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Examining the gender inequalities at work

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 1755 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Many feminists concentrate on gender inequality, particularly inequality in paid employment. Postmodernists place little emphasis on paid work, but both Marxist feminist and liberal feminists see employment opportunities as crucial to understanding gender inequalities. Liberal feminists have argued that a combination of legislation and changed attitudes can open up economic opportunities for women.

Equal opportunity legislation –

In 1970 the Equal Pay Act legislated that women should be paid the same as men for doing the same or broadly similar work. In 1984 an amendment stipulated that women should get equal pay for work of equal value. The 1975 Sex Discrimination Act made discrimination on the grounds of sex illegal in employment, education and the provision of goods and services. Legislation was further strengthened by the 2006 Equality Act required all public bodies to take an active role in removing illegal discrimination against women.

Despite these changes in the law, and considerable increases in recent years in the proportion of women who work in Britain, women remain disadvantaged at work:

The proportion of the labour force who are female has risen considerably. In 1971 92% of men of working age were employed and 56% of women. By 2005 80% of men were employed and 70% of women (Social Trends 2006, p.52).

In 2005 42% of women were part-time workers and 10% of men. In 2004 67% of women with dependent children worked (Social Trends 2006, p.54).

Gender and earnings –

Women continue to be less well paid than men. In 1970 women working full-time earned 63% of the average full-time male wage; by 2005 they were still only getting 82% of the average male wage (EOC, 1997, 2002a; New Earnings Survey 2005).

Horizontal segregation – where men and women tend to have different types of job – also continues. Women tend to be employed in areas such as personal services, administration, hotels and restaurants. Most routine clerical and secretarial workers are women, as are most primary teachers. Men tend to dominate in areas such as manufacturing, construction and transport. The proportion of women managers and professionals has increased recently. The Women and Work Commission (2006) found 75% of pharmacists, 40% of accountants, almost 50% of lawyers and over 30% of doctors were women.

The Equal Opportunities Report (2006) reveals the absence of women in elite positions across a number of occupations, and comments that at the present rate of progress it would 50 years before half of top directors were women and 200 years before women were equally represented in the House of Commons, whereby as many female MP’s as male MP’s.

Vertical segregation continues – i.e. men predominate in higher paid jobs whilst women predominate in lower paid ones. For example, in 2005 83% of directors and chief executives were men, 74% of waiting staff were women. Men predominate in all the higher paid lobs except personnel, training and industrial relations managers; while women predominate in all the lower-paid jobs except sports and leisure assistants, where the number of men and women are equal.

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Generally, the more senior the position, the lower the proportion of women. According to the Equal Opportunities Commission report Sex and Power: Who Runs Britain? (EOC, 2006), women are under-represented in elite positions. In 2004 only 9% of senior judges, 10% of senior police officers and 13% of national newspaper editors were women. Women held only 10.5% of the directorships of the FTSE 100 companies and 19.7% of MPs and 27.3% of cabinet ministers were female. Although most teachers are female, in 2004 only 31.8% of head teachers were women. In 2005, less than 1% of senior ranks in the armed forces and only 10.2% of senior police officers were female. The report notes some improvements in the representation of women but calculates that at current rates of change it would take 40% before 50% of top directors were female, and 200 years before there were as many female as male MPs.


Explanations for gender inequalities

Textbook pp. 124-131

Functionalism –

Human capital theory suggests that women are less valuable to employers than men because they are less committed to work and more likely to take career breaks to raise children. This gives employers less incentive to promote women and invest in their training. However, a study by Peter Sloane (1994) found that gender continued to influence pay even when qualifications and experience were taken into account.

Catherine Hakim – preference theory –

Hakim (2004) argues that women now have more choice, and inequality stems from personal preference. Women have better labour market opportunities than ever before due to amongst others the contraceptive revolution from about 1965. The equal opportunities revolution and the expansion of white collar occupations as well as the expansion of jobs for secondary earners.

