “No”, which makes the results of this question essentially invalid for determining if the factor of equal pay has changed over time for these women and their workplaces.
Although the feminist movement has resulted in some changes in the negative stereotyping of females, overall equality has not been accomplished (Tischler, 2002). Despite the fact that more women are present in increasing numbers throughout the workforce, they are still perceived as best suited for traditional female sex-typed occupations and the converse seems true for males. Miller and Budd (1999) suggest that stereotypes take effect in childhood, influencing the school subjects that boys and girls select, and that these early choices may play a role in future occupational choices. Wootton (1997) reports that within occupations the differences in the distribution of males and females continue to persist:
…women increased their representation significantly among managerial and professional specialty occupations: in 1995, women accounted for 43 percent of managerial and related employment, nearly double their share in 1975 (22 percent); and women’s share of employment in professional occupations also rose over this period, from 45 percent to 53 percent (p. 16).
Wootton argues that, although women have moved into more male sex-typed occupations these occupations were expanding and thus a greater demand for employees was necessary. Despite employment shifts Wootton suggests that males and females are still concentrated in different occupations. In fact, Chusmir (1990) suggests that sex discrimination and condemnation on the job are an accepted fact for both males and females who choose to enter occupations that are traditionally typed as characteristic of the opposite gender.
The complicated issues brought to light by the feminist movement including the Equal Pay Act (Title VII) barring discrimination in employment based on race and sex of 1964, and the executive order #11375 expanding Affirmative Action to cover discrimination based on gender, embrace the progress that the American society has made (Johnson, 1990). Matlin (2000) suggests that the media has discredited the term feminist. In fact, Matlin reports that a survey conducted by TIME in the U.S. showed that feminism is relevant to 48% of the women surveyed, However, when asked if females supported the political, economic and social equality of women 70% to 80% reported support. Consequently, although the feminist movement has grown prodigiously and is generally supported by females, sex-role identification and discrimination appear to be present in today’s workplace. In fact, according to BLS (2004), college graduate male or female earnings were approximately 76% higher than those of males and females with a high school diploma. However, female college graduates earned on average $809.00 per week whereas, their male counterparts earned on average $1,089.00 per week.
The responses generated on labor issues in the workplace demonstrated identifiable similarities. This was especially in positive responses, suggesting that some improvements have been made for the female worker. At the same time, some negative responses emerged, which suggest that continued improvements might still be necessary.
When asked about working conditions meeting personal needs, some of the women participating in the study demonstrated that they needed assistance with understanding how to differentiate personal and work-related needs. In response, these women were instructed to think about whether or not their workplace contributed to their ability to effectively and conveniently balance both work and home. All but two of the respondents answered with a “No”. As far as improvements to working conditions, all but two of the respondents ultimately answered that the working conditions “remained the same”. However, there seemed to be as much difficulty with answering this question as there was with the one concerning work-related needs. Discussing working conditions seemed to place the women being interviewed in an uncomfortable position. While some expressed that conditions had gotten better due to programs such as maternity leave, the work environment was generally thought of as “more hostile than welcoming” for women.
The traits of male and female have been explicit and well documented (Anker, 1998). Occupations that are apparently dominated by females tend to provide lower compensation, yet seem to be more flexible either in the short or long term, attributed to flexible working hours, part-time employment, or the possibility of being allowed to return to work after some respite from employment (Rubery ; Fagan , 1993). Examples of male-dominated jobs are skilled manual workers, sailors, engineers, and architects. On the other hand, examples of female-dominated occupations are nurses, care attendants, child-care workers, teachers and secretaries (Rubery ; Flanagan, 1993).
Despite the noted progress in industrialized counties where women’s educational attainment has come to equal or even exceed that of men, there still remains very stark differences in the subjects and forms of education that the two genders engage themselves in (Blau ; Ferber, 1986; Brown ; Corcoran, 1997; Johnson, 1999; Reskin ; Roos, 1990). A noteworthy fact is that women are obviously underrepresented in mathematics and in majority of scientific and technical fields (Blau ; Ferber, 1986; Brown ; Corcoran, 1997; Johnson, 1999; Reskin ; Roos, 1990).
