Gender inequality continues to be ever-present in the workplace

Boardroom 21

We have already discussed the major obstacle that some companies experience in bringing women into the workplace and investing time and money in their training, while fearing that they will lose these skills when the women leave to raise their children.  We also know that, as the primary caregiver, this role of mothering is essential to the future well-being of society, and that an equitable balance needs to be found.  The problem of finding middle ground is mitigated by the fact that the contribution of women in business, particularly at management levels, consistently means more profitable companies and that all training and development in women is reflected in the raising of the next generation. 

This doesn’t, however, explain why women continue to earn less than men for performing the same duties.  Ironically, women in the workplace are most often facing many additional challenges and obstacles than their male counterparts, and, if they have money 3children, huge demands on their time, energy and resources.  But this does not mean women are less successful than men.  Beyond their proven contribution to the bottom line, statistics show that women are starting businesses at more than twice the rate of male-majority-owned businesses (60% of new business started recently in Canada are owned by women). The growing success rate of women entrepreneurs shows that they are resourceful, and able to succeed, despite the odds.  And yet they still are very often seen as being worth less than men and are remunerated accordingly (despite the fact that in the United States and in most countries in the world, women are more highly educated than men).

Consider this:  In the United States, 41% of women are their families’ sole source of income and women contribute 83% of the gross national product.  The old argument against paying men more money was that they were the breadwinners and the primary providers for their family.  However, with social changes, it is now true that 8 in 10 single parent families are headed by women.  Men and woman pay the same high prices for food, petrol, and housing, but women often bear expenses that men, with higher incomes, do not.  The number of dads who fail to pay child support is reaching ever increasing proportions leaving many women to pick up the tab by taking on additional, low-wage jobs to try and make ends meet.  To compound these difficulties in the United States, nearly every state has now cut funding and programs that once helped women enforce their child support awards and trained them to re-enter the workforce, and Congress has even severely cut funding to women’s business development centers, beginning in 2009.

Women often pay higher insurance premiums and more out-of-pocket health care costs than men, who do not have to pay for birth control or maternity benefits, and because more women pay for health insurance for their children than do men.

Women’s credit scores are generally equal to or better than men’s, but with lower incomes and smaller assets, to purchase a home, women need to go with a “subprime” mortgage 30-40% more often than men, which means a lower down payment, but higher monthly payments.

These are interesting facts (based on research in the United States) that are bound to have a correlation in South Africa as well:

  • Women are more likely to be unemployed during a recession than are men.
  • Women are more likely to be retrenched when companies downsize.
  • More women than men have low-wage, part-time jobs.
  • Fewer women than men meet the eligibility qualifications for unemployment benefits (because they earn lower wages and often are only given part-time hours).
  • During a recession men’s median salaries are stagnant but women’s salaries have already dropped 3%.
  • For every dollar a man earns working full-time (in the US), female workers earn only 77 cents for the same jobs.
  • Women are also less likely to be eligible for employee benefits and employment-based retirement plans.
  • According to a Harvard study, the median net worth of unmarried women was $12,900, compared to $26,850 for men. The study cited the wage gap as the primary cause for this inequity.
  • Lower wages and higher expenses mean women also have fewer savings and assets than men.

The facts speak for themselves – fair treatment of women in the workplace might be improving but it still has a long way to go before the playing fields are level. This means that women continue to be financially disadvantaged, leaving them often needing to struggle to support their families.  In light of the violence against women that is being highlighted during these 16 days, lack of economic independence is one reason that women stay in abusive relationships.  Once victims leave their perpetrators, they can be stunned with the reality of the extent to which the abuse has taken away their autonomy.  Due to economic abuse and isolation, the victims usually have very little money of their own and few people on whom they can rely when seeking help.  This has been shown to be one of the greatest obstacles facing victims of domestic violence, and the strongest factor that can discourage them from leaving their abusers.  As we work towards a more equitable situation in the world of work, women will become better equipped to make better decisions for themselves and their families than those dictated purely by their economic inferiority.


