For much of history women have been considered inferior to men, and were treated accordingly. Their role was defined in, and around, the home; as domestic carer and dutiful housewife. This changed with the Industrial Revolution. As cottage industries ceased to be feasible, and were replaced with factories, some lower class women began to enter the workforce. The social stigma of working, however, remained until the early 1900’s, when the labour shortage, caused by World War I, forced employers to utilize the underemployed sectors of society; namely women.
Since then government and non-government organizations (NGOs) have used legal and non-legal means to address the changing role of women and the obstacles they face. To rectify gender inequalities women have been given representation in juries, the right to vote, the right to sign contracts (allowing them to own property), and the right to sue and be sued.. With the rise of feminism in the 1960s there has been substantial pressure placed on the government and judiciary to continue to strive for gender equality. In the past few decades’, particular attention has been given to addressing discrimination in the workplace, sexual assault, and domestic abuse. Some responses have been effective, while others have been woefully inadequate.
The increasing participation of women in the workforce stems from increasing economic and social independence, which is partly the result of increasing education. Although women have been able to access secondary and tertiary education since the 1800’s, there has never been such equality in education as there is today, with cases like Leves v. Haines 1986 ensuring that women have access to the same subjects and resources as their male counterparts. This equality has translated into larger numbers of women entering the workplace, which has resulted in it being an area of constant reform, with the need to address issues such as the pay inequities, sexual harassment and the promotional divide (often referred to as the ‘glass ceiling’ or ‘sticky floor’).
Ever since women entered the workforce they have been underpaid compared to their male counterparts. The Harvester Award (1907) set the maximum female wage at 54% of the male wage. Pay equity has improved since then with the establishment of a basic female wage in 1950, and the landmark ‘Equal Work, Equal Pay’ of 1969. Despite this decision, pay inequalities still exist, with statistics from 2004 showing that, in comparable jobs, women earned 92% of the male wage.
Another problem for women in the workplace is sexual harassment. Sexual harassment has been illegal since the implementation of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW) and the Sex Discrimination Act (Cth) 1984, which are intended to prevent harassment in the workplace. Under the Acts it is unlawful to; harass a person in a sexual manner, or because of their gender, sex or marital status. Never the less 41% of women claim to have been harassed, 65% in the workplace. Although sexual harassment is, under law, a serious crime, the attitude of some employers does not reflect this.
A case concerning the police training facility at Goldburne found that an officer, who had sexually harassed a student, and another who abused his position by propositioning a student, (in return for grades) were allowed to retain their teaching posts after attending counseling. That officers found guilty of sexual misconduct were not removed, or severely reprimanded, demonstrates just how seriously sexual harassment is taken in some areas.
Arguably the biggest challenge faced by women in the workplace, is not pay or harassment, but rather the promotional divide, aka the glass ceiling. The glass ceiling is defined as an unofficial barrier to a prominent position within an organization which women are perceived to be unable to cross due to discrimination. The term refers to the inconspicuous nature of such barriers, compared to formal barriers to...
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