Empirical evidence in the United States strongly indicates that there has been a noted decrease in occupational segregation by gender during this century (Jacobs, 1989; Reskin, 1993). A substantial portion of such change has transpired in the 1970s (Jacobs, 1989; Reskin, 1993).
Blackburn, Siltanen and Jarman (1995) has presented that for Britain, there have been vacillations in occupational segregation by gender from 1951 to 1959; however, there was no conclusive evidence of a decreasing trend. These are similar to the findings of Jacobs ; Lim (1995), who upon the conclusion of a study of 58 countries, has discovered indicators of steady yet rather reserved reduction in gender segregation. The doggedness of occupational segregation by gender, in stark contrast with the changes that have transpired in both women’s rates of labor force participation and their career ambitions. Females’ rates of labor force participation have gone up in the postwar period in all developed countries (Green ; Penalosa, 2002). One of the most noteworthy characteristics of labor force participation in the disappearance of the “M-shaped” pattern of participation. While female involvement was considered high in the 1950s for females in their early 30s and 50s, but low for those in their middle years during which most women gave birth, this trend has been modified (Anker, 1998). An outcome is the upward trend in labor force participation among women and children under 18 years. In fact, in the United States and the United Kingdom, the rate for this group more than doubled between 1960 and 1990; on the other hand, the increment for Germany was at 50% (Alwin, Scott, ; Braun, 1999).
A substantial body of research has noted that women’s aspirations and expectations have also been modified. For instance, the General Social Survey of the United states has presented a constant upward trend in the ratio of individuals who agree with “a married woman earning money in business or industry if she has a husband capable of supporting her” and also an assent in the views of males and females (Alwin et al, 1999). Moreover, in 1972, 68% of women and 63% of men have agreed; while in 1994, 81% of both sexes expressed agreement (Alwin et al, 1999). Along the same vein, in 1977 as a response to the statement “it is much better for everyone if the man is the achiever and the woman takes care of the hone and the family, 37% of women and 31% of men expressed disagreement. These figures have increased to 67% and 62%, respectively in 1994 (Alwin et al, 1999). In the UK, survey data demonstrate a stable decrease in the proportion of women who believe that “it is a wife’s job to look after the home and the family.” In 1980, a mere 33% of women disagreed to the statement, progressing to 89% in 1989 (Scott, 1990). During this latter year, the differences in responses stratified by age among women were drastically different; those among men were relatively negligible (Scott, 1990).
Evidence of a Glass Ceiling
The questions designed to elicit responses on the influential factor of the glass ceiling were the most difficult to develop. This was based on the concern that some of the respondents might not be familiar with the phrase “glass ceiling”. It was ultimately decided that the study subjects would be provided with a definition of the phrase before this portion of the interview was conducted.
Beyond the ambiguity of the phrase, the majority of women (7 out of 10) expressed seeing evidence of the glass ceiling in their workplace. Even more surprising, all ten respondents claimed that women do not regularly advance to higher positions in their workplace, industry or field. When asked if this had changed over the course of their career, the respondents were again faced with difficulty on how to answer. It was necessary for some of the women examined to go back to the answers they had given previously. After some refreshing, six of the respondents answered that they believed that the ability of women to advance in their workplace had changed. That change being marked by a greater ability to move up. The remaining four women were not as positive, claiming that they could not accurately say one-way or the other.
Over the past three decades, the ration of women in low and middle management positions has risen substantially, while the proportion of women attaining top level positions have remained nil or insignificant (Powell, 1999). Empirical evidence suggests that females in management are able to progress only up to a certain point before befacing a glass ceiling that precludes them from advancing any further (Powell, 1999; US Department of Labor, 1991). The current study presented qualitative data proving that such a phenomenon is still prevalent despite advancements made attributed to feminist movement advocating this cause.
Chapter 5: Summary, Conclusions and Recommendations
The picture represented by much of the literature is a disturbing one that offers limited evidence that consistent and positive changes have been made in the workplace to support the advancement of women over the last two or more decades. An interpretation of the literature would almost suggest that the present study serves little purpose except to confirm this assertion. At the same time, the indication that the factors that influence the advancement of women in the workplace still exist should, in fact, work to stimulate renewed discussion on the issue as well as the development of new and firmer policies and practices that will make the advancement of women in the workplace a reality for today and for the future.
