SAGAR A. AGRAWAL
The beginning of the 21st century brought with it a spate of problems for the world's largest
retailer Wal-Mart. The company found itself facing one of the biggest lawsuits ever in the history
of the US. Wal-Mart was charged with discrimination against its female employees in
compensation, promotions and job assignments in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of
1964 (Title VII) . The plaintiffs alleged that Wal-Mart mistreated women in various ways: they
earned much less than their male counterparts even when they had more experience than men or
performed better than them. In June 2001, a former Wal-Mart employee, Betty Dukes (Dukes),
had filed a case accusing the company of 'sex discrimination in promotions, training and pay.
Many more employees joined Dukes, and by May 2003, the case had taken the shape of a class
action suit after the plaintiffs asked a Federal Judge to allow the case to proceed on behalf of
more than 1.5 million women. Wal-Mart had for long been accused of not treating its female
employees in a socially responsible manner. A study of Wal-Mart's own employee data
(conducted by some experts hired by the plaintiffs) revealed that women had been discriminated
against in many instances. Even the company's internal memos revealed that Wal-Mart was far
behind its competitors in promoting women at the workplace.
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Discrimination is a sociological term referring to treatment taken toward or against a person of a
certain group that is taken in consideration based on class or category. Gender discrimination
refers to beliefs and attitudes in relation to the gender of a person. It is defined as adverse action
against another person that would not have occurred had the person been of another sex. It is the
practice of letting a person's sex unfairly become a factor when deciding who receives a job,
promotion, or other employment benefit. It most often affects women who feel they have been
unfairly discriminated against in favor of a man.
Types of Gender Discrimination
There are two main categories of gender discrimination:
• Disparate treatment
• Disparate impact
The first category, disparate treatment, is simply treating an employee differently (disparately)
because of her or his gender. For example - an employee may be discriminated against by being
asked discriminatory questions during a job interview, an employer did not hire, promote or
wrongfully terminated an employee based on his or her gender, or employers pay unequally
based on gender.
Disparate impact is a more complex concept. It regards company policies or practices that
exclude persons of one gender from a job or from promotions although the policy or practice was
not designed to do so. There is a disparate impact on one gender. An example is the policy of
many fire departments that had strength requirements for hiring firefighter that far exceeded the
strength needed by an individual to work effectively as a firefighter. Such excessive strength
requirements had a disparate impact on women, many of whom had enough strength to be a good
firefighter, but not enough strength to meet the department's requirement.
Discrimination at work can come from either the employee of from the colleague side.
Discrimination by colleagues can happen to new employees. They may face sarcastic stares or
constant digs made at them by their colleagues during initial weeks. However, if it persists for a
long time, it can affect not only the employee but also the employer. The effect on the employee
can be huge or meager but the impact on organization remains for a longer time. An employee
who is being discriminated witnesses non cooperation from peers and negative feedbacks form
subordinates. Discrimination leads to psychological and emotional disturbance, resulting in
demoralization and descend in performance standards. It brings down the overall performance,
and fuels more discrimination, which in turn increases the number of gaps in one's work further.
Discrimination at workplace also affects the society. The socio-economic inequalities get
widened and social cohesion and solidarity are eroded. It results in wastage of human talent and
resources. The main indicator which indicates that gender discrimination has occurred in the
hiring process involves the qualifications of the job applicants. While a slight difference in
qualifications between a female and a male candidate does not automatically indicate gender bias
(if a lesser qualified male candidate is hired instead of a female candidate, that is), a drastic
difference in qualifications has almost always been upheld by the courts as a sure sign of gender
discrimination. For example, if a male who dropped out of high school without receiving a
diploma is hired in an administrative position over a female who had obtained her master's
degree, then it is likely bias was a factor.
Examples of Gender Discrimination at work
• An employee may be discriminated by being asked discriminatory questions during a job
• An employer may not hire, promote or wrongfully terminate an employee based on his or
• Employers pay unequally based on gender
• One is refused credit or is offered unequal loan terms based on one’s gender
• Employers in the past paid female workers substantially less than their male workers were
making in the same job.
• Some employers fired female employees as soon as the employees became pregnant, even
though these employees could have continued to perform their job duties.
Despite the progress that individual countries and companies have made in addressing gender
inequality and discrimination, there is still much to be done to achieve true equality in public
institutions and in the corporate executive suite. Glass Ceiling is yet another form of
discrimination towards women, which exists in the corporate hierarchy. Glass ceiling has been
used as a metaphor for twenty years now to describe the apparently invisible barriers that prevent
more than a few women from reaching the top levels of management. Compared to formal
barriers to career advancement such as education, the glass ceiling refers to less tangible
hindrances — frequently anchored in culture, society and psychological factors — that impede
women’s advancement to upper management or other senior positions. One of the main reasons
cited for the existence of a glass ceiling was that women did not have the required experience and
skills to reach the top management. They were restricted to clerical and other support services
jobs. The reason seemed to be true, as in the late 1970s and early 1980s, very few women had
proper college education and fewer had management degrees.
Breaking Glass Ceiling
Although there is a glass ceiling, many women recently have surpassed that hurdle. When at the
top management, many women feel isolated like outsiders. Most of the time they are the only
female at that level and are surrounded by males. Many women have faced sexual harassment,
wage inequality, blocked movement and gender stereotyped roles. Women are said to have
different styles of leadership and management once they break the barrier. They are generalized
to be more nurturing and caring in nature than men. Men are stereotypically, more “tough” and
shrewd in business, which is sometimes seen as positive traits. Women’s traditional role is in the
home, taking care of children, and keeping house. The stereotype of maternal leadership stems
from that. Some men in senior management that do not want to see women climb the corporate
ladder believe that they do not have the qualities to lead a company. Many believe that making
assumptions about the way women act in a leadership position perpetuates the stereotypes that
cause the glass ceiling. There are many reasons why women have been able to break the barrier.
Some believe that having women on an executive board is a positive thing. The more women that
are accepted into management positions, the more will get promoted to senior management and
serve as role models for the younger. Younger men have also been more accepting of female
superiors. The perception of a woman’s role is changing with the younger generation.
So there is a potential to address and eradicate all the problems. It is also proven that women
have been contributing to the economic development of many countries but there lacks a
realization and all their work go invisible. But, for a few super success stories like Kiran
Mazundar Shaw of Biocon, Chanda Kochar, the incumbent MD & CEO of ICICI Bank,
Mallika Srinivasan of Tractor And Farm Equipments (TAFE), Amrita Patel of National Dairy
Development Board (NDDB), Vinita Bali of Britannia Industries, Kalpana Chawla, Sunita
Williams of NASA, President Pratibha Patil, Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson of UPA, Mamata
Banerjee-MP, Jayalalitha (TN) from Indian Politics, Shobaa De, Arundhati Roy, Priety Zinta
from IPL very few have achieved limelight they deserve. Although few women have been
striving hard for women’s emancipation and overall growth along with several other causes like
Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachchao Andolan, Mother Theresa-the Nobel Laurete, most of
the contribution goes unnoticed. There should be a framework, an action plan to uplift women
from the oppression and give them independence from gender discrimination.