Gender bias remains a major social issue in the United States. Gender bias refers to the prejudicial treatment based on the sex of an individual or a group, and it occurs at the workplace when it influences employment opportunities such as benefits, promotions, and privileges (Heilman, 2012, p.114). Women have been victims of discrimination throughout history; from lacking legal rights to being subjects of their husbands in the households. Over the last 60 years, however, significant milestones have been achieved in developed countries such as the United States in recognizing the rights of women with a view of eliminating gender bias, especially at the workplace. Although the legal and social landscapes are different today due to the introduction of anti-discrimination laws and favorable development of societal attitudes towards women rights respectively, American society is still not devoid of such cases (Heilman, 2012, p. 114). Elimination of gender bias in the workplace as a process seeks to challenge prejudice in the labor market, and it could be done through acknowledging that gender inequality exists, although subtle, and coming up with measures such as: encouraging workplace diversity and the use of performance evaluation process will eliminate barriers to women advancement.
History of Gender Bias
The history of discrimination by gender dates back to centuries. However, institutional bias against women in the US traces its roots in the nineteenth century when American women were denied the right to own property, inherit, vote, sue and be sued, among other privileges that were given to men. It all began before the Civil War and continued to the mid-twentieth century when the married women's property law was enacted, making their inferior status legal (Bobbitt-Zeher, 2011, p.765). During this period, women education and occupation were also limited, and the societal norms restricted them from staying at home and raising children. The fight for women rights started in the 1800s when their legal status was equal to that of Black males. Women, as African American males, had some civil rights but did not have political rights.
Historically, politics have been known to shape the society as those with political power make decisions in a country. Women's rights activists including Susan B. Antony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton led the Woman's Movement to advocate for equality between men and women. However, in 1870, the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment only prohibited racial discrimination in voting and not gender (Bobbitt-Zeher, 2011, p.767). Consequently, the women were outraged, and they began the Women's Suffrage Movement, which was mainly involved in the fighting for their democratic voting rights. It was until 1920 when women were first allowed to vote after the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified.
Although it was a significant achievement for women to start voting since they had a platform to express their political views, they were still facing prejudice in the labor workforce. Noteworthy, until the mid-twentieth century, the traditional role of women was to take care of the household (Heilman, 2012). However, contrary to the common belief, women in the 1800s worked outside their home though they did not have significant occupations compared to men. The struggle for equality at the workplace started in the 1870s when Belva Ann Lockwood, a member of the Women's Suffrage Movement, persuaded the Congress to pass the Equal Pay Legislation in 1872 (Bobbitt-Zeher, 2011, p.767). Lockwood, an attorney, advocated for "equal work equal pay" for men and women in government jobs because although thousands of women were federal employees, their pay was half that of their male counterparts with similar positions. The Congress enacted the Act and women started receiving equal pay for equal work.
However, the favorable legislative development was only effective for individuals in government jobs, and, therefore, female employees in the private sector, who were the majority, were still vulnerable to unfair pay practices. For instance, the first Pay Legislation Act was enacted in 1872, more than four decades before women were accorded constitutional rights. As such, they were still voiceless, which made it difficult for female employees in the private sector to demand similar rights (Bobbitt-Zeher, 2011, p.768).
Women in the Workforce
Women joined the workforce in masses during the World War I and the World War II because the United States had to keep the economy afloat while men were involved in war abroad. Women were interested in full-time employment as the societal rules discouraging them from working became loose, and labor organizations became active in ensuring they receive equal pay as men. In 1947, male employees were back to the workforce, and that was the beginning of intensified equal pay laws. Although women had worked and achieved some level of social progress, they were still not able to push their agenda. As a result, in the 1950s, the wage gap between male and female workers widened significantly (Bobbitt-Zeher, 2011, p. 766)). Although various bills were presented to the Congress, including the Women's Equal Pay Bill, they failed to pass. It was until 1963 when the Congress passed the Equal Pay Act, which required male and female employees who had a similar job in the same company to be compensated equally. The Act also provided recourse for workers because they could hold employers who did not comply with its provisions accountable (Grover, 2015, p.1).