This has led, according to Hakim, to the emergence of three types of women:

Adaptive women who combine both paid work and family. This group is about two thirds of women who seek flexible or part-time work. Another type is described as work-centred women, these women are a minority who focus on career and fit family life around it, this group is less than 20% of women, so men will continue to dominate the workplace. Finally, home-centred women are women who prefer not to work. This group is about 20% of women, including some who are well qualified.

Crompton (1996), however, found no evidence of clear-cut categories among women working in banking and pharmacy in Britain and France. Houston & Marks (2003) found many factors other than personal preference influenced women’s attitude towards paid employment. Abbott et al (2005) criticize Hakim for ignoring structural constraints which limit and shape women’s choices.

***CONTINUE FROM HERE – -P126 (P121-130)

The dual labour market theory –

The dual labour market theory developed by Barron & Norris (1976) distinguishes between:

The primary labour market of well-paid, fairly secure jobs with prospects;

The secondary labour market of poorly paid, insecure jobs with few prospects.

Employers try hard to attract and retain primary workers, who are seen as key to the success of their enterprises, but secondary workers are seen as easily replaced. It is difficult to transfer from the secondary to the primary labour market, and women tend to be concentrated in the secondary sector. This is due in part to employer sexism but also to factors such as lack of unionization.

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Beechey (1986) sees women as a cheap reserve army of labour, brought in during economic booms but thrown out during slumps. This creates flexibility for capitalists and depresses overall wage levels. Women tend to be in the reserve army because: they are often not in unions; they may be prepared to work for less if their wage is a second income; they are seen as combining work with domestic responsibilities.

However, this theory cannot explain horizontal segregation. Also, the continued growth of female employment suggests that women are not being used purely as a temporary, reserve army of workers.

McDowell (1992) applies post-Fordist theory to female employment. Post-Fordism suggests that there has been a move away from mass production to more flexible production of specialist products. Businesses keep a core of highly skilled workers, but most other workers are temporary or part-time, or work is contracted out to other firms. Women tend to be concentrated in the more flexible jobs, particularly part-time work, although some have benefited from gaining core jobs.

Research by Lovering (1994) found evidence to support this theory in some companies but not in others, suggesting that post-Fordist trends affect only some workers.

Some feminists stress the role of male trade unionists in restricting women’s opportunities. Walby (1986) argues that in some areas (for example, engineering) trade unions have used exclusion to disadvantage women, while in industries such as textiles, women have been disadvantaged by confinement to certain lower-paid areas of work. Low-paid work ensures that women are more likely to take on domestic responsibilities than men.

Radical feminists see patriarchy rather than capitalism as the main cause of female disadvantage. Stanko (1988) argues that sexual harassment in the workplace is used to keep women in their place. Men use their power in the workplace to protect their position. Women in jobs such as bar work and secretarial work are sexualized, and are not taken as seriously as workers or considered for promotion.

Adkins (1995) goes further, arguing that sexual work has become integral to many women’s jobs. In service sector jobs where women have contact with men they are expected to engage in sexual servicing: looking attractive, engaging in sexual banter, tolerating sexual innuendo and so on.

The Women and Work Commission (2006) argues that reform, legislation and tackling sexist socialization can solve the problem of unequal pay. They argue that:

Gender stereotyping in schools, in careers advice, and in work experience programmes, is based on traditional roles. This results in the concentration of women in lower-paid occupations. The Commission pointed out that the media could challenge these cultural expectations – two thirds of forensic science students are now women.

Combining work and family life leads to women taking career breaks and working part-time. Gosling (2005) found a single year working part-time before returning to full-time work led to a 10-15% reduction in pay, largely due to the quality of the part-time work available.

Women need more opportunities for lifelong training.

Workplace practices often disadvantage women. Job evaluations which rank male-dominated jobs more highly than female ones, even though these jobs have a similar skill level, need to be challenged.





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