EHRC sex and power report

A Discussion

The EHRC Sex and Power 2008 report indicated that with reluctance to embrace flexibility, employers are relying more and more on longer working hours. This perpetuates a model of work that is almost impossible for women to follow as allowing them to combine a fulltime job with family life- and comes at a real cost to fathers.

- In view of the above statement consider the roles of men and women at work.

Introduction

The EHRC Sex and Power Report 2008 shows that employers are now preferring longer working hours which indicates difficulty in maintaining a work life balance especially for women. The report reveals that fewer women are now in positions of power and influence and there is also a trend of reversal or stalled progress of women's power. The report indicates that fewer women hold top posts in the 25 categories with fewer women MPs or female representation among FTSE 100 directors. Bernardi et al (2009) examined the association between women directors on a company's board and the company's appearance in the World's Most ethical Companies list and studied the presence of female directors in Fortune 500 companies and female representation in Best Companies list. Their study indicated that a higher percentage of women on board of Directors was positively associated with the reputation of the company as among the most ethical.

It has been suggested that women's progress is happening at a snail's pace with 55 years required for women to achieve equality in the judiciary and 200 years to be equally represented in Parliament (EHRC report, 2008). It will be 73 years before women are equally represented among FTSE 100 directors. It has been pointed out by the Commission that if women were to have equal representation among Britain's 31000 top positions of power, there has to be at least 5700 more women filling up these positions (EHRC report, 2008). The Sex and Power Report is part of the 'Working Better Project' which is a campaign that seeks innovative ways of working for the 21st century.

As the EHRC report states, young women are excelling at school and in higher education but their aspirations are not meeting with achievements as there could be too many barriers to their career. In some cases 'the glass ceiling ' of career seem to be constructed of reinforced concrete (EHRC report, 2008) and the EHRC recognizes the radical change to support individuals who are doing great work so that more and more women in particular are helped in reaching their goals.

Men and Women at the Workplace - Roles

With the kind of inflexible work patterns in Britain, there is a also a danger of women's aspirations giving way to frustrations as employers are making it increasingly difficult for women to continue working and yet maintain a healthy family life. This sort of pattern is not a representative women's issue but a wider failure as inflexible ways of working prevents tapping on the wider talent. This could be about women or underrepresented groups, about minorities and disabled people and the EHRC report states that Britain cannot go on marginalizing or rejecting talented people who do not fit into traditional work practice methods.

There are now more female members of the House of Lords, FTSE 100 company directors, chief executives of national sports bodies and voluntary organisations, local authority council leaders, principals of further education colleges, vice-chancellors of universities and top managers in the civil service (EHRC, 2008). However female representation is still inadequate in the areas of Westminster MPs, Cabinet members, Members of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, editors of national newspapers, people in public appointments, senior police officers and judges, health service chief executives, local authority chief executives, trade union general secretaries and heads of professional bodies (EHRC report, 2008). However compared with many other countries, Women's representation in Parliament is abysmal in Britain as seen in these figures.

Women's representation in Parliament: the international perspective

The UK currently ranks 70th and is outperformed by Rwanda, Afghanistan and Iraq in terms of women's representation.

  1. UK: 70th, 19.3%
  2. Canada: 59th, 21.3%
  3. USA: 83rd, 16.8%
  4. Argentina: 5th, 40.0%
  5. Rwanda: 1st, 48.8%
  6. Sweden: 2nd, 47.0%
  7. Russian Federation: 97th, 14.0%
  8. Afghanistan: 29th, 27.7%
  9. China: 59th, 21.3%
  10. Iraq: 35th, 25.5%

Source : EHRC Report, 2008

The report also indicated that Britain is failing to get top women into positions of power and now there are many missing women from top posts and considering educational achievements, women could make up more than half the workforce as 14.3 million women are already working (EHRC, 2008). In one study concerning the role of gender, work and equal opportunities in central and eastern Europe, Metcalfe et al (2005) suggest that women's equality within the workplace may have been affected by changing political systems and highlighted the constraints or opportunities for women in post socialist societies.

Women are an essential part of the economy and also in many families they are the earners who bring in money for the daily living needs. Women are also taking up more responsibility and rising through the ranks although in some workplaces there is discrimination and stereotypes of women tend to hold them back. Although young women are sometimes show the route to aim for traditionally female occupations, there are now many opportunities opening up. The traditional approach towards women focus on the inflexible work patterns followed in many organizations. There could be many effects of traditional work practices. Burke et al (2009) study indicated that differences between male and female work practice showed that women are disadvantaged. However men and women tend to have similar work experiences when following similar schedules.

In their report on working better, the EHRC has not just pointed out to the need for better and flexible work practices but also highlighted the benefits of such change if Britain moves out of traditional work practices and focuses on definite goals of including more women and minority members of the community. According to the report, changing the way work is organized and the way women are admitted into work, would not only enable women to fulfil their aspirations but could also encourage the fathers to be more active and responsible parents, help disabled people to have careers, encourage workers to combine education and work so that they gain new skills and older workers can choose to remain in their work for longer periods of time. In a related study Burke et al (2009) suggested that women are disadvantaged in professions that require longer working hours as women choose fewer working hours to take care of home and family responsibilities.

Bardasi et al (2009) provided reasons for longer work hours with the definition of time poverty suggesting that individuals work long hours as they may not have the choice to do otherwise. If any individual falls into monetary poverty if he or she reduces the working hours, then the individual would be considered as having time poverty. Being time poor means that the individual does not have enough time for rest or leisure and cannot reduce his working hours without increasing levels of poverty in the household.

