Last Updated 26 Jan 2021

Inequality in the Workplace

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Fifty years ago, human resource management was considerably simpler because our work force was strikingly homogeneous. In the 1950s, for example, the U. S work force consisted of primarily of while males employed in manufacturing, having wives who stayed at home, tending to the family’s two-plus children. Inasmuch as these workers were alike, personnel’s job was certainly easier. But times have changed. And with these changes have come a new workforce, one that by the year 2020 will be characterized as quite diverse (Crittenden, 1994, p. 18).

Such work diversity has been brought about by the equal employment opportunities for men and women. With the entry of women into the workforce, prejudice has also entered. Today, we find two kinds of sexism attacking the women at workplace – hostile sexism and benevolent sexism. While hostile sexism attacks women directly by way of degrading them during a conversation, using vulgarity at them or shouting at them. On the other hand, benevolent sexism attacks them indirectly by reminding them their traditional roles of an obedient wife or a submissive girl friend and tries to pull them down.

This paper focuses on the thesis statement that “Inequality against women at workplace has become global. ” In any organization, there are problems of inequality such as gender inequality, or wage inequality or racial inequality and so on. These inequalities finally lead to organizational conflicts of various kinds. This may be attributed to certain social problems and quality of life. We need to find out the proper tools and proper information to study the problems and solve those (Lauer & Lauer, 2006).

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Insight on Hostile and Benevolent Sexism Psychologists distinguish between “hostile” and “benevolent” sexism (Glick & Fiske, 2001, pp. 109-118; Glick, Fiske, Mladinic, et al, 2000, pp. 763-775). The technical definition of hostile sexism is a set of beliefs about women – especially feminists: they see sexism where it does not exist, whine about discrimination when they lose fair and square, want to control men, and are sexual teases. The technical definition of benevolent sexism is the other side of the same coin.

It is a complementary set of beliefs: women are purer, more refined, and more moral than men, and should be cherished, protected, and financially provided for. Men and women who endorse hostile sexist attitudes also tend to endorse benevolent sexist attitudes. Further, cross-nationally, men’s and women’s attitudes are correlated: nations with more sexist men are also nations with more sexist women. And, finally, nations with less legal gender equality show higher sexism scores. Gender Perceptions and attitudes Experimental data demonstrate that we do not see other people simply as people; we see them as males or females.

Once gender perceptions are invoked they work to disadvantage women by directing and skewing our perception, even in the case of objective characteristics like height. In one example (Biernat, Manis & Nelson, 1991, pp. 495-502), the experimenters exploited the fact that our schemas include the correct information that men are on average taller than women. In this experiment, college students saw photographs of other students and estimated their height in feet and inches. The photos always contained a reference item, such as a desk or a doorway, so that height could be accurately estimated.

Unbeknownst to the students who were doing the estimating, the experimenters had matched the photographs so that for every photograph of a male student of a given height was a female student of the same height. But the students were affected by their knowledge that men are on average taller than women. They judged the women as shorter than they really were, and the men as taller. In this experiment, as is typically the case, there were no differences in how male and female observers perceived the others; we all have non-conscious hypotheses about males and females and we all use those hypotheses in perceiving and evaluating others.

The important point about this study is that a genuinely objective characteristic, height, is not immune from the effects of gender perceptions. Improvement of Equality in workplace The results of inequality in workplace can be improved only by changing the gender perceptions. Individuals should be seen as individuals and not as male or female. A number of studies have shown that men tend to emerge in leadership positions in U. S.

culture because they are more likely than women to exhibit traits that are believed to “go hand-in-hand” with positions of authority. These traits include (1) more aggressive be¬haviors and tendencies; (2) initiation of more verbal interactions; (3) focusing of remarks on “output” (as opposed to “process”) issues; (4) less willingness to reveal information and expose vulnerability; (5) a greater task (as opposed to social) orientation; and (6) less sen¬sitivity, which presumably enables them to make tough choices quickly (Baird & Bradley, 1979, pp. 101-110).

