Critically assess how effective employment law is as a means of altering social attitudes.

Authors Avatar



Critically assess how effective employment law is as a means of altering social attitudes.

To assess how effective employment law is a means of altering social attitudes I aim to thoroughly examine whether respective legislation has sufficiently enabled women to enter and progress in professional employment on an equal footing with men. Hence, has there been a lifting of the so called 'glass ceiling', which Browne defines as,

"An invisible barrier of discrimination which makes it difficult for women to reach the same top level in their chosen careers as men."1

Alternatively, I aim to evaluate, does the mere avoidance of discrimination carry with it little prospect of significant overall improvement in the socio-economic position of women. Thus, is there a need in the UK for more proactive measures such as legislation permitting or even obliging positive discrimination and compulsory affirmative/positive action, to remove the inequalities that remain.

Before doing as such I feel it is imperative to differentiate between and explain what positive discrimination and affirmative/positive action are.

Positive discrimination is where for example an employer restricts applicants for a particular job to women or automatically appoints a woman, and the only reason for such is that women may be underrepresented in the position in question.2

The definition of positive or affirmative action3 is potentially problematic. There are at least three interrelated types of objective. First many policies are directed towards the identification of policies and practices that may disadvantage women and ethnic minorities in the workplace. However, this is no more than acting to ensure that there is no direct or indirect discrimination. A second type of positive action concerns the organisation of work and the workplace. This category includes the development of policies to reconcile home and work, such as maternity and child care policies, career break schemes, etc. The third focus, often source of greatest controversy, is on positive action to overcome the fact that, in many jobs, women and ethnic minorities are under-represented. This may vary from outreach programmes designed to increase the number of applications from members of groups perceived to be disadvantaged, through the provisions of training designed to promote competition on a level playing field with white males. To programmes which take account of the actual numbers performing such jobs, whether in the form of aims or targets, or in the form of quotas whereby a particular proportion of jobs in a particular grade are reserved for women or ethnic minorities.4

Women have always been in lower status jobs than their male counterparts. This is largely due to social attitudes that have built up over many decades and even centuries, as Clements and Spinks state,

"Some of the most deep-rooted of all fixed attitudes are those concerning the type of roles that women should fulfil and the positions that they should be allowed to hold in our society."5

Gender differences are reinforced from childhood right through to adulthood. Females are subjected to strong messages about gentleness and motherhood. Whereas males are taught to be macho, powerful and have interests such as science, construction, and engineering.

As early as the 18th century women, only occupied basic positions in the labour market such as in textiles and nursing, participation in senior roles was non-existent. Discrimination was overtly present at this early stage, as Heaker states,

" A combination of pressures from male workers and philanthropic reformers restricted females progressing. Men perceived women as a rival group and made use of economic, legal and ideological weapons to eliminate or reduce their competition."6

The very first legislative attempt to enhance women's status was the Sex Disqualification Removal Act 1919. However, this Act had very limited effect, as it only removed existing bars on women entering certain professions; employers could still refuse employment on grounds of sex.7

Come the 1970's continuous feminist demands upon the state for equity in paid work, the European Economic Community's pressure on the UK to enforce previous United Nations International agreement on equal opportunities, as well as numerous private members bills requiring change. Led the new Labour government of 1974 to issue a white paper called 'Equality for Women' and a few months after the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (SDA 1975) became law.8 The SDA 1975 was undoubtedly revolutionary as it was the first piece of legislation for over two generation, which aimed to give women permanent equality of access to and opportunities within the full range of men's jobs in peace time. Obliging employers to recruit, train, and promote employees on the basis of their individual qualities and qualifications, irrespective of sex or marriage.9

The SDA 1975, prohibits direct10 and indirect11 discrimination, undoubtedly these measures are useful provisions that have helped women retain and acquire employment, as well as encourage women to seek employment in areas that they may not previously have done so. However, the SDA 1975 is concerned with equality of access, not of outcomes and firmly embeds the 'merit' principle. This assumes that if women and other targeted groups fail to secure the most attractive jobs it is because of the disadvantaged groups unsuitability and not because of discrimination12. The SDA makes it illegal for women to be given priority at the point of selection, which would be considered as positive discrimination. Hence, restricting selection lists in several constituencies in the case of Jepson and Dyas Elliot v The Labour Party13, to women only, in an attempt to increase female MP's amounted to positive discrimination and was therefore unlawful.

Provision for positive action are also very limited in the SDA 1975, to only allowing employers to provide single-sex training courses for non-traditional areas and encouraging women to apply for jobs in occupations where they are underrepresented, s.47 SDA 1975. Furthermore, these provisions in all the circumstances are permissive rather than mandatory, unlike the law in Northern Ireland14 USA15, Canada16, South Africa17, and Australia.18 British employers are never under a positive obligation to engage in any affirmative action, from the mildest forms of encouragement upwards.

Figures from the Department of Employment for the period 1985-93, showed that women made up only 2% of senior managers, 6% of MP's, 8% of senior executives in business and 2 % of general surgeons.19
Join now!

The National Management Salary Survey of 1996 did highlight that the proportion of females in management continues to rise, but at the most senior level women were found to comprise less than 4% of senior directors.20 The Hansard Society put forward a similar view highlighting there has been some progress for women, however they remain hampered by glass ceilings and hemmed in by glass walls, restricting their earnings and blocking them from reaching the operational roles at the heart of each corporation.21

Recent statistics from the Price Waterhouse Corporate Register 1999 clearly indicate that over two decades ...

This is a preview of the whole essay

Here's what a teacher thought of this essay

Summary This is a good essay with plenty of details about the ethics of research in social psychology. The writer has obviously studied the subject and has included all the main salient points. There could be more time spent on explaining the guidelines more fully and less time going into such detail about the studies. However, all are relevant to the essay and all key research has been mentioned. To improve this essay the writer needs to improve the conclusions and just structure the essay better. Start with a plan which always helps and avoid using lists and bullet points. Star rating 4 *