As the data instrument was being designed for the present research, one of the biggest concerns that emerged was whether or not the study group selected would fully understand the factors being addressed. While a definition of the terms was considered essential to fully understanding this study and added to its documentation, the necessity for defining the terms to the study subjects was, unfortunately, not given the same consideration. This shortcoming was manifested almost immediately during the first portion of the interview that addressed the issue and influential factor of sexism by the varied meanings that were ascribed to the term.
Nevertheless, the findings that can be derived from the questions on sexism demonstrate that women in the workplace need to be better informed on the issue. This assertion is supported by the fact that, on the factor of sexism, only three women demonstrated an understanding that it can apply to prejudiced attitudes or language directed not only against women but also against men. At the same time, all of the women demonstrated that they were disturbed by the concept of sexism, including the woman who responded that sexism neither exists nor is tolerated in her organization. The fact that all but one of the women responded that they had recognized evidence of sexism in their workplaces presents a disturbing commentary on the nation’s workplaces, especially when considering that the study sample represented ten different industries or occupational fields.
Another disturbing element of the findings on sexism is that the responses of the women reflect a sense of indifference or the belief that nothing can be done about. Consider for example words like “nobody has ever done anything about it”, or sexism is “at least a daily occurrence”, or there “always has been” sexism. The responses concerning what type of sexist attitudes or language occurs most frequently supports the argument made by Seidler (1992) that sexism has worked to foster and support the idea that men are superior to women.
Consider, for example, the fact that the women examined point to “longer breaks for male co-workers than for female workers”. Although it could be argued that the existence of shorter breaks for women is merely a minor inconvenience, it is nevertheless an important indication that the women in such a workplace do not merit even the smallest of bonuses that are afforded to their male counterparts. On top of that, it was also noted that there was “the purposeful exclusion of female managers from important decision-making meetings”.
The final question in this, the first part of the interview, was designed to answer whether or not the women participating in the study demonstrated some sort of perception that the incidence of sexism in the workplace had changed over the length of their careers. The findings indicate that at least half of the women were aware of changes in the incidence of sexism where they worked. Even more promising is the fact that they also demonstrate that they understand what caused such changes including but not confined to the introduction of “a new, all-male management team”, “the hiring of more women than men” and “conflict management techniques employed to resolve problems between male and female nurses”.
On Gender Discrimination
The portion of the interview dealing with gender discrimination offers what might be one of the clearest perspectives on how the women examined in this study view the incidence and impact of factors that prohibit their advancement in the workplace. The women might have appeared at first less-than-informed about sexism in the workplace. There was no such lack of understanding on gender discrimination in their places of work.
A very important connection was made in almost each of the respondents’ answers on what discrimination meant to them – the connection between discrimination and the respondent’s gender. Consider phrases such as “being discriminated against …because I am female”, “getting paid less than the guys I work with” and “not given the same advantages as men”. Even more, a majority of the women participating in the study demonstrated that they were at least reasonably aware of gender discrimination when it was directed at them.
This assertion is supported by responses that point to “the fact that I’m not sitting in one of the line managers’ offices after twenty nine years” and “I offered to drive…to an out-of-state conference…I was ignored…all the drivers were male employees.” Although a majority of the respondents conceded that gender discrimination occurred in their places of work, examples were expected to be raised more frequently. Indeed, the fact that they did not indicate that gender discrimination occurred frequently offers a glimmer of hope that the incidence of gender discrimination might, in fact, be on the decline.
At the same time, it must be noted that most of the responses to the question of changes in the incidence of gender discrimination over time indicated that the women believed that gender discrimination was an inherent part of the workplace – a part that could be expected to remain part of the work environment. While this does not necessarily mean that the incidence of gender discrimination might not actually be on the decline, it supports a disconcerting assumption that American women are growing accustomed, and thus indifferent, to the presence of gender discrimination. This assertion is supported by the response that “a good old boy kind of atmosphere” was somehow acceptable, even if it meant having to “get ourselves back in line if one or more of our managers decides to pull rank.”
