Equal Opportunity: Disentangling Promise from Achievement

Strachan, Glenda & French, Erica L. (2007) Equal Opportunity: Disentangling Promise from Achievement. In Gender, Work and Organisation: 5th Biennial International Interdisciplinary Conference, 27-29 June, 2007, Keele University, United Kingdom.


An abundance of literature has demonstrated that the increase in women’s workforce participation and education levels over the past thirty years has not reduced occupational and hierarchical segregation by gender in organisations (for example, Acker 2006 and 1990; Walby 2005, 1997 and 1992; Cockburn 1991) and that changed technology is likely to retain and reconstruct patterns of gender segregation (for example, Game and Pringle 1983; Cockburn 1985 and 1983). In Australia, specific equal opportunity legislation that requires organisations to address gender inequity has existed since 1986. This legislation was based on recognition of systemic discrimination within organisational policies and practices, that is, recognition of gender inequity. The implementation is complex and other organisational goals and legislative imperatives may run counter to its aims. There has been little research undertaken by independent researchers but the general consensus is that women have made some occupational gains since the introduction of the legislation but many women workers remain disadvantaged (Still, 1993; Konrad and Linnehan, 1995; Sheridan, 1995, Sheridan, 1998, French, 2001; Strachan and Burgess, 2001; French and Maconachie, 2004), a finding similar to many other national studies. This paper compares and contrasts the types of policies and practices outlined in equal employment opportunity (EEO) program reports from two different industries, distinctly gendered, in order to identify programs predictive of increased numbers of women employed in management. Findings indicate the proportion of women in management has remained static for the past two decades, despite increasing numbers of women in these industries and legislative requirements of antidiscrimination and equal employment opportunity. Few organisations in either industry are developing proactive strategies in the areas of recruiting, promoting, and retaining women. In contrast, organisations in both industries displayed significant proactivity in the implementation of equal opportunity strategies for the addressing work and life requirements ensuring equality in participation but not in access, or movement into management or leadership roles. In today’s competitive market place it is arguable that this tactic ensures women with family responsibilities remain a form of cheap flexible labour. Indications are that EEO provides little challenge to the gendered understructure of organisations that Acker (1998) believes support the privileged needs of the organisation, over those of families and also the non-responsibility taken by organisations for reproduction. EEO, intended to address the disparity of women in organisations in the industrial age, has been truncated and appears unlikely to be able to address the disparity of women as we move into the knowledge age.

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ID Code: 9154
Item Type: Conference Paper
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: Equal Employment Opportunity, Gender, Diversity, Affirmative Action, Knowledge Economy
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > COMMERCE MANAGEMENT TOURISM AND SERVICES (150000) > BUSINESS AND MANAGEMENT (150300) > Human Resources Management (150305)
Divisions: Past > Research Centres > Australian Centre for Business Research
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > QUT Business School
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2007 (please consult author)
Deposited On: 27 Aug 2007 00:00
Last Modified: 10 Aug 2011 17:39

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