Issues of Equal Opportunity (EO) in employment have been dealt with in varying ways throughout Australia’s history. This paper will discuss the meaning of EO, and how the terms ‘equity’ and ‘equality’ are an important aspect of understanding how EO can be interpreted differently within the workplace. This discussion will also include the theories behind equality, such as the liberal view, and the radical view of equality, the paper will then go on to discuss the merits and criticisms of some of the legislative approaches implemented in an attempt to achieve EO in employment. The argument will be presented that while legislation such as Affirmative Action (AA) and anti-discrimination laws have had their pitfalls, they have also had merit in the sense that it has required organisations to be more accountable in relation to providing EO in employment. The paper will then go onto discuss the managing diversity (MD) approaches that have been adopted by various organisations, primarily discussing the business case of the managing diversity approach, and how it suggests that diversity in the workforce can be advantageous to an organisation. Ultimately this discussion will conclude as to whether a mix of legislative approaches and the non legislative managing diversity approach is appropriate to achieving EO in employment.
There are some varying definitions for Equal Opportunity, for example Kirton and Greene define Equal Opportunity as the following, ‘EO exists when all individuals are freely able to compete for social rewards’ (Kirton and Greene 2005 p.115). The EOWA(Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency) website defines EO as “all employees have equal access to the opportunities that are available at work, this means all employees are treated with fairness and respect in that they’re not subject to discrimination or harassment in the workplace” (EOWA web site2006e). To achieve EO in employment, there are two key differing concepts that underline how organisations interpret EO in their particular workplace, those two concepts are equity and equality. According to French and Maconachie (2004) Equity basically means the distribution of rewards are based on individual inputs, in contrast, equality refers to distribution being based on the value of individuals whereby regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age or the fact they have a disability have the right to equally benefit in benefits or burdens. After analysing the two definitions presented, it would be reasonable to conclude that achieving equality in the workplace would be the best possible option for organisations to achieve EO in employment.
According to Jewson and Mason (1986), those who support the liberal view believe EO exists when all individuals are freely enabled to equally compete for rewards. This definition is supported by Thornton (1990) who states ‘“starting point and factors such as race or sex will not hinder the process unfairly” (Thornton, 1990 p.10). Jewson and Mason then go onto argue that it is the duty of the organisation to ensure that ‘rules of the competition’ are not discriminatory and to ensure the policies they implement are enforced on all. Therefore according to Thornton (1990) under the liberal view, EO will result in the most talented and skilled employees progressing through the ranks and succeed with promotions, financial bonuses etc. One of the main criticisms of the liberal view is in its implementation, Jewson and Mason (1986) present the argument that simply implementing formalised procedures aimed at ensuring the liberal view to EO is utilized does not guarantee its effectiveness. Jewson and Mason provide an example whereby a job may be advertised internally, but the qualifications specified may be set to suit a particular individual or group. In contrast to the liberal view, the radical view is defined as “it seeks to intervene in workplace practices in order to achieve a fair distribution of rewards among...
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