On Equal Pay
The results that were derived from the questions on equal pay were perhaps the most surprising of the present study. An assertion that is based on the fact that, according to the findings, there was little or no evidence that any of the women were extremely disappointed with the wage that they earned, or that they believed that their wages were decided with any influence of gender bias. It was certainly not expected that all but one of the study subjects would claim that they were satisfied with their wage.
It must be noted, however, that four of the women, including the one that responded with a “No”, qualified their answers by also claiming that they would not mind making more money. Interestingly, these women held the lowest rank of employment among all the study participants. This suggests that at least three of these women were not entirely truthful when they said that they were satisfied with the wage that they were paid.
The second question in this portion of the interview was expected to generate all affirmative answers. However, that did not occur. On the question of whether or not the women’s personal wage had increased with experience and length of employment, as many as three of the women responded with a firm a “No”. The concept of not receiving wages proportionate with experience or length of employment made little sense, until the women were encouraged to explain what they believed accounted for such disproportionate wages. The women’s responses that followed are perhaps the most interesting of the entire interview process. Consider for example, reasons such as “my wage just increased every time the minimum wage increased” or “enough to keep me a step ahead of inflation” and “our union negotiates any pay raises that we receive.”
Another interesting aspect of this portion of the study is manifested in the responses that were generated on the question of whether or not any of the women had recognized evidence of pay differentials in their places of work. Although half of the study subjects responded with a “No” and the remaining half with a “Yes”, the responses had the same ring of truth that the overwhelmingly affirmative responses on the women’s satisfaction with their wages had – not a very strong one. The assumption that the study subjects who responded with a “No” were not being entirely honest was based on the overwhelmingly candid responses made by those women who claimed that they had recognized evidence of pay differentials in the workplace. Most interestingly of which is the response that claimed “I noticed that us new female hires were getting $.15 less than the new guys that they hired” – a circumstance that occurred frequently some three decades of more ago.
Consider this interesting discovery. One of the study subjects ultimately found out that her much younger, male co-worker who had only two years experience in the work place, worked the same hours, and in the same capacity that she did, but earned a weekly paycheck that was identifiable larger than her own. It is fair to suggest that anecdotes like these represent the rich and interesting, but nonetheless disheartening, experiences of women just beginning to realize that their work is, or worse, that they are undervalued compared to their worth to the companies that they work for.
Like the final question in the previous portions of the interview process, the final question in this portion of the interview was expected to establish very clearly whether or not the women examined in the study had recognized any changes in the presence or evidence of pay differential over time. Unfortunately, the question initially worked to confound most of the respondents. Ultimately it had to be rephrased to facilitate their understanding, after which each of the respondents answered a “No”.
Again, this was not the answer that was anticipated when the question was developed. Although one or two negative responses would not have been considered unusual, the fact that all ten of the women could not respond affirmatively that they had seen a change in pay differentials throughout their careers was both difficult to believe as well as difficult to understand. It also presents a challenge in terms of presenting this finding as valid for determining if the factor of equal pay has changed over time for these women and their respective workplaces. However, for the purposes of the present research, its exclusion does not necessarily undermine the findings that preceded it or those that will follow.
On Labor Issues
The labor issues addressed in this study were selected based on their regularity in the research as factors that influence women in the workplace, especially in terms of supporting or undermining their advancement in the workplace. One of the first labor issues addressed in this portion of the interview process was the issue of working conditions. Again, this issue was flawed by its clear ambiguity, which worked to confound most of the women that were interviewed.
On the question of whether or not the study subjects perceived that both their personal and work needs were met by the working conditions manifested in their respective workplaces. Some of the women demonstrated that they needed assistance on understanding the meaning of the question. In order to remove some of the ambiguity surrounding the phrase “working conditions”, the respondents were encouraged to determine if the working conditions of their respective workplaces offered positive benefits such as assisting them in effectively and conveniently balancing their home and work life.