While the wage gap narrowed following the enactment of the Equal Pay Act, there was still discrimination in the workplace, and female workers continued to experience gender prejudice. There was unrest in labor organizations as they pushed to end discrimination in employment and 1963, President Kennedy proposed civil rights legislation that would not only address the issue of racial segregation but also provide a solution to employment discrimination. The Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title VII of the Act prohibited all forms of employment discrimination. Over the years, Title VII has succeeded in protecting employees from workplace bias and providing a remedy for instances of discrimination. However, as Cerrulo (2013, p.128) points out, a new form of discrimination at workplace called implicit bias has emerged.
Similarly, recent years have witnessed various corporations facing lawsuits due to gender discrimination. For instance, Microsoft has faced some lawsuits from former female employees with allegations that they were bypassed during promotions that were given to their male colleagues. These incidents show that although it is more than half a century since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted with provisions in Title VII to end discrimination in employment, gender bias in the workplace still exists (Heilman, 2012, p.11). Moreover, although today women are in all professions those emerging as leaders in various fields are not as significant as their male counterparts. Women are still facing barriers in the form of hidden gender bias that prevent them from breaking through the glass ceiling (Pinto, 2009, p. 10). Therefore, while it is essential to eliminate gender workplace bias and comply with the provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, it can only be achieved by recognizing that prejudice at workplace still exists though in a subtle version.
The modern labor market has experienced a dramatic change in demographic composition due to globalization and the evolving workforce. While a diverse workforce presents challenges to the organization, there are also opportunities such as benefits of diversity at the workplace (Bond & Haynes, 2014, p.170). Diversity can be viewed using demographic characteristics such as race, sex, and age because they define the patterns that firms are using to employ individuals. The labor force is more diverse today with regards to female employees than in the past decades and women are encouraged to take competitive positions as their male counterparts. Although women face barriers such as ambivalent sexism, maternal wall, and double standards as Pinto (2008, p.11) puts it, they have a reprieve due to the legal platforms available to protect their rights.
Workplace diversity has both positive and negative impact on organizations and individuals. When institutions successfully address the concept of diversity, groups such as women and people with disability experience a range of benefits, which include job satisfaction, opportunities for growth, and relief from discrimination. However, a diverse workforce could also encourage subtle biases since organizations in contemporary society do not tolerate overt expressions of prejudice (Bond & Haynes, 2014, p.177). Groups that have been historically disadvantaged such as women are likely to be targets of subtle bias because men, who in most cases are the dominant group, have a high status that gives them power over their female counterparts. Employees who are targets of these forms of hidden prejudice could suffer in silence, which affects their productivity negatively. Therefore, even as organizations enjoy the benefits of workplace diversity, they should also focus on eliminating cases of subtle biases.
The Way Out of the Current Situation
Using Workplace Diversity to Eliminate Gender Bias
Legal Actions Against Discriminatory Firms
Workplace inequality is an inherent issue facing many corporations, and it has been one of the reasons why giant firms such as the Coca-Cola Company have faced lawsuits in the past. While causes of workplace prejudice are based both on research and practice, research on its solution and the efficacy has not experienced a significant breakthrough (Kalev, Dobbin, & Kelly, 2006, p.590). Notably, organizations have recently relied on workplace diversity as a remedy, which has succeeded in some firms and failed in others. For instance, in a critical review on workplace diversity, Marques (2010, p. 442) reveals that three major American corporations could be using the concept as a reactive attitude towards the problem of workplace bias. However, the author also points out companies that have previously faced discrimination lawsuits and later implemented various workplace diversity programs. For instance, following a discrimination class action lawsuit was filed against Denny's restaurant chain and the firm incurred a significant amount in settling the case, the management took various steps to remedy the situation (Marques, 2010, p. 442). Although it was after a discrimination instance, the firm succeeded in ensuring diversity in the workplace, which has helped reduce cases of all forms of bias.
Organizations use affirmative action plans to encourage members of a minority group to participate in the activities of the firms actively. Affirmative action entails measures used in the allocation of resources or appointment of individuals eligible for promotion, to ensure the representation of minority groups. According to Kalev, Dobbin, and Kelly (2006, p.591), some of these programs such as affirmative action have been efficacious in reducing gender prejudice, especially in structure establishing responsibility where women have been involved in top managerial positions. Organizations that value diversity will ensure they promote factors that influence a diverse working environment. Notably, the environmental cues such as organizational value for diversity play a significant role in informing individuals about biases that exist within their working environment (Marques, 2010, p.181). Therefore, if a firm promotes programs such as affirmative action, women and other minority groups will be encoura...
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