In this age of globalization, there is much controversy on the coming together of all kinds of people for a common purpose. Diversity is slowly becoming a common feature in schools, workplaces and communities. Due to this development, a lot of issues crop up such as acceptance of different races and cultures and changes in practices previously viewed as established norms.
Due to the significance of equal opportunities to citizens the world over, laws have been passed to ensure that they are available to everyone. These laws have been designed protect anyone from being discriminated against by reason of sex, marital status, ethnic or national origin, color, race, nationality, age, disability, religion, and differing terms of employment, including pay for jobs of equal value.
Progress has its drawbacks. One is people’s resistance to change, refusal to come out of comfort zones to embrace newness and integrate it in the familiar. This may lead to discrimination as a justification of such non-acceptance. Women are especially affected with this, specifically in the workplace.
Working women are usually faced with a multitude of challenges. On top of balancing their duties and responsibilities as members of their families and church or community groups, they need to be efficient workers in their chosen professions.
One main challenge is the issue of equal opportunities afforded to them. Competing with men for opportunities to advance their careers have built-in dilemmas brought about by sexual stereotypes passed on from generation to generation.
“Equal opportunity” is a means by which a person receives equal access in society. “Equal opportunities approach” is premised on the principle that all people can avail of certain rights or privileges such as education, employment, health care or other welfare services without any discrimination or any preference whatsoever.
Different organizations now apply various equal opportunity practices, which consist of a number of means used to provide fair conditions for all their members in the process of employment and work (Equal Opportunities, 2006).
The legislative base for such practices varies from country to country. For example, some governments demand from employers to give equal attention and provide equal possibilities to both genders in the hiring process. However, their opponents believe that employers are not to be forced to take an unbiased position as this assumption itself can be considered as a manifestation of discrimination.
The problem with equal opportunities provision is very controversial as there is no single procedure and no strict definition of the term opportunities itself. Therefore, one can understand the meaning of equal opportunities if considered in its practical application.
People are given equal opportunities when they possess the same abilities, exert the same effort and attain similar successful results with those that precede them. However, in the real life situation, equal abilities and equal conditions are hardly attainable.
The notion of equal opportunities is closely related with the notion of sexual discrimination. The latter is a biased attitude towards a person because of his/her gender, pregnancy or marital status, etc. This is direct sexual discrimination (Equal Opportunities, 2006). An example is a company’s policy of not hiring married women because of possible restrictions their marriages can pose that may affect job performance.
Indirect discrimination happens when the requirements are equal for all people, but these result in an unfair disadvantage on certain groups due to their gender, marital status or pregnancy (Equal Opportunities, 2006). An example is a manager’s demand for overtime for the whole staff including pregnant workers.
Different legislative acts were adopted to ensure fair and non-discriminative attitudes to people of risk groups. These acts aim to establish gender equality, eradication of different manifestations of gender, marital or pregnancy discrimination, and sexual harassment at workplaces and in society in general. To attain these results, governments resort to providing trainings aimed at promoting equal opportunity policies at work.
Evidence show that ethnic minority women are three times more frequently asked about their plans for marriage than white women in the course of a job interview. This act is considered as a violation of the Sexual Discrimination Act.
20 % of Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, the vast majority of whom are Muslim, noted that they felt negative attitudes towards their religious dress at workplace (Ziwica, 2006).
The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women was the largest mobilization of the global women’s movement to date. Nearly every country of the world and tens of thousands of people participated in the multi-year process that culminated in Beijing in September 1995 (Ziwica, 2006).
The monumental world-wide response to the Platform for Action for the resolution of women’s issues still reverberates until the present time. Much of the initial initiatives regarding this Plan of Action include creating new mechanisms, upgrading existing structures and energizing participatory processes.
The movement against discrimination of women, particularly those who are disabled either temporarily ( by pregnancy, illness, etc.) or permanently has likewise been strong. A manifesto by disabled women in Europe was adopted in Brussels on 22 February 1997 by the European Disability Forum Working Group on Women and Disability and was launched in the European Parliament on 4 December 1999 (edfwomen website).