Although complicated by the flawed question, the findings generated from this question were considered especially significant. They clearly demonstrated whether or not the women, nevertheless perceived the workplaces that had already been identified as exhibiting at least some of the factors that can serve as barriers to advance, as positive environments. In this case, the findings reveal that a majority of women do not perceive their workplaces as necessarily positive environments.
Consider for example, the words of one respondent: “There is no such thing as working conditions that will help me meet my personal needs where I work.” It is only fair to note, however, that at least one respondent conceded, “Personal needs as a female employee are accommodated for by the layout and structure of our work environment.” The same holds true with the question presented to the study subjects on whether or not their working conditions had improved, worsened or remained the same over the length of their careers. The finding derived from the responses to this question is that the majority of the women do not perceive improvements to their working conditions as anything significantly relevant to their role and position in the workplace.
Although most of the questions presented in this portion of the interview process were largely non-descript in terms of gender, the question of whether or not the study subject believed that female workers were provided with adequate gender-related employee benefits, such as maternity leave, was unequivocally directed at, and relevant to, female workers. Interestingly, this question generated affirmative responses from all of the women examined in the study. Although some exhibited at least a degree of uncertainty on whether or not such benefits actually existed, their responses offered some explanation for that uncertainty.
Finally, the last question of this portion of the interview process elicited what might be considered the most compelling responses to this point. On the question of whether each respondent would label their workplace environment as hostile or welcoming to female workers, a clear majority of eight women responded that they would label their workplace environments as hostile to female workers. This finding is especially significant because it suggests that, despite some of the positive responses that have been made in regard to the respective workplaces of each study subject, all but two of the women determined that the negative attributes outweighed the positive attributes.
On the Glass Ceiling
The findings derived from the final portion of the interview process are especially relevant to the issue of the advancement of women in the workplace. The concept of a glass ceiling alone suggests that advancement or upward mobility is not available. One of the first questions prompts the women to identify when they might have recognized this glass ceiling for the first time in their lengthy careers. One women described her first awareness of the glass ceiling as “a sea of women sitting straight up at their desks” and only a “few men on the floor [who] poked their heads out of their office doors.” Although it could be argued that such a description is an exaggeration, or perhaps less-than-truthful, it is also fair to suggest that it speaks to the first impression that the workplace made on the woman, who was making her own first impression on her first day of work.
The women were also asked whether or not they had ever been overlooked for a promotion that was ultimately given to a male employee with less experience. Interestingly, only three of the women examined responded affirmatively. Based on the assumption that the responses are truthful, this finding is significant because it suggests that even with a work history of more than twenty-five years, women can actually escape the affront of being passed over for a promotion. It is important to note, however, that one of the reasons why seven responded that they had never been passed over for a promotion could be attributed to the fact that they never applied for a promotion.
The responses made on one of the final questions of the study were both promising and disappointing. The respondents were asked if women were regularly advanced to higher positions in their respective workplaces. Each time, the question was met with a resounding “NO”. Although this response is disappointing by the fact that it indicates little evidence of advancement for women in as many as ten different workplaces, industries and/or occupational fields, the resounding “No” that each women offered suggested that perhaps they are not as indifferent, passive or intolerant of the factors that might prohibit their advancement as they appear.
Although undoubtedly interesting and often compelling, the findings derived from the guided interviews were not as striking as it was anticipated they would be. On the contrary, while the questions served to generate some interesting and even a few compelling responses, the responses as a whole contribute little to the formulation of conclusions that might be generically applicable to women working in different industries or fields, or to younger women in the workforce. Although the analysis of the data was not designed to rely on these variables, it is fair to suggest that a broader representation of women by age and geographic location might have offered more salient or remarkable findings.
Nevertheless, some reasonable assumptions can be made from the findings. Even more, the study has worked to answer the study problem and related questions. For example, the study does answer how a sample of female workers perceives the presence or absence of factors influencing the advancement of women in the workplace. In fact, the interview process worked as a stimulus to formulating those perceptions, albeit with some confusion and/or difficulty. The following conclusions/assumptions on each of the factors addressed in this study can be derived from the findings:
1. On Sexism – a majority of the women appear reconciled to the fact that sexism is an inherent but increasingly manageable factor that influences advancement in the workplace.
