Gender Issues in the Workplace

By Dr. Margaret Rappaport

Separate Spheres?

Are men and women really different in the work environment? Do men pace their workloads in a better or worse way than women do? Do women prefer variety in their work space, while men don’t? Are women and men motivated and inspired in different ways? Is work productivity just as important to both men and women?

While workplaces may not be the best circumstance for debating gender issues like these, it is the context in which they are being played out in the 1990s. Regardless of workers opinions about the distinctions between adult women and men, or whether they believe any differences mean something or nothing at all, the workplace has become a proving ground.

New Struggles

Previously, a part of work satisfaction for men and women was determined by the way people responded to them on the job. No one questioned the obvious reality that the workplace is both a single sex and a coordinate environment for everyone. Workers were not focused on the possibility that this complexity might cause fairness problems. Today, all workers have to monitor their behavior and worry about whether it is healthy and appropriate. This struggle for comfort negatively effects relationships with same and other gender co-workers.

Working people have no choice but to respond to the pressure of being politically correct in their interactions with the opposite gender. Until better information and training is available, workers need to get behind working policies that are fair to both men and women.

They will have to seek opportunities to help ensure work environments that are safe for everyone. They must promote work productivity as the first goal for women and men in the workplace.

Work must be a place where people can establish good relationships that are based on mutual respect and shared goals. Work must be a situation where each person’s perspective and abilities are recognized and appreciated for the benefit of all. Individual work productivity doesn’t require approval and agreement from co-workers, but it does depend on a clear understanding of work objectives and the depth of commitment that freedom from gender stereotypes fosters.

Facts to Consider

In the 1990s the economic status of the two genders has become more similar that different. By mid-decade, men’s participation in the workforce was 92%, while the percentage of women was 76%, for prime working ages of twenty-five to fifty four.

More women than ever are in the workforce, 62 million. A majority of women work outside the home while they are raising children.

Women now earn more associate, bachelor and master degrees than men do.

Women’s employment share is increasingly effected by education. Single women, ages twenty-seven to thirty three, have nearly closed the gap with male peers.

The Small Business Association reports: in the last fifteen years, the number of businesses owned and operated by women has quadrupled from 2 to 8 million. By millennium, in 2001, women will own forty percent of small businesses in the United States.

Suggestions for Improving Productivity

In A Gender Conscious Workplace:

  • be informed about your company’s work policies; help develop better guidelines for making opportunities available to people, without regard to gender
  • take on work roles with which you are competent and comfortable
  • stop worrying what the other gender things of you and your work, just do it well; we need approval and recognition, but we don’t need it specifically from a particular group or individual
  • continue to respect the important and immeasurable value of having relationships with people of the same gender at work
  • examine your won stereotypes about “the successful man” and “women who make it to the top”; without gender stereotypes men and women can thrive in the work environment
  • consider work pacing and time management a matter of personal style and not a gender based phenomenon
  • hold a positive attitude toward the benefits of gender collaboration at work; gender consciousness will not be as distracting and disruptive once the issues are clarified
  • find mentors whose work activity goes beyond stereotypical gender category

Worth More that We Earn

The idea that men and women should not be distinguished from one another in the workplace has produced results for individuals and for the economy. However, the slow and sometimes painful process of getting everyone to recognize the power and uniqueness of this idea in the work environment hasn’t been easy. Whether women and men act differently or similarly in their approach to tasks, they both achieve results in the workplace. They both deserve the status and the money that productive work promises.

The truth is, all people are worth more that they earn, and both genders want to become more knowledgeable about what gender is and means. A s a society we are obliged to find better settings in which to develop our viewpoints. The workplace can shape some of the critical thought processes about gender and it can provide expanded experiences for people. What it can’t do is mold our values.