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Flexibility in the workplace – a move towards making gender equality a reality

Boardroom 9Having looked in some detail at how women fare in the workplace, it is perhaps necessary to evaluate how our economy and conditions of work are structured and how these should be changed in the 21st century.  Already we know that women have life skills and natural abilities that are useful in businesses. We know that women tend to be great networkers, have inherent skills for negotiating, and the ability to multi-task. Single mothers are often good at delegating and budgeting; skills that they rely on to manage their families, which makes them valuable employees.  We know that it’s proven that having more women in senior positions in a company adds to bottom line profits, but that women are also most often the primary educators of the children.  So how that fit with the modern working world?

In order to answer this, it is necessary to look at what happened during the industrial ind rev 6revolution.  It was during this time that mass employment began in factories and working conditions became more and more rigid and ordered.  This was seen as necessary to ensure that production lines kept running and that large numbers of people were controlled by the same rules.  In fact, the beginning of formal education systems in the form of schooling for the masses was originally geared around providing more literate and disciplined candidates for the many factories that were being built.

A post-industrial age

But we’re now in a post-industrial society, an age of knowledge workers, so why are we still working off the old rules?  We are in the process of building a society where prejudice of all kinds, including between the genders, is an outmoded concept.  This society doesn’t just allow for equal legal and political rights but is an entirely different kind of civilization built also on feminine ideals.

In the Bahai Writings, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states: “The world in the past has been ruled by force, and man has dominated over woman by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities of both body and mind. But the scales are already shifting — force is losing its weight and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy. Hence the new age will be an age less masculine, and more permeated with the feminine ideals — or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced.”1

working hardWhat a wonderful society it is that we are working towards!  It will involve entirely new ways of organizing our economy.  When we consider the spiritual potential that is latent within all human beings, it is clear that the assumptions underlying today’s dominant economic systems do not draw out these dormant potentials—such as our capacity to love, to build unity and to serve others.  Furthermore, these dominant systems are set up in such a way that in many cases they severely disadvantage those whose economic behavior is consistent with spiritual and moral principles.  But this is changing.

Flexibility in the work place

The Obama administration is taking the lead in this regard.  Recently, CEO’s, small-business owners, workers, academics, and advocacy groups gathered to take the microphone on what a White House press release described as “the importance of creating workplace practices that allow America’s working men and women to meet the demands of their jobs without sacrificing the needs of their families.” 

“Flexible policies actually make employees more – not less – productive,” Mrs. Obama said,working hard 2 addressing business leaders. “Instead of spending time worrying about what’s happening at home, your employees have the support and the peace of mind they desperately need to concentrate on work.”  Support, the first lady emphasized, creates a win-win scenario for both families and the bottom line.

For the Record

Study upon study echo Mrs. Obama’s words. The Families and Work Institute (FYI), for example, reports that employees in “effective and flexible workplaces” are more likely to be engaged in their jobs. They feel inspired to help their companies succeed. And workers say they have a greater desire to remain with their employer.  FYI research indicates they’re healthier, too – both physically and mentally: workers who use their flex time to their best advantage have better overall health; experience less frequent minor health issues; and have lower stress levels and fewer signs of depression.

Calling for a Cultural Shift

multitasking 4Still, all is not rosy. Despite the potential benefits, many workers worry that tapping into flexible schedule options could hinder their job advancement. In many cases, these fears are indeed borne out: according to Families and Work Institute, 39% of workers who use such options are less likely to move up the career ladder.  In worst-case scenarios, employees may even risk losing their jobs. But a start has been made and this is undoubtedly the pattern that the working world can and must follow in the years to come.  It is the only way that the dichotomy between needing women in the workplace without compromising their role as mothers can be achieved.  Only in this way can we move more swiftly towards valuing the contribution of both genders, and our society and our economies will be the ultimate winners.

