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Women Discrimination in the Labour Market

Within the scope of this research, we will assess whether women are discriminated against in the labor market, with particular emphasis on the concept of ‘glass ceiling’. It is apparent that women are discriminated against in the contemporary labor market, and ‘glass ceiling’ concept helps in illustrating this point. Horizontal segregation at the upper levels of the labor market has been labeled the "glass ceiling" by Morrison et al. (1987). Holding constant such variables as age, experience, credentials, and marital status, women are consistently underrepresented in senior management, they are paid less than men in the same positions, and the disparity grows as promotions are made.

Although 43% of the U.K. workforce in 1995 was female, women constituted only 4% of middle managers and less than 2% of executive level managers (ILO 1999). In banking, a sector in which 64% of the workforce is female, women comprise less than 2% of the nonclerical positions, compared to 37% of males. In traditional female occupations such as nursing, only 8% of principal officers were women and less than 5% served in higher grades. Even local government, which is over 60% female, was led by only four women chief executives and about 50 chief officers (ILO 1999).

Morrison et al.'s work (1987) was the result of a three-year study, which examined the experiences of women who had attained management positions. These women identified several work experiences critical to their success: acceptance by their organizations, support and encouragement, training and development opportunities, and challenging work in visible assignments. However, these women claimed that constraints increased and support decreased as they moved higher up the employment ladder. Morrison et al. reported that many of their subjects complained of exhaustion and contemplated employment changes. A subsequent study (Morrison, et al., 1992) reported that many of the original subjects had made no progress in their management hierarchies.

Morrison et al.'s original study ( 1987) noted several conditions for success by women managers, including strong desire, risk taking, willingness to be decisive and set high standards, a pattern of successful accomplishment, sponsorship by superiors, an easy working style, and an ability to adapt. The study found that women by and large required these traits to a greater degree than men in order to succeed in a male-dominated environment. Besides the pressures of a job, women must also deal with the pressure of being tokens and handle family responsibilities in ways men do not. Women who wanted too much for other women or for themselves were likely to meet with obstacles.

Besides overcoming negative stereotypes and appearing neither too masculine nor too feminine, the demands on successful women Morrison et al. (1987) identified are, in fact, mutually incompatible and thus overdetermine failure. It is impossible to both take risks and amass a record of invariably successful performance; an authoritative style is hard to reconcile with a relaxed working style; it is difficult to be ambitious while not demanding equal treatment; and assuming individual responsibility and aking credit for one's accomplishments is difficult while being the protégé of a senior manager.

In a subsequent work Morrison (1992) developed a model for successful career development in management, which involved three elements: challenge, which requires managers to learn new skills to perform at higher levels; support, understanding, and acceptance, which enables managers to make their work part of a rewarding life; and recognition and resources to continue to motivate the manager to achieve corporate and personal goals. For women, the demands of challenge usually swamp the other two components of the model. Daily assignments that are part of the challenge go undetected by males, support systems are inadequate, and barriers to advancement in the form of stereotypes, men's discomfort, and sexism reduce levels of reward. The result is failure, exhaustion, and bail-out by women managers.

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The glass ceiling has become a commonplace term to describe the experiences of women in contemporary management. But it is only part of the architecture of the modern commercial bureaucracy. It is important to recognize that the organizations in which women managers find themselves are not gender-neutral ones; they erect obstacles to equal treatment in many directions, not just upward into senior positions. The contemporary business office is gendered in the sense that "advantages and disadvantages, exploitation and control, action and emotion, meaning and identity, are patterned through and in terms of a distinction between male and female, masculine and feminine. Gender is not an addition to ongoing processes, conceived as gender neutral" (Acker, 1990, p. 146). Although the explicit lines of organization in most bureaucracies make no mention of gender, work activities reveal a clear gendered substructure.

Men are superiors, women subordinates; men make decisions, women execute them; men per form "instrumental roles," women have "expressive" functions. The public patriarchy of the office reproduces the private patriarchy of the family (Acker, 1990, p. 142). If most secretaries are female and most managers male, the female manager enters into what is now a firmly established hierarchy of male dominance, in which her existence is an anomaly. Since the office is organized for instrumental--means and ends--rationality and the minimization of uncertainty and anarchy, nonrational forces affecting work must be minimized. The genderneutral job, from which sexuality, emotions, and procreation have been abstracted, obscures while it reproduces established gender relations reflecting male dominance.

In these contexts, what Perrow (1986) calls "premise controls" operate. Among senior managers direct bureaucratic controls are hard to impose. Instead subordinates channel normative restrictions by limiting the range of options they will present as available given the organization's culture. Perrow suggests that social class, ethnic origin, and social networks are so important because--they make it more likely that certain kinds of premises will exist (Perrow, 1986). Perrow does not include gender in his list of premise controls, but it is an extremely powerful one. The values internalized by the procedures of an organization must be embraced by iits successful managers. As women find their way into management positions, they need to adopt norms that implicitly require their own subordination while explicitly expressing gender neutrality. This conflict between gender and occupation--between subordination and authority--works as strongly as the glass ceiling to ensure horizontal segregation at the higher levels of management.

The organizational culture of management shifts sources of power predominantly to males, even at levels to which women have attained. This concentration of power outweighs equal opportunity, affirmative action, and antidiscrimination regulations to prevent fundamental change in the culture (ILO 1999). Power stems not only from formal authority, but from control of resources, information, and technology within an organization. For example, as Brosman and Davidson (1994) note, the introduction of computerization in a workplace may manifest all three of these dimensions of male power concentration. In modern business organizations, power is provided by participation in networks from which women are often excluded by temporal and physical barriers, failure to know the informal rules of the game, or discomfort in a majority male milieu. Women's subordinate position does not provide them with anything that male colleagues need by way of resources, information, or technology; therefore, women are in no position to offer incentives to males to allow them into such networks (ILO 1999).

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The glass ceiling is protected by a set of standards and criteria for advancement to senior-level positions that disproportionately discriminate against women without reflecting objective needs to be served by these positions. Although prior experience at a variety of positions in an industry is crucial for advancement, women's already horizontally and vertically segregated experiences are devalued as compared with men's. This will be true even for women unencumbered with family and children. For example, in the British civil service graduate management training scheme, women begin to experience a slower rate of promotion at the outset of their careers (Collinson et al., 1990). Similarly, in the United States, a study of male and female MBA graduates from Stanford University found that although 10% of women had become vice presidents by 1992, by comparison 32% of men had. Women occupied 2% of chief executive positions while men held 16% of these positions (ILO 1999).

In addition to the problems faced by women attempting to organize to undermine sexist practices, the character of subordination itself makes concerted opposition difficult. The male power structure is spatially distributed and diverse in its operations. How does one target all business organizations? In addition, organizations provide material incentives for males to maintain the subordination of women. Competition for promotions is reduced if a significant proportion (for example, women) of the potential workforce is ineligible. The patriarchy also provides small incremental rewards to compliant women; junior staff may move along the career ladder up to the glass ceiling, where they provide ready substitutes for women who seek to break through it. It is apparent that women are discriminated against in the contemporary business environment, and a lot of effort needs to be made in order to change this situation.

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