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Florida's Constitution Amendment To Women in the Workplace: Visible Gains, Invisible Barriers

by The Human Equation, Inc. on 10/1/2010
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Since WWII expanded women's roles into the military and business arenas, women have been making steady and significant strides toward full equality in the workplace. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Pay Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and other federal and state statutes designed to protect against discrimination have helped women gain entrance and advancement in the workforce. Admittedly, despite many of the visible gains that women have achieved in business, law, and public service, women still have to contend with the invisible barriers of sexual harassment, tokenism, glass ceilings, glass escalators, and salary gaps. Sexual Harassment is defined in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Guidelines as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:

  • Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment;
  • Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual; or
  • Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.

There are two types of sexual harassment: Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Work Environment.

  • Quid Pro Quo sexual harassment occurs when a manager or person in a position of authority offers a subordinate worker employment benefits in exchange for sexual favors. "If you sleep with me, you'll get that promotion you want," or "If you don't sleep with me, you'll be fired." While quid pro quo harassment is not always so blatant, it does always include unwelcome requests for sexual favors.
  • Hostile Work Environment sexual harassment occurs when co-workers or others in the workplace create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment through unwelcome sexual conduct that unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance. This could include severe or frequent sexual jokes or innuendo, obscene comments and gestures, and other physical, verbal, or visual conduct of a sexual nature.

Tokenism refers to people in the workplace who become highly visible and stereotyped because they are not part of the majority group. Tokens, who usually do not represent more than 20-30 percent of a group, struggle to be viewed equally and are often contrasted with other members of the workforce. When women are promoted to male-dominated institutions under the guise of inclusiveness, they may experience profound prejudice and deep resentment from their male counterparts. Women's views may be criticized, their judgments questioned, and ultimately they may feel so marginalized that they relinquish their positions, furthering the cycle of tokenism. Tokenism is especially detrimental for women of color.

Glass Ceilings are invisible discriminatory barriers that prevent or restrict women or other minorities from advancing within a field or organization. Sometimes, glass ceilings only exist in the upper ranks of an organization, so that women or other minorities, while able to advance at the lower levels, are ultimately blocked from rising to the top positions within that organization. "Break the glass ceiling" is a phrase used to describe the efforts of women and minorities to shatter the barriers created by discrimination.

Glass Escalators are invisible advantages that help men advance quickly in fields or organizations dominated by women. For example, in professions such as nursing, social work, or primary school teaching, token men, although negatively stereotyped, are often pushed into advanced positions of leadership with higher pay and status. The concept of the glass escalator for men is somewhat the reverse of glass ceilings for women.

Salary Gaps between women and men continue to exist, despite the Equal Pay Act, although the gaps are narrower than several decades ago. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, "The real median earnings of men who worked full-time, year-round remained unchanged between 2002 and 2003 at $40,668. The real median earnings of the comparable group of women declined by 0.6 percent to $30,724. ... The last time the female-to-male earnings ratio experienced an annual decline was between 1998 and 1999." Additionally, CareerBank.com's annual Salary Survey Report found that the industries with the biggest discrepancies between pay for women and men is in the accounting, finance, and banking industries, and that in some cases, the gaps were as much as by $30,000 in favor of men.

Working women have to contend with a variety of invisible barriers in the workplace, and there are still more issues, such as the need for flexible hours, child care, and even elder care, that create obstacles for many women in the United States today.

Still, the visible gains cannot be underrated. One great sign of progress: women-owned businesses employ more people in the United States than do Fortune 500 companies across the globe. Furthermore, the recent election for the 109th Congress of the United States has a slightly more diverse representation, with more women, Hispanics, and African Americans holding seats.

It is important for people to be aware of the invisible barriers women and minorities experience, and organizations need to work diligently and thoughtfully to end such discrimination. Organizations that value and promote diversity, with diversity policies, programs, and incentives in place, will find their employees challenging stereotypes, broadening their perspectives, and sharpening their critical thinking skills. Studies have shown that diverse groups produce better quality solutions on the job than homogenous ones, so diversity is not just an idea that sounds good, but a real opportunity for strategic growth and development.

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