  1. Abdu’l-Bahá: Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era
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Women in Business – How does Equality measure up?

shutterstock_109558079 (3)Most of us will spend more time at work than at any other place.  At work, ideally, we develop our capacity to think, to create, to provide and to care for others.  This is a different way of looking at work, which is normally seen from the perspective only of turnover, profits and productivity.  In its true sense, a place of work can and should contribute to the advancement of civilization.  But, when half of the world’s population controls only 1% of its wealth and 10% of the population controls 85% of the wealth, it is clear that work cannot yield productive results for families, communities, and societies.

 Sadly, for the majority of both men and women, work doesn’t contribute to their happiness.  In fact, a survey conducted in the United States (in the 1980s) showed that over 70% of people actively disliked their jobs!  Further, the current economy does not yield viable subsistence for the majority of people, nor is productive and meaningful work reliably available to large segments of humanity. The world of work is flawed – this is already obvious from the economic problems we are experiencing worldwide.  It is clear that something needs to change.

New economic thinking

The way we arrange our economy expresses what we value and is intimately related Boardroom 16to advancing the equality of women and men. With this in mind, we can ask ourselves what kind of economic productivity emerges from competition and conflict (often more masculine qualities), and what comes from cooperation and reciprocity (traditionally the more feminine qualities).  Clearly, we need both – without the feminine, business can become cut-throat and competitive, which often isn’t sustainable.  Without the masculine, decisiveness and drive are sometimes lacking.  This has been proved over and over again by surveys conducted around the world in many different societies – we need both the masculine and feminine attributes in business – and the results are startling.

More women in your company means better performance!

According to an article in the Washington Post, Weekly Edition, 2009, companies that employ more women in upper level management are more profitable than those that rely heavily on male talent to run their businesses.  This exciting (but not surprising) news is not limited to the United States, but is true throughout the world.  And it’s not only one study that verifies this.  There are now over 50 different bodies of research from a broad spectrum of organizations such as Columbia University, McKinsey & Co., Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs and Pepperdine University, that document a clear relationship between women in senior management and corporate financial success.  By all measures, more women in your company mean better performance.

Looking at what has happened in Latin America over the past ten years is also fascinating.Latin American  The men were particularly hard hit by the global recession (which applies to men throughout the world) so it was the women who picked up the slack and found ways to earn money.  Poverty and inequality have been falling in Latin America over the past decade.  There are many factors that have contributed to this – high global commodity prices have helped, there has been substantial foreign investment and a growing middle class that has increased consumption.  However, a major factor has been these millions of Latin American women who have entered the workforce.  According to an August 2012 World Bank report, Latin American women have been responsible for 30 percent of the region’s extreme poverty reduction over the past decade, as a result of their increased workforce participation and higher earnings. Women’s income has had an even greater effect on the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder, reducing the severity of poverty more than twice as effectively as men’s earnings.

How has this helped to advance equality?

In many cases, this knowledge hasn’t helped to advance women at all.  Women continue to be employed disproportionately in leadership positions.  Men not only continue to far outnumber women in corporate leadership positions across industries, they are also often paid significantly more than women for the same labour.  Even when Latin American women make it to the top of their field, 61% report some form of discrimination at work.

And, exactly as has been proved in other parts of the world, having more Latin American Boardroom 10women in the workplace isn’t just an issue of equity – it’s also good for business.  An August 2012 Credit Suisse report found that when companies have one woman or more on their boards, they perform significantly better than companies that don’t (yet 60% of Latin American companies’ boards do not have a single female member). And how much better do these more diverse companies do? Stocks and shares of large companies (globally) that had women on their boards performed 26 percent better than those that didn’t.

 The evidence is so overwhelming that there is no longer any economic or social reason why companies shouldn’t actively seek out women to participate in their companies at the highest levels.  South Africa may actually lead the way in this regard.  According to the new draft Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill, companies need to aim to have 50% of their management positions occupied by women.  While countries around the world are introducing similar quotas (the EU may introduce legislation for the entire region), only Israel and South Africa are aiming as high as 50%.  If a tremendous effort is made in this regard, and if we follow worldwide trends, this should result in greater financial success for companies and increased poverty reduction throughout the country.  In short, the numbers make the opportunities clear: women in the workforce, and especially women in leadership positions, are good for all countries in the world – for their families, for their businesses, and for their futures.



