Workplace Racial And Gender Discrimination Notes
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Page No- 1
Metaphors such as the 'glass ceiling', 'glass walls', 'glass cliffs', 'concrete ceilings' and 'sticky floors' have all been used to describe the organizational barriers that 'minority' groups face in climbing hierarchies. Discuss these invisible barriers, how they are constructed, reproduced, manifest and their implications for the careers of minority groups.
The domain of business enterprise has long been marred by the near constant presence of unjust discrimination and the use of unfair practices of a discriminatory nature. Always pertaining to the field of personnel; where the association with discriminatory practices was judged to be particularly prevalent; fresh allegations of discrimination continue to surface and resurface. It has been alleged that workplace discrimination has been little abated by the vast array of equal opportunity legislation which has piled up within the British statute books over the last half century. Certainly legislation enacted to ensure equality of opportunity for all has failed to eliminate unjust discrimination entirely. Despite the prohibitive tone of British law, it would appear that discrimination continues to rear its ugly head, thus poisoning the waters and blighting the repute of British business. Critics have long claimed that the idea of the theoretical death of discrimination takes no heed of the fact that in practice discrimination tends to lurk within the confines of most businesses in one form or another. Almost four decades after the passing of the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act and the 1976 Race Relations Act, it has been repeatedly suggested by a variety of business stakeholders that the dark elements of both sexism and racism continue to permeate into UK companies. Thus, critics claim that the prescribed discriminatory practices prohibited by law decades ago have survived and despite being outlawed continue to be practiced in Britain. This essay shall focus upon the manner in which invisible barriers serve to facilitate and perpetuate unjust discrimination on the basis of gender and to a minor degree race as regards women (including ethnic extraction and national origin). The factors of race and gender discrimination have been selected because of all minority factors, the two named above are the most clearly identifiable. Factors such as sexual orientation, disability and religion are less visible and harder to identify. However, that is not to deny the existence of discrimination based on an alternative criteria to gender and race. Nor should the use of illegal practices of direct discrimination through the use of visible barriers be in any dispute. Both the former and latter points are valid, have been practiced and still do occur. The practice of direct discrimination through visible barriers is unlawful within Britain and hence rarer today then the use of invisible barriers; but the concept can be exemplified through cases from both modern Britain and the distant past. Prior to 15TH July 1966, a colour bar existed at all London railway stations preventing non- Caucasian males from attaining the highest (and best paid) rank of station guard1. All non- white skinned applicants were thus denied access to the avenues of opportunity available to all other staff. The above case predates the enactment of the Race Relations Act 1976 and happened during a time when open racial discrimination was lawful. A more recent example of direct discrimination with a racial motivation can be found in the 2006 case of Alan Ho, a database administrator of Chinese descent.
1 Dickens, L. (2007) 'The Road Is Long: Thirty Years of Equality Legislation In Britain'. British Journal Of Industrial Relations 45:3: 463-494
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Whilst in the employ of ING Bank, Mr. Ho had been the victim of constant racial abuse and during the course of one lengthy diatribe had endured his own manager publicly referring to him as, "an oriental who needed a sound beating"2, as opposed to a promotion. An employment tribunal awarded Mr. Ho compensation for his ordeal to the value of £20,000 and ruled that ING Bank had unreasonably blocked his career path by openly withholding promotion from him, had subjected him to a vicious hate campaign and had abused their own "untransparent pay structure3" in order to pay him less than Caucasian colleagues. The visible element of Mr. Ho's public humiliation inflicted via abusive taunts in the form of racial harassment was an example of direct discrimination through visible barriers. However, a number of invisible barriers were also present within Mr. Ho's ordeal. The withholding of career advancement opportunities for which Mr. Ho was both eligible and suitably qualified for and paying him less than white colleagues employed on the same basis to carry out the same tasks are factors typical of an effect known as "the glass ceiling".
The glass ceiling represents an economic term descriptive of a situation where the advancement of a suitably qualified and experienced individual within the hierarchy of an organization is halted at a low level due to some form of discrimination. The term glass ceiling was coined as a metaphor for a transparent ceiling. Ceiling because of the presence of a limitation that serves to block upward career advancement. The word glass is included because the higher ranking members of the staff hierarchy are clearly visible. There is also another reference to the transparency element because normally the policy is not official and is never written down (to avoid proven contravention of anti-discrimination laws) and for this reason the block is not immediately apparent. The term of glass ceiling is generally connected to a context of gender or racial discrimination and is widely held to encompass sub-elements. Hence, the glass ceiling effect is usually associated with and taken to include further invisible barriers: such as the hour- glass ceiling (which renders long hours a pre-condition for career advancement), the gender- wage gap (a two tier remuneration system whereby males earn more than equivalently qualified, experienced female employed on the same basis), the absence of family friendly working policies (such as flexible hours) and exclusion from informal networks (such as the traditional 'old boys network'). Usually, the glass ceiling effect is also inclusive of: a managerial lack of commitment to women's advancement, the absence of female role models and stereotypical behaviours such as male chauvinism in association with preconceived opinions as to women's roles/priorities and abilities.
However, the glass ceiling effect is also applicable on a racial basis- whereby references to gender and women are substituted for ethnic minority/ racial or national extraction terms. The effects of the glass ceiling are particularly dramatic in relation to the composition of boards of directors. Statistics obtained over a three year period as part of the Female FTSE Board Report 2010 make interesting reading and appear to lend credibility to claims that women are under-represented at corporate board level. The FTSE 100 represents companies ranked from 1-100 in terms of market capitalisation. The FTSE 250 represents companies ranked from 101-350 in terms of market capitalisation. According to the statistical analysis presented within the above mentioned report, the female percentage of board membership stands at 12.5% within the entire FTSE 100 and 7.8% within the FTSE 2504. So males dominate the boardrooms of publicly listed companies trading on 2
Murphy, M. (2008) 'Abbey's Fight'. Financial Times [Online] 23/10/2008 [Available at http://www.ft.com/cms/s/o/ATv2fpXX 3
Vinnicombe, S. Sealy, R. Graham, J and Doldor, E. (2010) 'The Female FTSE Board Report 2010:Opening Up The Appointment Process', International Centre For Women Leaders, School of Management: Cranfield University.
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