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Gender Roles in The Workplace

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    Gender plays an important role in the workplace as women have worked towards equality for many years. There have been studies done to suggest that women's pay grades are lower with respect to men, but one other major issue is the role of gender in traditional offices. In other cultures like Japan, women are required to serve tea to men because it is a cultural tradition. However, nations like the United States have fostered more progressive means of delivering gender equality for women. The following sample expository sociology essay on gender roles in the workplace is part of a "field work" study where the behavior was observed and then reported.

    Modern business not as bias

    The modern business world has evolved to a place where one generally expects to see a fair depiction of the two genders working together with no apparent preference to having either more male or female employees. Upon fieldwork in an office setting to see the interactions between the female and male employees, however, it would still appear that gender roles play a large part in the daily operations in certain business environments. The fieldwork that was performed through direct observation gave an insight into the way in which an office created, maintained, and generally worked with the specific roles that had been given to certain members during a business meeting. The gender roles that had been identified and given to the office workers from the fieldwork show that the office is male dominated and that the female employees must act in a way that is submissive and passive to their male coworkers who have been labeled as authoritative figures to the females of the office. This is typical in traditional gender socialization and cultural settings.

    Men more forceful at work

    The information was gathered from observation in the office during daily interactions between the employees, specifically during a business meeting and from observation of the different employees’ cubicles. The location was the Sikorsky Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and the research was gathered on February 19th. The information was not gathered by interviews or surveys and was limited to direct observations from the interactions of the employees by the researcher. Based upon the observations collected from the interactions of the employees and the general investigation of the cubicles, general conclusions were drawn about the role of gender within this office setting. 

    It is evident based upon the findings of the research that this particular office has very defined gender roles within it (an example of gender discrimination). From the observations of the conference room, it can be concluded that the males hold the positions of authority and power within the office. Whenever a male was presenting a point or making an observation during the business meeting, they would make assertions about their own points and be very blunt and to the point on the manner such as saying “we should do X.”  

    This differs from when a female would make a point in the meeting because she would ask in a much more passive tone and seek approval from the other employees with such statements as “I believe point X is the best choice, isn’t that right?” The females spoke generally in a much more approval-speaking manner. It was as though the female employees were taking the expressive role in the work environment, or that they were attempting to “cement relationships and provide emotional support and nurturing activities” (Lindsey). This is a common practice within household relationships and it appeared that the female employees of this office were taking that same role with their colleagues.  

    Examples of gender roles in action

    In addition to the females taking a more nurturing and supportive role, it would appear that they give the real authority in their office to the men. This became evident in the ways in which the males compared to the females would point out mistakes that were made by the individuals that made points or presented ideas during the meeting. The men would be straightforward and call out inconsistencies and flaws in the logic as they saw them; saying such statements as “no, that’s not right,” or “no, you’re wrong.” The females, on the other hand, would politely point out the mistakes they saw and bring them to the groups attention with such remarks as “so wait, is that right?” or “are you sure about that?”  What is clearly seen is the tried and true findings of gender and authority in the workplace.  From studies that have been performed over the last 20 years, it is consistently found that women have less authority than males in the workplace, and this office clearly backed this sort of evidence (Smith).

    There were direct examples of the male authority that went beyond the manner in which the females and males chose how to interact verbally present at the office.  The women were put into some positions that were classic examples of tokenism within the workplace.  The women are put into specific roles of lesser importance and are seen as ‘tokens’ in these specific roles that are positions usually filled by a female employee (Zimmer).  In the case of this office, the male that was running the business meeting had a woman run the computer during his presentation even though she was not his assistant.  In this scenario, the woman played a specific role as the subservient gender that helped the male leader fill his role of running the meeting, showing that this female employee fit the role of a token in the workplace as an assistant to the male authority figure.  

    The role of Female leaders in the workplace

    This also raises questions about the role of female leaders in the workplace, specifically since this office space showed that females are clearly not seen as leaders or authority figures. Research has shown that in general though the female stereotype is changing in the workplace, the female authority figure is usually not present and discouraged in a group consisting of both men and women employees (Eagly & Karau).  This was shown further to be the case in terms of which employees were given company phones.  During the meeting, the members of the office with company phones had to put them on the conference room’s table incase they were needed during the course of the meeting. Only one female worker had a company phone whereas all of the males had one. This was an indicator that even though the employees were all on the same level of authority based upon their job titles, the men were valued as more of the leaders and authoritative figures and were given company phones to make contact with the clients of the business based on the idea that women are generally penalized for being assertive and becoming leaders in the workplace based on the gender status that has been assigned to them (Ridgeway).