The manifesto echoes the context of treaties and international political agreements, such as the UN Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities and the Beijing declaration and Platform for Action from the 4th World Conference on Women. At EU level legislation, initiatives and the two communications on equal opportunities for men and women and for people with disabilities are relevant (Equal Opportunities, 2006).
The question of motherhood arises when making career decisions. These days, women usually postpone a decision to marry and have children until their careers are established. Work-life balance concerns persist throughout a woman’s family life.
Men for the most part have less family duties and women bear the greater responsibility for their families, children upbringing and domestic duties (Lundberg, Mardberg & Frankenhauser, 1994).
To ensure that women continue to be effective in the work force, some benefits are due them to relieve them of their anxiety in raising a family while maintaining their careers. One example is “paid maternity leave”, which, on one hand, strengthens the institution of marriage and family and on the other hand provides job security regardless of the possibility of pregnancy or childbirth.
There appears to be a constant conflict between mutually beneficial relationships and contemporary situations, where males dominate the social, political and professional spheres (Taylor et al, 2000). Many women claim that they have fewer opportunities to succeed in their work than men do and have to exert greater effort in order to be promoted in their jobs. Men are more readily employed and more supported by their employers than women (Bergman, 2003).
Although the Equal Opportunities legislation exists for about three decades already, the average female worker is still paid approximately 18% less than males. This gap may also be dependent on the field of work (Ismail, 2002). For example, in banking, insurance and pension provision, women are paid almost 40 % less than men. In the academic sphere, this gap is even more drastic.
The Equal Pay Task Force claims that lately there has been a considerable improvement in gender equality. However, there is still a great gap in overtime pay and attitudes to granting flexible working hours (Equal Opportunities Commission, 2006; Trades Union Congress, 2006).
The research of Equal Opportunities Commission proved that there is a greater difference in wages of ethnic minority women. They have worse working conditions. The findings showed that Pakistani women are usually paid 10 % and Bangladeshi women 5 % less than their Caucasian counterparts. These minority women are employed generally in wholesale and retail businesses (Platt, 2006).
8 % more of Black Caribbean women are degree holders compared with white women. Nevertheless, only 9 % of Black Caribbean women hold the position of managers or senior managers, while this number for white women is 11 %. 30 % of Black Caribbean women are employed in health and social work (Census Standard and Commissioned Tables, 2003).
According to Jenny Watson, Chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission, “the Women and Work Commission has reminded us again of the continuing pay gap that women face. But it is particularly disturbing that this gap is larger for Pakistani and Bangladeshi women than for white women and that they, and Black Caribbean women, also face higher levels of job segregation and fewer opportunities to progress to more senior positions” (Platt, 2006).
All these data will be taken into account for their value in research. These are useful in searching for means of improving of the situation of minority women at work and narrowing of pay gap between genders in general and gaps between white and minority women in particular.
With greater awareness of the public, and the better support from the government and private sectors in providing equal opportunities for both genders, there is hope for a better future of women in the workforce.
Bergman, B. (2003) “The validation of the women workplace culture questionnaire: gender-related stress and health for Swedish working women”. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research.
Census Standard and Commissioned Tables (2003) Crown Equal Opportunities. (2006). Web.
Equal Opportunities Commission, (2006). Web.
Ismail, A. (2002) Pay and conditions. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research.
Lundberg, U., Mardberg, B., & Frankenhaeuser, M (1994) “The total workload of male and female white-collar workers as related to age, occupational level, and number of children”. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology.
Platt, L. (2006) The Ethnic Pay Gap for Men and Women. Manchester: Equal Opportunities Commission.
Taylor, S. E., Kemeny, M. E., Reed, G. M., Bower J. E., & Grunewald, T. L. (2000) “Psychological resources, positive illusions, and health”, American Psychologist.
The Trades Union Congress. Web.
Ziwica, C. (2006) Press release: New EOC research shows bigger challenges in the workplace for ethnic minority women. Web.