The positive impact of modern and innovative as well as flexible work arrangement on business and work performance as well as in promoting a healthy work life balance has been recognized by government policy makers and business organizations. Yet British business remains traditional and although change is happening, its is slow and despite public policies, there is no social revolution within the workplace. There is a possibility of wasting talent in economic, cultural, social and political life and it has been suggested that Britain's employers and politicians should recognize the need to work better, provide better conditions for work and provide equal opportunities to all sections of society including the minority, disabled people and women. All workplaces and political institutions should reflect the change in society with greater and better roles for women as well s people who have been traditionally segregated and had fewer opportunities. This change could also help in challenging the inflexible longer hours working culture that is still followed in many workplaces and public policies in practice could help to provide real choices to both men and women (Savary et al, 2000).

The study by Bardasi et al (2009) suggests that women are significantly more likely to be time poor than men and are also more likely to work for longer working hours. This could in turn have significant problems in their work life balance and could also pose problems to fathers who may have to compensate on family issues. One way women's participation could be a healthy start for a new approach to family life with father taking up more responsibility towards their family and women working increasingly outside the home. Yet if there is a genuine lack of work life balance for women and if they are unable to spend time with their families, there could be a basic problem with the quality of life as women are in this case having to sacrifice more by working longer hours (MacInnes, 2005; Savary, 2000). If women are time poor or if they stop working long hours and get into poverty, this reflects the serious condition that women are unable to fulfil their professional aims as they should be.

Extreme jobs involve work that of more than 60 hours per week and Burke et al's (2009) study compared psychological well being and job behaviors of male and female managers who worked more than 56 hours of work per week. The findings indicated that smaller percentage of females worked long hours and females were significantly different from the males in terms of personal or work situation attributes such as they were younger, less likely to be married or to have children. Yet the findings suggested few differences in work outcomes, job behaviors or psychological well being between men and women. Women at work reported higher levels of job stress and higher levels of satisfaction but more psychosomatic symptoms.

Doherty (2004) studied work life balance initiatives by governments and organizations to promote better opportunities for women at the workplace and flexible work patterns. Doherty's study conducted a review of work life balance initiatives for helping women in senior management positions. One of the major barriers in women's progression seem to be the long hours associated in managerial roles especially in top positions. However it has been suggested that a voluntary approach to work life balance could be beneficial and could lead to higher staff retention. However a stronger equal opportunities initiatives could draw attention to the differences between men and women and a strong sense of rights at the workplace could help the case of business managers where trade union support is missing. In certain cases certain work is given to male managers to allow for a better work life balance in females. There could be many issues if special treatment is given to women at the workplace and yet there could be missed opportunities for women if it is not realized that special efforts will have to be made to include more and more female talent in the business and public sector organizations.

Huffman and Cohen (2004) suggested that occupational gender segregation studies may have often assumed the effect of invariant gender compositions across occupations yet ignored the conditions of the labour market. However it should be noted that gender composition will have strongest effects in national labour markets and effects of women's representation are also strongest in national labour and public sector workforce. This would suggest that gender composition, gender segregation and women's participation would have more significance in certain markets and industries than certain others. This study could be challenged and many researchers would suggest that gender compositions and segregation could have similar impact on all markets.

The issue of work life balance is central to any strategic corporate objective and one study by Drew et al (2005) examined the attitudes of the senior managers towards work life balance needs. An electronic questionnaire survey revealed the views of male and female managers and they provided their strategies that would promote a better gender and work life balance as well as better diversity and leadership capacity of the organization.

The work life issue was seen as a major issue in the career progression of female managers and the greatest obstacle to achieving the work life balance has been the long work hours culture and some of the flexible options suggested has been working from home, reduced hours of working and flexible work hours (MacInnes, 2005). Although these flexible work patterns have been found to be incompatible with senior management post as senior executives tend to delegate family activities to their wives and most women in senior posts are not able to delegate their family activities to their husbands thus creating a difference between how longer working hours could be accepted or handled at senior positions by men and women.

It has been argued that men seek WLB to resolve commuting/working time issues and women want more flexible arrangements for family/quality of life reasons. However both the men and women seem to believe that their career progression would be hindered by flexile working patterns. Drew et al (2005) suggested that trust, courage and many interventions will be required for organizations to take up work life balance issues although not just at the management level.

Schnittker (2007) argued that women's employment improved their health in the 1970s and 80s, although there have been many other issues associated with women's employment. Women's self rated health and employment changes highlighted the importance of working hours, family responsibilities and health. One of the changes seen in the workplace is that women are now working longer hours and as women tend to combine work with parenthood, benefits of women's employment tend to decline when work has to be combined with care of young children. Women tend to have better health and this seems to be positively correlated with the rising employment among women and many studies have claimed that women may in fact enjoy better health benefits than men. However this may be due to the closing of income gap between men and women rather than longer working hours involved.

With gender empowerment indexes, the results suggested that women's high representation in management and professional occupations is now increasingly threatened with the need for better child care services and increasing levels of discriminatory practices in recruitment, selection and development. The economic and political transition in this case is seen as a process of 'remasculinization,' which 'reaffirms gendered hierarchies and gendered power relations' in public and private sectors (Metcalfe et al, 2005).

The prevalence of women in part time work is still a distinguishing feature in Britain and Paull (2008) studied the evolution of work hours for men and how this had an impact on family formation and development.

Conclusion

Women usually move towards part time work when they have their first child and this pattern follows and the gender gap in working hours diminishes but is consistent through working patterns seen. Although men's working hours are not affected by this there could be some adjustments in work hours to promote a better work life balance. This suggests that although women are increasingly following a working life and more and more women are into employment, gender gaps exist in the workplace and women are unable to reach top positions of power as they easily move out of professional life to take care of family issues. Long work hours and inflexible work patterns as well as a constant need to attend to family are some reasons for which women's professional progress is slow and these factors also highlight the differential roles of men and women at the workplace.

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