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Equality of the genders in the workplace

Affairs of the World resized

The workplace remains one of the most problematic areas for women in term of inequality.  Discrimination still continues to exist, even in first world countries like the United States.  As discussed in a previous article, many companies still favour employing men (partly because women are the ones who have babies and are usually the primary care-givers) and certainly top management is dominated by men, with only 15% of women worldwide holding directorships and only 5% serving as the CEO of a company.  This on-going preference given to men was highlighted in a recent experiment in America.  Here are the details:

A resume of a fictitious person was sent to a selection of 147 college professors at 6 major research universities.  The professors were asked to rate this resumé as part of a study.  Boardroom 14The ‘candidate’ was a recent graduate who was seeking a position as a laboratory manager.  All professors received the same one-page summary which portrayed a promising candidate, but not someone outstanding.  The only difference? – on half of the resumes, the mythical candidate was called John; on the other half the candidate was named Jennifer.

The results?

  • On a scale of 1 to 7 (with 7 being the highest) professors gave John an average score of 4 for competence and Jennifer 3.3
  • John was seen more favourably as someone they might hire for their laboratories or would be willing to mentor
  • The average starting salary offered to Jennifer was $26,508.  To John it was $30,328.

Some people claim that the problem of discrimination has gone away – but it very clearly hasn’t.  What is even more surprising was that the professors tested were a mixture of men and women – the biased evaluation was no different depending on whether a man or a woman was making the assessment.  It is perhaps understandable that men would discriminate, but why would this be true of women?

Women discriminating against women

westonaria 18The fact that women still consider themselves inferior in many cases should come as no surprise.  This is the result of centuries of conditioning.  Even Aristotle advised that: “Woman may be said to be an inferior man.”  When women succeed in business they most often tend to try to emulate men.  They then believe that they have somehow ‘risen above’ the normal woman, and so still tend to discriminate against other women who haven’t displayed enough masculine tendencies.  And so the cycle is perpetuated with women themselves believing that they are less competent than men.

Over the years, psychologists and psychiatrists have shown that both sexes consistently value men more highly than women. Characteristics considered male are usually praised: those considered female are usually criticized.  In 1957 A.C. Sheriffs and J.P. McKee noted that “women are regarded as guilty of snobbery and irrational and unpleasant emotionality.” Consistent with this report, E.G. French and G.S. Lesser found in 1964 that Boardroom 5“women who value intellectual attainment feel they must reject the woman’s role” – intellectual accomplishment apparently being considered, even among intellectual women, a masculine preserve.”

And yet, here are some amazing facts:

  • Companies that employ more women in upper level management are more profitable than those that rely heavily on male talent to run their businesses.
  • Men may naturally be more prone to risk taking and competition (thanks to the hormone testosterone), but women are better collaborators and better at achieving long-term results.
  • Not only should women receive fair pay because they deserve it, but because it would be good for the economy in general (see a future article on poverty reduction).
  • In practically every leadership survey conducted, women outstrip men in the qualities required to be most effective.

Looking at these interesting truths will be the subject of tomorrow’s article.

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Women and motherhood

Mother resizedReverence for, and protection of, motherhood have often been used as justification for keeping women socially and economically disadvantaged.  It is this discriminatory and injurious result that must change.  Great honour and nobility are rightly conferred on the station of motherhood and the importance of training children.  Addressing the high station of motherhood, the Bahá’í Writings state, “O ye loving mothers, know ye that in God’s sight, the best of all ways to worship Him is to educate the children and train them in all the perfections of humankind. . . .”1  One great challenge facing society is to make social and economic provisions for the full and equal participation of women in all aspects of life while simultaneously reinforcing the critical functions of motherhood.

