Workplace discrimination is a persistent reality in the developed world. Despite the abundance of anti-discrimination laws and regulations, gender barriers to career progression in many occupations continue to persist. The developed society promotes the message of gender equality in occupational choices. Nonetheless, few women enter traditionally male jobs, while men are reluctant to apply for traditionally female positions. Culture has enormous impacts on workers’ beliefs about gender. The current research provides rich recommendations to minimize workplace gender bias. Still, due to the high prevalence of cultural beliefs about gender inequality, minimizing gender discrimination in the workplace is likely to remain an impossible task.
Culture and perceptions of gender equality are intricately related. Looking at the list of the most common occupations, most individuals will readily associate them with a particular gender. For instance, nurses are believed to be a traditionally female occupation, while technical jobs like engineering and management are traditionally dominated by men. The gender composition of certain occupations has profound implications for individual and collective beliefs about work. Men and women hold established beliefs and explicit expectations of obtaining a particular job. Few women who have a talent and capacity to assume new occupational roles enter traditionally male jobs, since their expectations of getting such jobs are typically lowered (Quast, 2012). After all, it is interesting to look at how individuals of various cultural backgrounds perceive the gender aspect of various occupations.
The western world is believed to have more advanced beliefs about gender and fewer gender stereotypes. By contrast, people from the east are more rigid about what occupations should be available to women and what jobs should be opened for men. However, it was rather surprising to see that the patterns of our responses in relation to gender were similar. My partner and I presented an almost identical list of traditionally female and traditionally male jobs. There was no difference in how we viewed the role and place of gender in various occupations, even though my partner was more reluctant to assign certain occupations to women. Both of us recognize that, even as the world moves towards greater equality awareness, we will still perceive some jobs as being female-oriented and some other jobs as being suited for men. For instance, it is difficult to imagine a woman being a truck driver, even though more women enter such occupations. These occupational beliefs do not seem to have any cultural dimension, even though culture often predetermines the direction of one’s occupational decisions and choices.
Culture remains an essential driver of one’s beliefs about gender. According to Bobbitt-Zeher (2011), cultural beliefs are fundamental drivers in the development of gender biases in the workplace. Cultural beliefs translate into gender stereotypes that influence the quality of workplace interactions (Bobbitt-Zeher, 2011). They also give rise to various prescriptive and descriptive gender stereotypes (Bobbitt-Zeher, 2011). The former cover the basic traits one gender should possess, whereas the latter is essentially about what one gender already has (Bobbitt-Zeher, 2011). This is actually why my partner and I were so identical in our responses. Despite a significant difference in our cultural backgrounds, we hold similar prescriptive and descriptive gender stereotypes. For example, we believe women to be too fragile and, therefore, incapable of entering male-oriented technical jobs, including engineering or management. We also anticipate women to be more caring and sensitive to the needs and sufferings of others, which is why we perceive occupations such as nursing and teaching to be traditional for them. Such gender stereotypes create a strong impression that the gender traits of women do not match the requirements of a male-dominated occupation, and vice versa (Bobbitt-Zeher, 2011). Given the historical persistence of such beliefs about gender, it comes as no surprise that most women are reluctant to enter traditionally male occupations. Likewise, few men would be willing to work in occupations that have historically belonged to women.
Anyhow, I do not think that cultural backgrounds today play any meaningful role in defining one’s perceptions of gender in the workplace. The responses provided by my partner suggest that cultural backgrounds are no longer relevant in shaping one’s beliefs about gender in the workplace. Most likely, it is due to globalization that the cultural boundaries in workplace discrimination become increasingly blurred. Globalization also fosters the rapid popularization of stable beliefs about gender. Gender imbalances have become more common across countries (Sen, 2010). This is why individuals are more likely to hold similar attitudes towards gender, regardless of their cultural backgrounds.
This being said, one of the biggest questions is how gender discrimination in the workplace can be minimized. Unfortunately, this question does not have any satisfactory answer. Bielby (2000) lists a variety of approaches to minimize gender bias in organizations. Organizational policies seem to be the most promising in making employees less sensitive to gender as a component of one’s professionalism and career growth (Bielby, 2000). Yet, it is wrong to believe that gender stereotypes can be easily eliminated. Under the influence of globalization, such stereotypes will become even more pervasive. It is possible to assume that, even in the presence of comprehensive organizational policies and structures, minimizing gender stereotypes will hardly be possible in the nearest future.
In summary, gender bias is a persistent reality in the workplace. It is not uncommon for the developed society to perceive certain jobs as being female-oriented, while keeping certain occupations open for men. For years, culture served as a driver of one’s beliefs about gender and workplace discrimination. However, under the influence of globalization, these cultural factors are becoming irrelevant. Globalization reinforces gender bias in occupational choices. This is why minimizing gender stereotypes in the workplace is likely to remain an impossible task.
- Bielby, W.T. (2000). Minimizing workplace gender and racial bias. Contemporary Sociology, 29(1), 120-129.
- Bobbitt-Zeher, D. (2011). Gender discrimination at work: Connecting gender stereotypes, institutional policies, and gender composition of workplace. Gender & Society, 25(6), 764-786.
- Quast, L. (2012). How to reduce workplace gender segregation and help women obtain higher paying jobs. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/
- Sen, S. (2010). Gendered aspects of globalization. Retrieved from http://www.levyinstitute.org/