The problem of sex discrimination at work has been widely discussed in scholarly journals and in the media, as well as at the governmental level. Sadly, despite all measures taken, sex discrimination is still widespread in the workplace, and it affects women greatly. This paper explores the concepts which are closely related to sex discrimination at work: glass ceiling, gender stereotypes, women’s representation in the media, and sexism, as well as examines ways to tackle sex discrimination in contemporary U.S. society.
Glass ceilings are artificial obstacles created by prejudiced individual attitudes and organizational bias that prohibit qualified individuals from rising to higher ranks of management levels in organizations. As Cotter et al define, “the popular notion of glass ceiling effects implies that gender (or other) disadvantages are stronger at the top of the hierarchy than at lower levels and that these disadvantages become worse later in a person’s career.” (Cotter, Hermsen, Ovadia, & Vanneman, 2001, p.655).
Women and minority groups are believed to be greatly affected by glass ceilings at work. For them, the glass ceiling is the barrier that prevents them from climbing the career ladder and obtaining better positions in business organizations (Cotter, Hermsen, Ovadia, & Vanneman, 2001, p.655). The bias towards women is based on false understanding that women tend to concentrate more on family matters rather than careers. Some of the obstacles that prevent women and representatives of different minority groups from attaining the high management levels in organizations include discrimination against sex, race, and inferiority complex amongst individuals. Due to the growing number of cases of discrimination based on sex and race, the Civil Rights Act was passed back in 1964. It guaranteed the provision of civil rights to women and racial minorities alike. It also forbade discrimination on the basis of sex as well as race in hiring, promoting, and firing. Based on Tomascovic-Devey (2007), one may say that despite the fact the Bill passage was a great leap forward on the way to achieve equal employment opportunity (EEO), in practice “discrimination processes” have widely taken place and they are “still likely to maintain status inequalities in the workplace” (Tomascovic-Devey, 2007, p.49).
Gender stereotypes is the term that refers to simplistic generalizations about people on the basis of the differences rooted in gender. Stereotypes may be both advantageous and disadvantageous. While gender stereotypes often communicate inaccurate information about others, some of their advantages include guiding people to perform certain positive roles in society. For instance, males believe that in order to appear masculine they should be in control of themselves, look unemotional, and provide for a family. Men tend to work in careers that are mechanical or analytical, and assume responsibility. This explained by the fact that “breadwinner" stereotype leads men to achieving status by earning lots of money, taking risks to prove their manhood and resolving conflicts with violence.
At the same time, gender stereotypes do more harm than good. For example, they make men want to become dominant partners in relationships. As a result, males may exert pressure or force on their sexual partners, become sexually active at an early age, and have many sexual partners. They avoid traditionally female types of work in the arts or human services. In addition, stereotypes set certain standards which are to be followed if men want to be confident in themselves. To illustrate, back in 1963, Erving Goffman, a sociologist, observed that in the U.S. there is just “one complete unblushing male…a young, married, urban, northern, heterosexual, Protestant father of college education, fully employed, of good complexion, weight, and height, and a recent record in sports…Any male who fails to qualify in one of these ways is likely to view himself…as unworthy, incomplete, and inferior” (Goffman quoted in Mooney et al, 2012, p. 312).
On the other hand, females stereotypically believe that to be feminine they should be emotionally sensitive and vulnerable. They should submit to the wishes and demands of a sexual partner and have many children regardless of personal wishes. Due to established stereotypes, women tend to meet the needs of others before their own needs, and choose careers in the “helping” fields. Women should be physically attractive by someone else's standard and be ready to tolerate sexually harassing behavior without complain.
One of the biggest shortcomings of stereotyping is that it results in discrimination of individuals, especially on a gender basis. Stereotyping hinders personal development and growth since an individual may feel that he or she lacks the capacity to tackle challenging issues. It may also be passed from one generation to another especially through the socializing agents the children are exposed to such as parents, teachers, peers, religious leaders, and the media. Stereotyping prevails in societies where discrimination is the order of the day.
It is a stereotyping dilemma that children learn from the very beginning that living by stereotypes is not a bad issue, so stereotypes gradually form until kids grow up. In order to curb this gender stereotyping, we need to reexamine the gender roles and establish that each and every individual can be able to perform and comfortably express the qualities of both genders. The socializing agents should teach their children about the dangers of gender stereotypes. Expectedly, this will prevent discriminations of individuals in the workplace.
One of the ways to facilitate eradication of gender stereotyping is engagement in various movements fight for gender equality. As Kofi Annan, 7th Secretary General of the United Nations and Nobel Prize Winner says, “Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development, and building good governance” (Mooney et al, 2012, p. 305). Hence, the spread of civil rights movements will lead to traditional stereotypes being challenged and redefined. Consequently, traditional and stereotypic gender roles get a new meaning.
