As society progressed out of the 19th century - an era when two-thirds of all women were illiterate -- women embarked on a mass migration that would see them out of their kitchens and into the workplace (Thompson, 2008). More than a hundred years later (and having survived a few extreme feminist movements between then and now), we enter the post-feminist era; an era where rhetoric is focused on gender equality and equity. It has been over a century, but negative gender stereotypes are still an issue that plagues the careers of many women. Gender discrimination is a global phenomenon and there are few effective steps taken in order to solve this problem (Kline, 2005). It has been proposed that part of this issue is due to managers feeling there is nothing ethically wrong or morally reprehensible about this form of discriminatory behaviour (Lane & Piercy, 2003).
This paper aims to provide an insight into the causes and the effects of gender discrimination within the scope of the business environment and examine the ethical issues involved in the framework of the Kantian model of ethics.
Gender Discrimination in the Recruitment Process
Gender discrimination in a human resource context refers to the factoring of an individual's gender in the decision-making process of recruitment, selection, appraisal and compensation. It is commonplace in both Asian and Western societies for men to be chosen for more lucrative designations and higher salaries than women (Atkinson, 1997). Conversely, there are many cases which point towards reverse discrimination, with men complaining that the women in their firm receive greater favours and are treated more leniently -- a phenomenon perhaps in line with their stereotypical role as the "fairer sex."
Over the years, there have been various laws and regulations internationally that govern the rights of an individual within a business (Warneryd, 1994). These laws form a groundwork for universal rights in ethical decision-making based on the Kantian model.
Organisations are responsible if their methodologies of testing and screening in recruitment are found to be discriminatory or if application forms regarding the employment seek information which is meant to screen for gender preference. A strong indicator that a company engages in a gender discriminatory practices can be derived from a comparison of recruited personnel and their qualifications (Oliverio, 1999). While it is normal for a slight disparity in qualifications between male and female candidates, there is a trend for companies to require females to possess higher qualifications than their male counterparts in order to be successfully recruited.
There are many examples in this scenario, such as in a case where the male candidate was a drop out from his high school, he did not have any diploma but got a lucrative and important designation in the administration. He was chosen above a female candidate who earned her degree in masters. Cases like these greatly outline the discrimination factor which is evident from the hiring procedure.
Sexual Harrassment In The Workplace
Another key form of gender discrimination commonly found in today's business environment is sexual harassment. Schminke (1998) defines this as "actions claimed by individuals that are unwanted as well as sexual in their type." There are two main classes of sexual harassment found in the workplace today, given different names in different cultures according to their laws and regulations.
The first form of sexual harassment is the this-for-that exchange in which higher ranking managers offers their opposite sexed employee of lower rank a benefit such as a promotion or a rise in designation, authority or salary, or even threats to disassociate with the current benefits, upcoming benefits or disassociate with the job completely unless sexual favors are provided to the higher rank official (Hoffman, 1990). This behaviour is completely unethical. Exploring this in the Kantian model:
Consistency: Managers would likely not perform this behaviour on their own daughters.
Human dignity: This is not something generally desired by female employees. If sexual exchanges are performed, they are a means to an end.
Universality: This behaviour is likely frowned upon by external observers. In cases where this has been published in the press (in a classic example, the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal), it has been met with harsh disapproval.
The second type of sexual harassment is hostility in the working environment. It happens when a personnel or a group of personnel of the firm repeatedly and routinely make inappropriate comments, gestures, noises as well as making undesired sexual advancement or using sex in such a degree and manner that the overall actions disturbs the target personnel's abilities to perform her routine tasks, feels highly and thoroughly intimidated or, in some cases, threatened in the working environment.
Laws, rules and regulations imposed by governments throughout the world assist in protecting the rights of employees (Williams, 1992). Some of these laws and regulations provide recourse in cases where the employee feels that senior-level management only hires or gives promotion to the men and it keeps the women in certain positions all the time or vice versa, that the senior level management or other personnel in charge participates in actions which are deemed insulting, degrading and intolerable towards the personnel of opposite gender, the clear indication from a manager or any other senior level management personnel through its communication that it desires to have "intimidating" relations with the target employee, queries from managers with regards to the personnel's private life that are deemed inappropriate or even inappropriate manager-employee touching that is without mutual consent.
Measures to End Discrimination
There are many methods by which employees of any organization can stop gender discrimination or any forms of it from happening at all from the first instance at the workplace, some of these steps are as follows: "The personnel of any department of any organization should adopt the policy of zero tolerance at any sort of action which is considered as discrimination." (Costa, 1998). In many cases, this is done by the making of a formal policy which is designed solely for the purpose of fighting against any sort of discrimination which can happen to any personnel.
The firm can choose to educate its employees on how to react and deal with certain sorts of harassment situations, they should be taught real life examples of employees on how they got into a certain situation and how they got out of it, many different courses should be conducted which trains the managers as well as the employees on these issues.
This greatly benefits the organization in many aspects, it brings more reputation towards the organization in front of new recruits, and the firm itself shows that it is very keen in implementing policies which help its employees deal with these types of difficult situations. The firm can impose tough disciplinary standards for those who go against any of the policies which may include the payment of fine, threat from facing lawsuits or even losing the job.
Other steps that the personnel can take are to hold a complete and detailed assessment of each and every new situation of discrimination which arrives. If the firm finds a scenario where it knows that the discrimination has happened and the firm will be held responsible, then the firm can offer to relax the penalty imposed if it does a detailed in-house investigation which sums up the necessary action on the personnel responsible for the misbehave, it may even dismiss that personnel even it holds a top ranked senior management post.
During the training of the senior level management in recognizing the cases of gender discrimination especially sexual discrimination or harassment, it should be told to them very strictly that they themselves at all costs should not try to solve the problem on their own. They should report this to their firm's Human Resources section as soon as possible and inform about the case of harassment or any sort of discrimination which needs proper investigation.
In cases where training on how to handle gender discrimination is given to all of the personnel of the firm then from here on the next thing which needs to be taught to them is about the behavior, i.e. which behavior should be and should not be considered as tolerable. Finally, a better understanding among the general staff should be promoted which helps them in putting their efforts together so that they may perform more efficiently. In cases of any complaint observed by a third person, then that person should try to bring the matter to the complaint authority because in many cases it has been observed that many of the victims never spoke of the injustice that has happened against them because of the fear of any reprisal act which might be committed against them.
Kantian model of ethical evaluation
"The Kantian model of ethical evaluation teaches us that in any sort of environment, either official or any other, we mush prohibit from certain types of actions." (Baron, 1995). These are the actions which bring harm to others such…