2. On Gender Discrimination – like sexism, a majority of the women appear reconciled to the fact that gender discrimination is an inherent, but increasingly manageable factor that influences advancement in the workplace.
3. On Equal Pay – a majority of the women do not identify equal pay as a valid influencing factor on advancement.
4) On Labor Issues
a. On working conditions – a majority of the women do not perceive their workplaces as necessarily positive environments.
b. On working conditions – the majority of the women do not perceive improvements to their working conditions as anything significantly relevant to their role and position in the workplace.
c. On gender-related benefits – all of the women maintained that gender-related benefits were provided in their places of work.
d. On the workplace environment – a clear majority of the women responded that they would label their workplace environments as hostile to female workers.
5. On the Glass Ceiling
a. On being passed over for a promotion – even with a work history of more than twenty-five years, women can actually escape the affront of being passed over for a promotion.
b. On no upward mobility – women may not be as indifferent, passive and tolerant of the factors that can prohibit their advancement as they appear.
The study also answers, at least for the study sample, whether or not their perceptions can be translated to describe their opinions and/or attitudes on the advancement of women over time. While that answer is yes, it is a disappointing one because it must follow that the perceptions revealed are translated to describe the opinions and/or attitudes of the women examined as indifferent, passive and tolerant of the factors that can influence their ability to make advancements in the workplace. Unfortunately, the question of whether or not a certain variable that was not addressed in the research has contributed to this description, such as age, geographic location, or length of time in one employment setting, cannot be established by the present study.
The study’s findings support much of the previous research examined in the review of the literature. This includes the research indicating that each of the influential factors addressed in the present study still exhibit the potential to prohibit the advancement of women in the workplace. The study findings reveal that these factors have manifested varying degrees of influence on the advancement of the women examined.
From the perspective of strategic organizational performance, the glass ceiling phenomenon presents three pressing problems. First, of lower level female managers perceive that the opportunity to reach senior management is constrained because of gender, this may cause them to work with lesser motivation and drive. Their implicit belief that hard work will not pay off will ultimately result in negative productivity outcomes for the organization as a whole (Vroom, 1964). A second area for attention is associated with the homogeneity of the composition of top management, which may eventually result in ineffective and biased decision making (Elsass ; Graves, 1997; Janis, 1982). Lastly, with dynamic and stringent market situations, obstacles that are rooted on gender can further decrease the prospective demand for necessary talent and resources. Resource dependent theories indicate that it will be to the organization’s benefit to eliminate obstacles to necessary resources, and in certain instances to reinforce the movement of females to critical management positions because they are more suitable to the profile prescribed by certain customer segments (Jacobs, 1992; Pfeffer ; Salancik, 1978).
Although limited in terms of the strength of their significance and applicability to all women in the workforce, the study’s findings present important implications for further research as well as for the development of policies and practices designed to promote the advancement of women in the workplace. Among the proposed recommendations that have been derived from the study findings is the recommendation that further research be conducted that examines the perceptions of women on those factors that threaten to undermine their ability to make advancements in the workplace. Although a larger study sample and approach in general was considered prohibitive, or beyond the scope of the study’s purpose, it is clear that significance, applicability and validity would be unquestionably improved with a broader scope and larger scale.
One thing that definitely came to light over the course of the study was the importance of pre-testing the study instrument. It is fair to suggest that if the questions designed to guide the interviews had been pre-tested that study subjects would not have experienced some of the difficulties that they had. The questions could have been fine-tuned to elicit the most relevant and significant data for analysis. Based on this assertion, it is recommended that any endeavor to duplicate this study, especially on a broader scope and more representative scale, must include a pre-test of the study instrument.
Finally, it is recommended that further research based on the approach and design of the present research be conducted. It is believed that this would be a means for generating findings that can be validly and effectively applied to the development of anti-discrimination policies and practices in organizations throughout the nation. If nothing else, the present study underscores the inherent vulnerability to discrimination that women have had to face in the workplace simply because of their gender. On top of this, it highlights the barriers that gender has historically presented, and continues to present, to women’s advancement in the workplace.
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