When we consider previous articles (that have been posted in this series) that discuss the variety of abuses still being perpetrated towards women – either of a social, emotional, physical or superstitious nature – it needs to be seen in the context of the woman as the first educator of the child.  If a woman is treated as a possession – there only to serve her husband – or is physically or emotionally abused, or is treated as less important than her male counterpart, how well equipped will she be to raise the next generation of children?

According to the Bahá’í Faith, the role of the woman as the first educator of children is so important that the future of a balanced, harmonious and peaceful society depends on it.  Stating that the acquisition of knowledge serves as “a ladder for [his] ascent,”2 the Bahá’í Faith prescribes identical education for women and men but stipulates that, when resources are limited, first priority should be given to the education of women and girls.  This is departure from the prevailing opinion of educating boys rather than girls if a choice needs to be made.  The education of girls is particularly important because, although both parents have responsibilities for the rearing of children, it is through educated mothers that the benefits of knowledge can be most effectively diffused multitasking 5throughout society.

From an employer’s perspective, it is often heard that it is a problem to engage women and to invest time and money into their training as so often these women leave the workplace for some time to raise their children.  While this is not true of most women, who take only a brief leave period for maternity purposes, would it not be a far more positive approach to regard any development of women as helping the next generation to prosper from her knowledge?  For companies who spend a great deal of money on social improvement and responsibility, the time invested in their female staff is never wasted when those staff leave their employment to raise a family – rather, that valuable input will help to create an ever advancing and capable society.  A noble goal for companies to aspire to indeed!

  1. Abdu’l Bahá – Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l Bahá
  2. Báhá’u’lláh – Epistle to the Son of the Wolf
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Women and Peace

Bahá’í Scripture emphatically states that women will be the greatest factor in establishing universal peace and international arbitration.

So it will come to pass that when women participate fully and equally in the affairs of the world, when they enter confidently and capably the great arena of laws and politics, war will cease; for woman will be the obstacle and hindrance to it.”1

This statement in itself is so powerful that it doesn’t need any other argument to be put forward regarding the importance of women obtaining equality.  Achieving this goal will usher in nothing short of world peace!  While this is a part of the Bahá’í Writings and is a central part of Bahá’í belief, there is also much research to support the premise.  Around the world, women make peace in their homes and communities on a daily basis. But when it comes to negotiating and signing peace deals on a national or international level they are almost universally shut out, according to a report that calls for a more balanced approach to resolving conflict.

A 2000 UN security council resolution that called for equal participation for women in “the maintenance and promotion of sustainable peace” has been almost totally ignored, not least by the UN itself, says the report. There have been no female chief mediators in UN-brokered peace talks and fewer than 10% of police officers and 2% of the soldiers sent on UN peace-keeping missions have been women.

A report published by the Institute of Development Studies, funded by ActionAid and Womankind Worldwide, argues that this near total absence of women from official peacekeeping is not only a waste of a powerful resource for conflict resolution but also means formal peace deals are seriously flawed, taking a narrow definition of what constitutes enduring peace that mostly ignores the needs of women and girls.

A broader definition of peace

The report, From the Ground Up, surveyed Afghanistan, Liberia, Nepal, Pakistan and Sierra Leone and found that in local settings women took a broader view of peace that included basic rights such as freedom from violence in the home, as well as education and healthcare.

“In contrast, men have a greater tendency to associate peace with the absence of formal conflict and the stability of formal structures such as governance and infrastructure,” the report said.

The difference in perception means that in Sierra Leone, for example, which is generally classified as post-conflict, most women do not consider themselves to be living in peace. “This is attributed by respondents to the high rates of poverty and violence against women, including domestic violence, mental abuse and abandonment.”

“We’re not talking about a big war,” said one woman from Afghanistan, “but peace for us also means no domestic violence.”

It is little wonder that women take this broader view as they are the ones against whom domestic violence is most often directed.  Also, it’s the woman’s role to be the nurturer – so true peace for a woman means that her children can be raised in safety, and have access to education and healthcare.

