Diversity in the Workplace Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

start of the new millennium is a true privilege, especially for previously oppressed social and ethnic groups such as women and African-Americans. A new social paradigm of equality and tolerance has begun to ensure that anyone can do anything useful with their lives if they want to. This makes the 21st century an exciting time, but also a challenging one. Although the above-mentioned new paradigm does exist, centuries of conditioning makes it difficult for the professed ideals to come true in practice. In focusing on gender roles and conflicts in the workplace then, it is my aim to investigate the extent to which an environment that is professed to be diverse, actually does cater for the variety of needs experienced by women. I also wish to find out how gender roles are perceived and to what extent these still dictate a certain amount of prejudice in the workplace.

It does appear that sexism is still prevalent in the professional world today. Women for example seem to be underrepresented in managerial positions. Men also appear to assume that working for a man would accomplish more than working for a woman. Furthermore the roles that women traditionally play - the emotional, understanding quality - is perceived positively in women, while traditionally male roles, such as that of discipline, tends to be received more positively from a man than from a woman. A number of insightful studies are examined below to determine the extent to which the above assumptions are true.

Conditioned Perceptions of Gender Roles

Statistics cited by Atwater shows that there is a dramatic increase of almost 20% of female representation from the 1980's to 2000.

There are however factors restricting women's progress to managerial levels; although women comprise almost half of first-line supervising jobs, the higher-level management positions are still mostly reserved for men while women remain in lower-level staff jobs (Atwater, 2004).

A shortcoming in studying this phenomenon is identified by Atwater to be that management has been assumed to be a predominantly masculine role, with women as "intruders." Atwater however presents management as a role divided into a number of subroles, which can be perceived as either masculine or feminine. These perceptions are inherent in the above-mentioned conditioning practices of the centuries before the ideal of tolerance was born. Perceptions are coupled with expectations of what Atwater (2004) describes as gender-consistent behavior. Expectations from men in North America are for example to be assertive, confident and ambitions, while women in the same society are expected to be helpful, kind and supportive. These expectations in terms of social roles, reinforced through centuries of practice, have then translated into the workplace in general, and into managerial positions in particular. The traditional roles of the male in society have been seen as the particular qualities needed to be a requirement for efficient management.

Atwater (2004) however identifies a number of subroles inherent in the management position. Interestingly, despite the popular traditionalist approach, many of these can be seen as feminine, while other subroles are again predominantly masculine, as opposed to the entire occupation being predominantly male-orientated.

Managers are for example expected to be good at problem solving, while at the same time being helpful and considerate towards their staff. The problem of what Atwater terms the "glass ceiling" comes in with the actual perceptions of traditional top management roles. These positions, in addition to being traditionally held by men, also require what is perceived as male qualities.

Planning, strategic decision-making and resource allocation for example are seen as roles handled better by men, and involving fewer of the emotional and supportive qualities that women traditionally inherit. Lower level managers again are more directly involved with employees, and thus need a larger amount of the interpersonal skills required to for example monitor employee performance.

Another issue related to this is the potentially negative perception of women who show themselves competent in performing more masculine roles. This "role congruity theory" (Atwater, 2004) may for example manifest itself when a female has to discipline a worker, or enforce rules. This may lead to perceptions of incompetent management, whereas the same behavior in a man will lead to a more positive perception of competence. Conversely, negative perceptions can be attached to a male manager of traditionally female behavior is manifest. This has specific consequences regarding the perception of competence. Females performing female roles in management are seen as competence, while the same is conversely true if males perform male management roles.

The truth is however that, although stereotypical perceptions tend to persist, it is clear, according to Atwater, that management roles cannot be perceived as being exlusively masculine or feminine. Roles such as mentoring, recognizing and rewarding for example can be perceived as more feminine than masculine, whereas disciplining, problem solving and delegating are perceived as predominantly masculine roles (Atwater, 2004).

Another interesting element of Atwater's findings is that the above perceptions do not vary between the genders. Both women and men for example see the role of communicator predominantly as that of women, whereas discipline and task-oriented jobs are seen by both genders as that of men. This indicates an equality in preconceived perceptions of gender roles at the managerial level.

On the other hand men are more likely to stereotype gender roles than women, as shown by Atwater's study. Men see more subroles within the managerial position as particularly male-oriented, as opposed to women are less likely to stereotype the same roles as masculine. For women then more of these roles are androgynous as opposed to being oriented to either of the genders. Women thus believe that the role of a manager is not exclusively masculine, or even mostly so.

Indeed, Atwater suggests that women are stereotyping managerial roles in the same way as men, seeing the majority of roles as exclusively female.

The stereotypical views from both men and women are revealing in terms of the way in which men and women see themselves and each other. This occurs not only in the view of professions, but also in society itself. It has been seen above that society, as a result of conditioning, sees gender roles in a stereotypical way. The new trend is however for women to respond to male stereotyping with a similar type of female stereotyping.

Gender Roles and Family Obligations

Along with changing paradigms in terms of gender relations and tolerance, roles in terms of the family have become a focus of research and thinking. Changing gender roles as seen in the work context have consequently become part of the changing perception of gender roles within society itself. As more women are joining the professional world, more men are also taking more responsibility within the home (Cinamon, 2002).

In this kind of research however, stereotypes have further become an issue in the perception of gender roles. It has for example been hypothesized that women have experienced a greater amount of work-family conflict than men. This hypothesis makes sense in terms of the above-mentioned paradigm of a centuries-old stereotype. It is assumed that women, as mothers, care givers and sympathizers, would experience a larger amount of conflict between their duties at work and at home. Surprisingly, however, Cinamon cites recent research suggesting that little difference exists between how men and women experience work-family conflict. This indeed substantiates the ideal of a new paradigm for a new millennium. This may be seen as a paradox with what has been said above about managerial positions, where there does not seem to be a reconciliation between male and female perceptions of the gender role, but indeed a split in perception, whereas women see more managerial roles as female and men as male.

Cinamon (2002) suggests that this relates to a fundamental identity issues as they relate to gender roles both in society and in family life. In the current family paradigm the roles of male and female have evolved to become closer in identity to each other. The male paradigm of work as more important than family has evolved to include a family paradigm for males, whereas the family as more important than work paradigm has evolved into the opposite direction for females. Women are much more prominent in the job market than they have been before, despite the gender stereotypes mentioned above.

Currently, there is a number of factors influencing an individual's roles in life. Whether masculine or feminine, anything can influence what an individual is capable of in terms of professionalism or family life. What Cinamon suggests is that gender is not the only determinate in deciding the role that any individual plays in life.

Cinamon (2002) further suggests that individual differences, rather than gender stereotypes, should be taken into account when determining work-family conflicts. Indeed, Cinamon recognizes that work and family are interdependent; something that studies tend to ignore, despite the fact that both are recognized as contributing factors to the above-mentioned conflict

Cinamon further hypothesizes that family is more important to the women studied in her…

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