The Study of Gender-Based Stereotypes and Their Potential Impact to the Organization

The study of gender in organizations constitutes a major development in the sociology of gender. And stereotypical perceptions and feminity are hardly new. Throughout history, both men and women have been rewarded or penalized for adhering, or not adhering, to societal norms and models of appropriate communication behaviors for men and women. Now, as we venture into the twentieth century, rigid adherence to the communication behaviors dictated by gender-based stereotypes is not in our individual, dyadic, or collective best interest.

Males and females now are working side by side in the marketplace, as more and more females are working outside the home. The gender perspective provides for a modern critical analysis of organizational behaviors with non-trivial implications for optimum human resource development. And this socioeconomic phenomenon of the twentieth century, suggests a need to develop greater understanding of gender-based stereotypes and their potential impact to the organization.

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The two main approaches found in the gender studies in organizations are the structural and symbolic integrationist approaches. In the structural approach, organizations are viewed as structures of dominance and power which transcend the deliberations of social actors (Reed, 1992). In Reed’s view, feminists are pointed to the inequality inherent in these structures which re-created gender at the work place and called for radical measures to alter existing structures to alleviate the subordination of women.

Others sought to identify the sources of change within existing management frameworks that policy-makers could work on to address the issues for the optimal use of human resources. For instance, Kanter’s (1977) pioneering study on women in a male-dominated organization examined how women’s mobility within the organization could be facilitated by policies which addressed their lack of negotiating power via structures of opportunity, power and numerical composition.

However Padavic (1991) reviewed that as the structural approach of Kanter mainly focuses the constrains imposed on organizational behavior, it is inadequate in explaining the social processes of change resulting from human agency given its deterministic orientation towards the person-organization relationship – because according to Kanter, often social change is a matter of changing the structural order without reference to the agency of individuals in influencing the interaction processes that accompany change.

Thus, Padavic went on to propose the integrationist approach focusing on human agency in negotiating social change that construct between gender and organization identities at the work place and how equality is a negotiated reality between interacting participants.

For instance, Kanter noted the predominance of male managers in organizations led to the belief in the ‘masculine ethic’ where traits for effective management such as a tough-minded approach to problems; analytic abilities to abstract and plan, and a cognitive superiority in problem-solving and decision-making supposedly reside in men, gave rise to assumptions of the inherent inability of women to be good managers (Kanter, 1997 p. 22) – suggesting that men perceived female managers as less knowledgeable and possessing poorer managerial skills than men.

And further exploring Kanter’s approach, the conceptual categories of opportunity, power and tokenism, form the platform on which to situate discussions of the bargaining power women possess with which to negotiate gender and organizational identities. Opportunity structures refer to the steps up the career ladder in the organization. Those which provide upward career mobility generate related responses of increased work commitment, higher aspirations and involvement in the organization (Kanter, 1977 p. 135).

Power refers to “the capacity to mobilize resources” (Kanter, 1977 p. 247). One can increase one’s power base through gaining support through the informal alliances with superiors and subordinates (Kanter, 1977 p. 247). And in line with Kanter, Zimmer (1998) reviewed that the positions women occupy normally lack power given their predominance in jobs because of high levels of routinization, attributing the typical responses of “powerless” organizational members who relied on coercion and authoritarianism to achieve their objectives (p. 5). And less optimistically, there is still a clear tendency for women to be segregated in certain kinds of work (e. g. caring, teaching, secretarial), and for their work to be paid less than work typically done by men. And finally, tokens, which suffer from performance pressures as they are subject to intense scrutinization by others and are “often treated as representations of their category, as symbols rather than as individuals” (Kanter, 1977 p. 209).

But although Kanter’s structural approach showed how organizational structures of opportunity, power and tokenism could explain women’s general lack of power and dominance at the work setting, it is also important to combine his approach with the multiplicity of interest groups in society and the fluid contestations of power for analyzing gender relations (Lindsey, 1997) – because according to Lindsey, social change is predicted upon the assumption that society is “continually being built and rebuilt through interaction and negotiation” (p. ). And in the review of Gerson and Peiss, (2000) concept of negotiation, “the ways women and men bargain for privileges and resources” (p. 119), is adapted to this specific situation where women find themselves having to negotiate gender and organizational identities as they attempt to formulate new role identities in a predominantly masculine environment.

Consider the role of the organization namely the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), in shaping the social processes that affect their development, how do they negotiate gender and organizational identities approaches to examine the role of the individual as the organization in the development of gender organizational identities. The SAF has traditionally been a male stronghold in the combat arms as women are mostly in service support roles.

The work context is notably masculine with aggression, physical toughness and brute force as essential attributes. Military service is also perceived as a rite passage from boys to manhood. Furthermore, “the warrior-as-male rise to assumptions of the military culturally rooted in the general psyche of the population, giving rise to assumptions of the military culture being antagonistic to women and adverse to values associated with feminity” (Titunik, 2000 p. 232).

However, women today are in a social milieu, given today’s climate of individual freedom in pursuing one’s career choice where the concept of social roles is a joint construction of people and their role partners involving interpersonal negotiations to meet mutually satisfying need, gives rise to the individual scope of adaptation (Fein, 1990) and as we can see in this millennium century, women in the SAF are also taking part in combatants training meeting the competence to that of predominantly masculine environment. Another example is about a review on a small family business private firm namely Chesuyan Interior Design (CID).

Out of the two children he has, part of the problem revolved around the director is wanting his son to succeed in his business in the way he did traditionally, in which on two separate occasions; the son left the family business for a period of time. The reason behind is that the director took his son’s suggestions and ideas as personal attacks on his decision making abilities whereas the daughter was able to show him how doing something anyway may be more beneficial to the company without considering it a personal attack on his abilities.

