Gender Discrimination in the Workforce Term Paper

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Sex Discrimination in the Workplace

When my grandmother was a young woman she worked in offices as a secretary. At that time (in the 1950s) women routinely earned about half what men did for the same work. Other little signs of discrimination were telling, too. Women were not allowed to smoke in the office, for example, but men were. Men were always addressed as "Mr. So-and-so," but women were called by their first names. Today, the little signs have changed, but the pay gap still exists. Gibelman (2003) reports findings from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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Full-time working women currently get 75% of what men get. Women in state and local government jobs do better -- they earn about 80 to 90% of what men earn. The American Bar Association conducted a recent study on women lawyers. They reported, "Bias against women remains entrenched in the legal profession and results in steep inequities of pay, promotion, and opportunity" (Bernstein cited in Gibelman, 2003, p. 23). At colleges and universities men's salaries are higher than women's in every position, regardless of experience. A University of Michigan study reveals that female doctors get less pay and hold lower status positions than their male counterparts. The average female social worker earns about $34,135 compared to $37,503 for males. Women who work in predominantly female professions (nursing, for example) earn much less then men working in predominantly male professions (such as surveying). Remick (1984) points out, "The sex of workers performing a job is the best single predictor of the compensation for that job, surpassing in importance, education, experience, or unionization" (Remick cited in Gibelman, 2003, p. 24).

How Did It Start?

TOPIC: Term Paper on Gender Discrimination in the Workforce Assignment

Gender discrimination stems from the patriarchal system. Patriarchy as a social system is believed to have begun in pre-historic times when a meat-for-sex economy was formed. By biblical times the system was fully entrenched. For example, when Jesus fed the multitude with loaves and fishes, the Bible reports, "and they that did eat were four thousand men, beside women and children" (Matt. 16:37). Women were not counted because they were considered chattel, like animals. Sex discrimination in the workplace is merely an extension of a societal-wide set of customs and gender-role requirements that has been going on for at least two thousand years.

It starts early. Socialization into the social system we call Patriarchy begins at birth (if not earlier, since we now know the sex of our babies before they are born). We put pink on "beautiful" and "angelic" baby girls and blue on "handsome" and "tough" baby boys. We hold girl babies so they can see into our faces when we talk to them. We hold boy babies so they can look around and see what's going on in the room. By the time boys and girls get to school, they will be already thoroughly socialized into their gender roles. Girls will tend to be quiet, docile, and conforming. Boys will be more active, demanding, noisy, and competitive. Their teachers, products of the system themselves, will tend to perpetuate the division between the two. "Big, strong boys" will always be chosen to carry things, for instance.

Boys will consistently get more attention and more of the teacher's time. While girls will be expected to raise their hands before speaking (and corrected if they don't), boys will be allowed to blurt out answers in class. Girls will be "less likely to be called on by name...asked fewer complex and abstract questions, receive less praise or constructive feedback, and... given less direction on how to do things..." (Sadker, 2002, p. 239). Later on, boys will enroll in advanced computer classes, but girls will be in word processing and other clerical support programs (Sadker, 2002). Eventually, all this will be reflected in the careers they choose. Women will often enroll in college programs to be teachers, social workers, nurses, and librarians, but only 7-14% of the men will enroll in these programs. Men will go instead where the money and power is. Workplace discrimination will simply be a continuation of the same thing.

We are the recipients, either willingly or unwillingly, of the patriarchal legacy. What began in prehistoric times as a cooperative system for survival, has become dysfunctional. A patriarchal society is one that is male-dominated, male-identified, and male-centered. A male-dominated society is one in which men hold nearly all the positions of power, and women are overwhelmingly subordinate. Men are executives, for example, while women are clerks and secretaries. Men are managers; women are cashiers. Men are bankers; women are tellers. Men are the principals in the schools and the administrators at the Board of Education, while women are teachers, assistants, and cooks in the school lunchrooms.

In a male-identified culture, masculine and feminine characteristics are sharply delineated and dichotomized.

Men are supposed to be strong, forceful, decisive, and aggressive. Women are supposed to be weak, supportive, dependant, and ingratiating. The treatment Hillary Clinton got when her husband was president is a good indication of how un-ready U.S. society was for female decisiveness and competence. You might think that because we value masculine qualities so much more than feminine qualities, we would be delighted to see anyone in a public office express strength, forcefulness, decisiveness, and assertiveness, but patriarchy despises these qualities in a woman. When Mrs. Clinton organized a national health care plan, the reaction was an uproar of patriarchal outrage. She was attacked personally and often in a hateful manner, so much so that she felt forced to adopt a more "low-key" (traditionally feminine) role and to make herself less visible. She couldn't very well accuse the whole country of sex discrimination in the workplace, but in a very real sense, that is what it was.

The conflict between being a woman and holding a traditionally masculine position of power (chairing a national committee on health care, for example) led the public to see her as unwomanly. According to the beliefs of patriarchy, women who fill male roles lose their femininity. They are not women anymore. Some people articulated this belief by claiming, among other things, that Mrs. Clinton was a lesbian. As Johnson (1997) puts it, "the more powerful a woman is under patriarchy, the more "unsexed" she becomes in the eyes of others as her female cultural identity recedes beneath the mantle of male-identified power and the masculine images associated with it" (p. 7).

Patriarchal societies are always male-centered. In literature, for example, including movies and TV, the male experience is considered the human experience. Until only about 20 years ago, schools taught that male pronouns were always to be used when referring to people in mixed groups. If there were 39 girls and only one boy, for example, the male pronoun was "proper" English (as in "The student will put his pencils and his books in his desk at 3:15 and get ready to go home"). This kind of male-centered message says that females are unimportant and negligible. It implies that men are human beings and women are something other. Women's work and contributions, as a result, are devalued, belittled, and often invisible. The domestic work that women do, usually unpaid, is not even defined as work. For years, schoolteachers, almost always women, were hopeful that more men would enter the field of teaching because it would help them (the female teachers) to gain respect and better pay.

Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling: What's Stopping Women?

Forty years ago women in "high places" virtually didn't exist. Women physicians and lawyers, for example, were so rare that finding one caused comment and sometimes consternation. That is no longer true, of course, and leaders agree that the glass ceiling is not as sturdy as it once was. Women have entered all areas of business and make up 50% of management positions (Solomon, 2000). But few women are in positions of leadership. Naturally, everybody wonders why women, in spite of their struggles, don't seem to be reaching the top. Many people argue that discrimination is the cause of women's failure to break through the glass ceiling.

What is the Problem?

In industries such as finance and tobacco, women hold 20% of corporate officer positions, but industries such as computers and textiles have less then 5%. Marshall (2004) cites a report from the Annenberg Public Policy Center. Women hold only 15% of the leadership positions in telecommunications, publishing, entertainment, and advertising. The American Bar Association reports that women make up only 15% of partners in private law firms (Gill, 2004). According to Snyder (2002) women are grossly under-represented on Boards of Directors, holding only 11% of board seats at Fortune 1000 companies and 12% of the Board seats of the Fortune 1000 healthcare companies. Jones (2001) states: "For the third consecutive year the 50 largest public companies with headquarters in Chicago appointed no women to positions higher than executive vice-president..." (p. 15). Jenkins (2004) points out that black women fare even worse and "constitute just 1.1% of corporate officers in… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Gender Discrimination in the Workforce.  (2006, November 15).  Retrieved September 28, 2021, from

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"Gender Discrimination in the Workforce."  15 November 2006.  Web.  28 September 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Gender Discrimination in the Workforce."  November 15, 2006.  Accessed September 28, 2021.