Gender Diversity in the Workplace

In the past, all women in the workplace were automatically assigned to temporary or part-time or low responsibility jobs because it was understood that their first priority was taking care of their families. Unmarried women were likely to quit as soon as they married (often to an up-and-coming executive in the company), and married women were likely to quit as soon as the became pregnant. Women with children were understood to care more about the children than about work. In addition, there was a widespread belief that women were not as capable as men, either physically or mentally or emotionally.

Today, women are not generally seen as inferior to men (in fact, it is common to hear that men are inferior to women). And there are women who want to put work first and family second. Most women in the workforce do not see it as temporary -- something to do until they "catch a man" -- nor as "extra" income.

Organizations have been slowly adjusting to these changes, learning to treat women as the equals of men and not as a pool of potential dates. Both discriminating against female employees (in terms of hiring and advancement) and treating them in a sexual manner (sexual harassment) are now against the law.

However, since there remain some women in the workforce who do place family first, Felice Schwartz has suggested creating a "Mommy Track" which would allow them to have more flexible and shorter hours and lesser responsibility in exchange for lower pay and limited career growth. In other words, recognize the wider diversity of needs of employees today and set up systems to accommodate them all.

Feminists worry that creating a Mommy Track effectively licenses corporations to discriminate against women. They feel that women (and presumably men!) should be allowed to have flexible work arrangements and remain on the fast track.

Some people regard issues of treatment of various employee groups, such as those based on gender, race, and sexual orientation as primarily an issue of moral fairness. Women should be given the same career opportunities as men; homosexual couples should be given the same health insurance benefits as heterosexual couples. American society and culture has changed considerably on these issues over the last 150 years (when women were not allowed to vote and slavery was still practiced), and organizations are asked to not only follow suit but lead the way. However, many managers would counter that organizations are not supposed to change American society. They are supposed to manufacture goods and provide services for money. Their responsibilities are to their stockholders, not women's groups. It might be morally desirable for corporations to give all their profits to the poor, but it would not be responsible action.

Others see the issues primarily in strategic terms. Organizations compete for human resources and as the workforce becomes more heterogeneous, organizations will have to serve the diverse needs of this workforce or they will lose them to their competitors. Organizations that discriminate against women are forced to select workers from a smaller pool, reducing their ability to find top performers. At the same time, some managers would point out that increased diversity can cause management problems. For example, having more women has meant more problems with sexual harassment (even if it's the men's fault). Increased diversity brings with it the need for more flexibility, which makes management more complicated (e.g., scheduling, compensation plans, interpersonal communication).