We know that women are natural peacemakers; this is supported by a survey of five countries that demonstrated that women and girls have a tendency to form groups and coalitions to deal with problems and get on with resolving conflicts – they do this up to the point when the process becomes formal, when the men take over. The higher and more formal the level of peace-building, the smaller the degree of female participation, the study found.  It is truly sad that the skills of women as mediators and decision-makers within the home and their experiences building trust and dialogue in their families and communities are frequently dismissed as irrelevant or are not sufficiently valued by national governments, the international community or by women themselves.  Women have great power to build peace within their homes and communities and to come together collectively to create change.  

How ironic it is for these very peacemakers that their gender is the biggest barrier to a healthy and secure life.  Discrimination and violence destroys the potential of girls and women in developing countries and prevents them from pulling themselves out of poverty.  This is something that has to end as soon as possible – indeed, it seems that the peace of the planet depends on it.

  1.  Abdu’l Bahá – The Promulgation of Universal Peace. Page 134.
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The role of men in promoting equality

There is no doubt that many men are moving towards an acceptance and a celebration of the equality of the genders, and wouldn’t have it any other way. Within the Bahá’í community this spiritual law of equality of the genders is becoming more and more of a reality. Boys are raised to see their sisters (and women in general) as their total equals, to be respected and admired, and men work hard at eliminating any traces of superiority or condescension that they may feel towards women. However, this is far from being the norm in the incredibly patriarchal society in which we live. Many tribal practices still place women in a position of utter servitude, bound completely by the will of men and seen as little more than carriers of water, providers of food and instruments of pleasure when required.

This is a story that was related just a few months ago by a woman in business: “I was calling on a client who happened to be a very senior manager in a para-statal organisation. I was discussing the equality of the genders and how advanced we were in South Africa, particularly with the new Gender Equality Bill. There were several people in the meeting; but, when we were leaving, this manager asked me to stay. Once we were alone together, he had this to say to me:

‘I am sick of hearing all this talk of equality. A woman’s place is to lie beside my bed on the floor. When I need her to pleasure me, I poke her with my knobkerrie and then she joins me in my bed. When I have finished with her, she must get back down to her bed on the floor, because that is her place. I get so angry when I come to work and I find these women who say that they are now managers and I must do what they say. I look at them and I think that they don’t understand their place – which is next to me, on the floor’.

When we consider that these points of view still exist, it’s hard to reconcile them with the Bahá’í teachings that state: “As long as women are prevented from attaining their highest possibilities, so long will men be unable to achieve the greatness which might be theirs.”  (Abdu’l Bahá – Paris Talks)

How will men benefit from gender equality?

An obvious question would be – why would certain men give up their dominance when their lives are made so easy by treating their women as their servants and objects? Further, in relation to the quotation above, by continuing their existing behaviours and control over women, how will men be held back from achieving greatness?

It seems that the answer comes in the following quotation from the Bahá’í Writings, as Bahá’u’lláh teaches that the divine purpose of creation is the achievement of unity among all peoples:

“Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest.” (Bahá’u’lláh – The Hidden Words)

In other words, when men dominate women and reduce them to an inferior level in order to exalt themselves over half of their own human race, they literally cut themselves off from spiritual maturity, and deny themselves their true destiny and greatness. It is particularly ironic in this country (South Africa), where the majority of men have been subjected to unfair discrimination and have often been treated inhumanely, that any of these men should continue to hand out similar treatment to fellow citizens who simply happen to be of the female gender.

It is clear, then, that men have an inescapable duty to promote the equality of women.

The presumption of superiority by men inhibits the ambition of women and holds back the creation of an environment in which equality may exist. The destructive effects of inequality prevent men from maturing and developing the qualities necessary to meet the challenges of this new millennium. It is essential that men engage in a careful, deliberate examination of attitudes, feelings, and behaviors, deeply rooted in cultural habit, that block the equal participation of women and stifle the growth of men. The willingness of men to take responsibility for equality will create an optimum environment for progress: “When men own the equality of women there will be no need for them to struggle for their rights!” (Abdu’l Bahá – Paris Talks)

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