    Difference in compensation between men and women

    One of the other major factors that showed the difference in gender in the office employees was the way in which the male and female workers appeared both in a physical sense and the way in which they shaped their personal workspaces within their cubicles. In terms of how the different gender employees dressed and presented themselves, it was apparent that two different motives went into their choices of wardrobe. Whereas the men choice clothing that were business appropriate, their major emphasis was clearly based on comfort and practicality of the articles of clothing. They would choose to wear button-ups or polos with slacks that were professional but clearly relatively comfortable and overwhelmingly chose a functional pair of dress shoes that were entirely based on functionality. This is completely different from the motives to the way the female employees dressed.  

    They would wear clothes that were based on being presentable over functional and comfort such as high heels, jewelry, or tight fitting clothing. The office’s dress code was that of business casual meaning that both genders were not made to be overly dressed up for work, however it was worth noting that, as is common with many workplaces, the female employees were more dressed up than the males because of the mounted social expectations for females to appear looking the best in the public sphere (Whisner). This also is present in the way in which the cubicles of the employees are maintained.   The male employees generally had very bland office spaces that had few decorations unless the company had provided them and were simply a place for the employee to get their work done, whereas the female employee cubicle had a much more personalized touch to it with some of the female’s personal possessions present at their workplace.  

    From the observations gathered, it is worth noting that there exist several important limiting factors. First and foremost, the sample size of this particular office is so small that no definite trends that are taken from it can apply to the workplace at large.  The number of employees here cannot accurately portray the entire workplace or serve as an example for workplaces in general because of its size. This research and observations made were entirely based upon this particular office and the role that gender played within it. Second, the employees themselves were not asked how they felt the roles of gender were present in the office. The observations generated and collected were made independently from the point of view of the employees as they were gathered from an outside party that merely watched the interactions.  Related to this, as an observer was present to record the office happenings, the interactions of the employees could have been altered as they were trying to appear the most professional as possible in order to impress the observer and not make themselves appear to be seen in a negative light.      

    Understanding gender roles in the workplace

    Based on the observations, it is clear that gender roles play a large factor in the office that was observed. It is clear that the females, when compared to the males in the office, take a much more subservient role and let the male employees have the authority and power in the office. The classic gender roles that have been embedded into society have clearly permeated and held true in the workplace between genders namely in terms of assigning roles of leadership and authority. Though the female stereotype is evolving and undergoing a dramatic reevaluation process, it is clear that in some place, such as the office that was observed from the field work, that there are certain places in the business world that have not yet realized the new roles that women clearly are capable and should be allowed to take. From these factors, it is evident that in the observed office that gender roles have been clearly associated between the male and female employees.

    Works Cited

    Eagly, Alice, and Steven Karau. "Role Congruity Theory of Prejudice Toward Female Leaders." Psychological Review. 109.3 (2002): n. page. Web. 6 Apr. 2013. <http://web.pdx.edu/~mev/pdf/PS471_Readings_2012/Eagley_Karau.pdf>. 

    Lindsey, L.L. The Sociology of Gender: Theoretical Perspectives and Feminist Frameworks. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2005. 1-19. Print. 

    Ridgeway, Cecilia. "Gender, Status, and Leadership." Journal of Social Issues. 57.4 (2001): n. page. Web. 6 Apr. 2013. <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/0022-4537.00233/abstract;jsessionid=7ECC7937AF60D0463A1BD26432402B7D.d04t04?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false>. 

    Smith, Ryan. "Race, Gender, and Authority in the Workplace: Theory and Research." Annual Review of Sociology. 28. (2002): n. page. Print. <http://www.csun.edu/~snk1966/R.A. Smith - Race, Gender, and Authority in the Workplace -- Theory and Research.pdf>. 

    Whisner, Mary. "Gender-Specific Clothing Regulation: A Study in Patriarchy." Harvard Women's Law. 5. (1982): n. page. Web. 6 Apr. 2013. <http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1344762>.

    Zimmer, Lynn. "Tokenism and Women in the Workplace: The Limits of Gender-Neutral Theory." Social Problems. 35.1 (1988): n. page. Web. 6 Apr. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/800667?uid=2&uid=4&sid=21102098765957>.  

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