Women’s choices are hard to make

The Star Early Edition - - LETTERS - Pro­fes­sor Anita Bosch

WOMEN are still be­ing treated un­fairly at work and at home, even though the topic should have reached ma­tu­rity. And the un­der­ly­ing is­sue of power is the main driv­ing force be­hind struc­tural inequal­ity.

Women are ea­ger to work and have as much as­pi­ra­tion as men to ad­vance. It seems strange that or­gan­i­sa­tions are so stub­born to adapt in order to recog­nise the pat­terns of un­equal power re­la­tions and to ac­knowl­edge the so­ci­etal im­ped­i­ments that women face.

Once or­gan­i­sa­tions take the real­i­ties of women se­ri­ously, women and men will be able to par­tic­i­pate at work bring­ing their full selves and tal­ents to bear. When em­ploy­ees make it known that they feel that they are be­ing treated un­fairly, it takes a thought­ful man­ager to stop and lis­ten.

The per­cep­tion of fair­ness de­pends on the del­i­cate in­ter­play of so­cialised norms, cul­tural val­ues, psy­cho­log­i­cal pre­dis­po­si­tion and re­li­gious con­vic­tions. This in­ter­play is couched in power re­la­tions, a power that presents it­self as sub­tle and covert. They man­i­fest in in­equitable prac­tices that are passed off as “the re­al­ity” or “the way things work”.

Women are caught up in this power play as they can­not al­ways ar­tic­u­late a dif­fer­ent way of be­ing and act­ing. The way their choices are pre­sented to them seem fixed and un­change­able. A woman may be stuck in merely voic­ing her dis­sat­is­fac­tion or bear­ing it.

The so­cial­i­sa­tion of girls to be good moth­ers and wives, which in gen­eral is laud­able, is probably the most in­flu­en­tial, and is in di­rect con­flict with work­place re­quire­ments.

A woman, with or with­out chil­dren, is mea­sured as ei­ther a good mother/wife or an ideal worker – sel­dom both.

In ad­di­tion, work­ers are spend­ing more time at work and in a de­mand­ing com­pet­i­tive cul­ture, over­work has be­come vir­tu­ous.

While or­gan­i­sa­tions may reap the fi­nan­cial ben­e­fits of al­low­ing over­work cul­tures, em­ploy­ees are of­ten caught on a tread­mill of ever-in­creas­ing de­mands that even­tu­ally con­sume their lives.

As women carry the burden of un­equal dis­tri­bu­tion of home and child­care, keep­ing up with the over­work cul­ture be­comes ex­haust­ing and may lead to to opt­ing out of paid work. The ar­gu­ment that they will­ingly choose to leave is there­fore a half-truth – they are of­ten forced out.

Since women do not want to frag­ment their fam­i­lies by re­ly­ing on par­ents and other fam­ily mem­bers to as­sist in shoul­der­ing the re­spon­si­bil­ity of care and nur­ture for their chil­dren, they may stop pur­su­ing their ca­reers with vigour.

Th­ese “choices” are hard ones to make and leave women feel­ing dis­il­lu­sioned and weak. To add in­sult to in­jury the inequal­ity be­tween men and women with sim­i­lar cre­den­tials, ed­u­ca­tion and abil­i­ties is at­trib­uted to a lack of tal­ent, ef­fort or de­sire on the part of women.

To shift so­ci­etal norms that pen­e­trate work­place logic, or­gan­i­sa­tions should re-ex­am­ine work­place struc­tures, re­cruit­ment, selection, per­for­mance man­age­ment and promotion to elim­i­nate bias.

Also, women should be coached on how to ne­go­ti­ate im­proved shar­ing of house and child­care with their part­ners and they should con­tinue to voice their con­cerns about fair­ness, and should per­haps be in­vited to openly dis­cuss their ex­pe­ri­ences with man­agers.

Man­agers in turn, should un­der­stand the full life con­text of their em­ploy­ees and be re­al­is­tic about per­for­mance tar­gets and work­place out­puts.

The over­work cul­ture… may lead to opt­ing out of paid work

Univer­sity of Stel­len­bosch Busi­ness School

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