Another way is to tackle stereotyping on the individual level. Parents should provide parental guidance to their children on gender stereotypes while watching media programs which may promote gender bias. Since the media are thought to be the factor that enhances stereotyped thinking (for example, it encourages boys to be violent and girls to act as princesses), they greatly contribute to the plight of gender discrimination. Parents, therefore, are recommended to be careful when making attributions in order not to show their children that one gender is superior to the other. They should also encourage cross-sex play by urging children of different gender to play together since this will enable them to grow respecting each other and hence aid in avoiding discrimination. Parents are advised to not to emphasize gender differences and generally treat gender unimportant amongst their children, so that they avoid gender biasness while growing up. In addition, parents are recommended to use gender sensitive words, especially when encouraging their kids when they perform well. Overall, tackling sex discrimination requires the involvement of opposite sex parents in solving their children’s problems. This will help avoid gender biasness amongst children.
Sexism refers to a set of beliefs that claim the superiority of one sex on the basis of alleged or real disparities between the sexes. According to Acker, “sex is probably one of the most obvious criteria for social differentiation and one of the most obvious bases of economic, political, and social inequalities” (Acker, 1973, p.936). Typically, sexism is manifested in the workplace through subjection of women to unfair job recruitment practices, unfair compensation or treatment compared to her colleagues. Sexism may eventually result in sexual harassment. In the early days of history, women were not granted an opportunity to attend school, so they were not able to access the academic requirements needed to compete in the job market. And if they got a chance, they were only able to secure job positions which required being less educationally ready for the task and hence brought lower compensations. As noted by Hammer (2009), "stereotypes, controlling images, and myths existing in all arenas of society" have helped to establish and reinforce both conscious and subconscious gender norms and expectations that work to keep women out of the work place.
Due to sexism, women today are greatly under-represented in the higher ranks in most organizations and they can hardly compete to get high profile occupations. As Epstein rightfully observes, “because their sex status is defined within the culture of professions as inappropriate, women find that the institutionalized channels of recruitment and advancement, such as the protégé system, are not available to them.” (Epstein, 1970, p.965). In the lower ranks, women are over-represented today, which means they do lower paid jobs. The latter are traditionally believed to be stereotypic female jobs. Some scholars relate this to the fact that women should take time from their careers to raise their children.
More often than not, women are more prone to discrimination by men, especially in the workplace where they are likely to face salary discrimination. A survey carried out in 2008 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that while female employment rates have expanded considerably and the gender employment and salary gaps have narrowed virtually everywhere, the figures are still lower for women. On average, women still have 20% less of a chance to have a job and get paid 17% less than men.
The ongoing battle of modern women against norms and barriers preventing them from professional development brings its results. Women have managed to achieve certain rights in labor participation as evidenced by increases of women in this sphere. At the same time, the debate is still going on as to what women should be and where to place them in the society, what they should do and what their role in society is.
How Media Portrays Women in the Workplace
From the available sources it appears that the media do not provide a positive impact on increase in women’s labor participation. The media consistently emphasize that women’s role is not in the workplace, but rather in the domestic sphere. By doing so the media exaggerate the sacrifices of professionalism among women, appeal to existing gender norms, and facilitate discrimination of women’s performance in the public sphere. They argue that it is the role of a man to look for financial obligations. Therefore the media creates artificial barriers to women’s employment by arguing that every married woman who is employed takes the job from an unemployed woman or an unemployed man charged with the responsibility of earning their families’ living. Thus, the media try to encourage these women to leave their jobs and return to domestic jobs.
In the second line of reasoning, scholars use the essentialist notion of gender to discourage women from employment, focusing on the idea that employment means a "loss of femininity" and that "by giving up their role as homemakers, women had also forsaken their spiritual role as women" (Marcellus, 2011, p.64). They also warn that leaving the role of a house wife would mean exposing children to danger, to being led astray and becoming juvenile delinquents (Marcellus, 2011). The media also state that although women have shifted from to the domestic jobs to workplace, they perform less sophisticated tasks such as secretariat jobs, clerical jobs, and telephone operators, and are known as office wives. At the same time, men dominate the management level jobs and therefore bring in the idea that home is the best place for women.
Despite the continuous attacks on women in the workplace by the media, there has been a continuous rise in the percentage of women working. This can well be explained by the fact that male dominated jobs shrink and heavy industry gradually degrades. Simultaneously, there has been a rising prominence of the white collar jobs, jobs in light industry and positions in the service industry. This has generally placed men and women in similar job conditions, so that gender equality became a step closer.
Human beings are equal hence all sorts of discrimination should be avoided at any cost. Efforts should be made to stop prevention of modern women and members of minorities from spearheading major projects in this nation. It should be widely acknowledged that each and every person is capable of playing a major role in the economy improvement globally. Thus, sexual discrimination, stereotypes, sexism and glass ceiling should be things of the past.