Thus, cultural expectations may create a self-fulfilling prophecy, with individuals exhibiting the “female traits” of focusing on process, social orientation, and so on more likely to be relegated to operational and subordinate roles. Women have to confront sexual harassment to a much greater extent than men do. Women have had to forfeit promising careers because they would not accept the sexual advances of men in positions of power and did not feel they had any recourse but to quit their jobs. Anita Hill’s testimony at the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings in October 1991 was a national turning point on this issue.

Since the hearing, many more women have come forward with complaints about sexual harassment in the workplace (Carlson, 1999, pp. 94-95). Role of Human Resource Management As women, both natural born and foreign citizens become the dominant employees in the work force, Human Resource Management will have to change its practices. This means that organizations will have to make concerted efforts to attract and maintain a diversified work force (Joinson, 1995, pp. 82-85). This includes HRM offerings fall under the heading of the family-friendly organization (Moskowitz, 1997, pp. 18-96).

A family friendly organization is one that has flexible work schedules and provides such employee benefits as child care. Organizations that have made the greatest strides in successfully managing diversity tend to share a number of characteristics. These factors are a commitment from top manage¬ment to valuing diversity, diversity training programs, employee support groups, accom¬modation of family needs, senior mentoring and apprenticeship programs, communica¬tion standards, organized special activities, diversity audits, and a policy of holding management responsible for the effectiveness of diversity efforts.

As more women have entered the workforce, more men and women work together in teams and on projects. Consequently, more employers are becoming concerned about the close personal relationships that do develop at work. When work-based friendships lead to romance and off-the-job sexual relationships, HR managers and employers face a dilemma: Should they “monitor” these relationships in order to protect them from potential legal complaints but thereby ‘meddling’ in employees’ private, off-the-job lives?

Or do they simply ignore such relationships and the potential problems they present? One study found that the way a romance relationship is viewed affects the actions that may be taken. (Pierce et al, 2000). For instance, if a relationship is clearly consensual or if it involves a supervisor-subordinate relationship, then the actions taken may be different. The greatest concerns are romantic relationships between supervisors and subordinates, because the harassment of women subordinates by male supervisors is the frequent type of sexual harassment situation.

Some employers have addressed the issue of workplace romances by establishing policies permitting workplace romances, as shown by a study that over 70% of surveyed firms had such a policy (Bloom, 2001). Those policies often describe “appropriate” workplace behaviors or may require disclosure to the HR department. Employment attorneys generally recommend that the HR manager remind both parties in workplace romances of the company policy on sexual harassment and encourage either party to contact HR department should the relationship cool and become one involving unwanted and unwelcome attentions.

Also, the HR manager always should document that such conversations occurred. Much has been made of the advantages of the Internet and its positive effects on HR manage¬ment. However electronic informa¬tion technology is also creating new problems for HR managers as well because sexual harassment occurs in e-mails and Internet access systems. Cyber sexual harassment is a growing concern, as evidenced by, a survey of HR professionals, which found 31% of them had dealt with situations involving sex¬ually harassing e-mails at work. This cyber sexual harassment occurs in a variety of forms.

It may be an employee forwarding a joke with sexual content received from a friend outside the company. Or it may be an employee repeatedly asking another employee to meet for lunch or a date. Another more troublesome form is employees who access pornographic Web sites at work, and then share some contents with other employees. Even some¬thing such as an employee who has a screen saver of his wife in a revealing outfit or an actress dressed in a bikini has led to com¬plaints by other employees. Many employers have devel¬oped policies addressing inappro¬priate use of e-mail and company computer systems.

According to one study, 85% of employers had policies on electronic technology usage (Robinson, 2001). Many policies have ‘zero – ¬tolerance’ whereby disciplinary action occurs regardless of the proclaimed innocence of the employee. More serious situations have led to employee terminations, as evidenced by some examples. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Michi¬gan fired seven employees for sending pornographic e-mails. Dow Chemical disciplined more than 200 employees and fired 50 of them for having e-mailed porno¬graphic images and other inappro¬priate materials using the com¬pany information system.

A well-publicized case occurred at the New York Times where 20 employees were fired for sending offensive and inappropriate e-mails – many of the individuals repeatedly doing so (Robinson, 2001). HR managers are handling cyber sexual harassment in a number of ways. First, having a policy is important, but it is even more crucial to train all employees on sexual harassment and electronic usage policies. Additionally, many employers have placed scanners on their e-mail and Web sites that screen for inappropriate words and images.