Despite of this, the father still tried to convince his son to return to the family business, but his son had special areas of expertise, but still did not fit the mold for taking over the family firm. And in an act of desperation, he looked to his daughter. Prior to his daughter joining the firm, in the past, 70% of the employees happens to be the director’s daughter, son and extended families be it in finance department, product purchasing or admin support holding the post of manager or manageress positions.

When there is a position vacant in the company, the director would turn to their immediate relatives to source for employment or vice versa because the relative requires sustenance. Differentiating salaries due to performance based on appraisal does not follow family norm, but applied to external employees, and when the immediate next of kin in the family who gave birth to a child, the director allocate the firm’s resources by paying a non economic wage granting a raise to her in which has never happen to the other unrelated female employees in the company.

However, ever since her daughter took the position as his personal assistant in the firm, she was able to impress not only the family in the firm, but also the external employees with her public relations skills with them and their clients, bringing the message to his father that although a family-owned business, being nice to customers is not the only application, it also applies to employees that loyal employees should share in the profits and opportunities of the business.

She was able to convince her father that the defined goal of a business, is to operate at a profit and the prudent owner-manager is expected (the business norm) to hire only those employees who are most competent and top pay salaries and benefits in accordance with employee market worth and past performance, and at the same time, expanding opportunities to the other employees whom she sees as potential candidates whom can further contribute to the success of the company.

As a result, the company’s personnel record book was later opened to 1 top manager and 1 manageress for the first time in 1999 to give them a better feel of the status of the company after having worked with the firm for the past 5 years, one being raised their wages to that of assistant manager to finance department in the presence that the director’s relative manageress of the finance department is unavailable, the assistant manager will overlook the entire operation with authorities to make immediate decisions, while the manageress expanded on a new department in business sales, also suggesting women nowadays may not necessary be in the back line support roles.

After taking over, the daughter went on to further improved the quality and professionalism of the company’s marketing efforts with the newly expanded sales department working closely with the promoted manageress, and relationships with licensees improved, as did public relations overall. However, she continued to respect what her father has done in the past and his current contributions to the firm, and acknowledges that she has a lot to learn from him and until she does, it is not time for him to leave the company, while the son feel otherwise – further suggesting that nepotism can destroy a family business, likewise failure to recognize the needs of the family and other employees can also be devastating. Thus, about women breaking the glass ceiling, cultural and sociological traditions have often dictated the role of women in business. Women perceived as the homemakers and supporters of the men in the family.

It was widely believed that women did not have the intellect for business and that women could not handle the pressures that come with managing an organization and until then, the cases just reviewed – SAF and CID, shows otherwise, reflecting that women today are getting more and more better than men in challenging the stereotyped and assumption that men are the best and most qualified candidates be it in business or in the regimen uniform groups. And moreover, as the organization move towards fuller participation of workforce development, it is timely to conduct a systematic research to enhance one’s understanding of their development since the early years of independence, and as the organization prepares itself for further integration, the need for a sociological understanding of gender issues is essential for formulating the policy frameworks that shape their growth and integration to retain the emphasis on human agency in facilitating social change.

The world is transitioning from a period of stable growth to a more volatile environment where newly strong competitors like China, India, Thailand, Dubai are causing great disruption to the Asia-Pacific economies. Many of our economies & our companies are restructuring rapidly to adapt to this, and it’s causing shifts in employment patterns ; wage structures. With rapid technological progress, the Singapore economic growth strategy had begun to move into a new phase and technological progress has changed the way people work. And given the low population base as a result of declining fertility and aging population, the median age of the labor force has been on the rise, giving rise to concerns on labor productivity.

With this problem at hand accompanied by tight labor market, labor demand today has to be met by both different genders (male and female) as well as imported manpower in view that in today’s emphasis, is placed on policies to attract top talents from the region and the world, resulting in the structure change of the labor force. Thus, for an economy lacking natural endowment, human capital is the only resource available, hence suggesting that the employment needs of the firm in the way they used to take on people, is required to redirect their recruitment focus on external sourcing for the best talents in order to meet up with the global competition, so to participate actively in the Singapore economy.

This would be made possible through training, retraining and inflow of employee’s talents, and together with the unity of the firm, there may be a possible U-shaped curve in producing highly skilled and experienced labor for high level managerial and professional jobs contributing to the country’s growth of talent pools hence minimizing foreign talents – this means that they need to consider how to build leadership teams whose members collectively have competencies different from what may have enabled them to be successful in the past. Thus, in view about women breaking the glass ceiling, the current diversification and expansion of education has had important consequences both for individual and social development and women are no longer relegated mainly to the private sphere as in the past where their main roles are in homemaking activities. The same exposure to physically rigorous activities as their male peers in current context in schools has helped them to cultivate a more independent spirit than the passiveness from a life of sheltered existence.

And due to economic and social transformations, a major component of a women’s behavior is an emergent self confidence, a new awareness by women of their responsibility for the economic, as well as the psychological, demands of their families in which women have found out that reliance on a male provider is a very uncertain affair. They have learned to adapt themselves to situations where the husband leaves them with the children without support, and with the high standard of living in Singapore, it furthers contribute to the plausible reasons of increasing number of women in the labor force in order to keep up with the demands of quality life. Hence, as women achieve higher status in the business world, it becomes more difficult for men and women to disregard the close interrelationship between work and family life. In addition to such supportive roles, the number of females who adopt the role of entrepreneur for themselves is increasing.