Offending employees receive the warnings and disciplinary actions associated with “flagged” items (Robinson, 2001). To conclude, the problems faced by Human Resource Professionals while dealing with work place inequality could be summarized as follows. Any kind of bullying at work could result in, decrease in employee morale, lack of motivation, decrease in productivity, and increased employee turnover. All these factors finally contribute to Organizational conflicts (Felsenthal, 1995). The problem could be resolved by Human Resource by way of a collective agreement on the work culture.

Based on the agreement, the management could put out policies that would apply to all staff and intimate the same to all the employees. Some elements and principles could be contained in such a policy. It would apply to all staff (managerial, executive, manual and non-manual workers); the working position and personal situation of offenders are irrelevant, and so are the victim’s. Every employee would be required to respect the personality and dignity of every other worker. Every employee would have the right to respect for his/her own personality and dignity. It would cover sexual harassment, bullying and gender discrimination.

The Policy would set out the forms of conduct deemed to be infringements of contractual obligations and hence disciplinary matters (as well as potentially constituting grounds for civil or criminal action). The victim may ask the management or trade union or the human resources department for assistance in approaching the Work Culture Commission; improving the quality of performance feedback, including informal develop mentor oriented feedback as well as corrective feedback. The Policy should ensure improving the availability of flexible working arrangements, and ensuring fair and reasonable treatment of staff.

The Policy should communicate openly at all levels, fostering a more engaging work environment through involvement of staff in decision making processes that impact on their work. It should also increase the management by way of setting targets/goals and ensuring effective reporting structures. A Policy or Code of Conduct should be written, in consultation with employees. Training should be provided to the employees on the organization’s policies and procedures, and ensure that supervisors and managers have the skills to recognize and deal with inappropriate behavior.

The aim of the training should be to create awareness about what bullying is; the warning signals and effects, why it is not tolerated and include this information during induction of new employees. Procedures of complaint handling and investigation should be developed and treat all complaints seriously. A contact person should be appointed for informal enquiries, concerns or complaints, so that actions can be taken early in the process to avoid unacceptable behavior escalating into workplace bullying.

The contact person can be a trained person within the organization or an employee assistance provider, whose role is to deal with various employee issues and who may be able to provide advice or mediate in bullying cases. The effectiveness of any action taken in response to discriminating or bullying behavior should be monitored.


Baird, J E & Bradley, P H. 1979. Styles of Management and Communication: A Comparative Study of men and women, Communication Monographs, 46, pp. 101-110. Biernat, Monica, Manis, M & Nelson, T E. 1991. Stereotypes and standards of judgment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60 (4):495–502.

Bloom, Allison. 2001. “Love is in the Air,” MSN Careers, (February 23). Carlson, M. 1999. Sexual Harassment, Business Week, Chapter 999, pp. 94-95. Felsenthal, Edward. 1995. “Potentially Violent Employees Present Bosses with a Catch-22,” The Wall Street Journal, (April 5), pp. B-1; B-5. Glick, P. & Fiske. S. T. 2001. An ambivalent alliance: Hostile and benevolent sexism as complementary justifications for gender inequality. American Psychologist, 56:109–118. Glick, P. , Fiske S. T. , Mladinic A, et al. 2000. Beyond prejudice as simple antipathy: Hostile and benevolent sexism across cultures.

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79:763–75. Joinson, Carla. 1995. “Cultural Sensitivity adds up to Good Business Sense,” HR Magazine, November, pp. 82-85. Lauer, Robert H. & Lauer, Jeanette C. 2006. Social Problems and Quality of Life. 10th Edition. McGraw Hill. Moskowitz, Milton. 1997. “100 Best Companies for Working Mother,” October, pp. 18-96. Pierce et al, 2000. “Effects of a Dissolved Workplace Romance and Rater Characteristics on Responses to a Sexual Harassment Accusation” Academy of Management Journal, 869-880. Robinson, Karyn-Siobhan. 2001. “Cyber-sex permeates the workplace”, HR News, April.

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