Equal Employment Opportunities: An Empirical Examination of Employer and Employee Attitudes in New Zealand

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This article reports results of sex, ethnic and sectoral differences in attitudes towards Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO). It examines the level of importance New Zealand employees attach to EEO and their evaluations of the performance of EEO practice in their organisation. It also explores the relationship between EEO practice and its effect on employee attitudes. The analysis revealed that sector (public v. private) had the greatest impact on employee evaluations of the importance of EEO, while, surprisingly, sex (male v. female) accounted for a smaller proportion of the variance. Ethnic differences were not significant. No variables were found to significantly affect employees' evaluations of current organisational policy and practice.

Support for the efficacy of EEO policies and programmes at the organisational level was found, with the relationship between employee evaluations of EEO practice and work-related attitudes being highly correlated. No relationship was found between employee attitudes and the number of EEO practices operating in an organisation. From a practitioner's perspective, negative attitudes towards EEO are emerging, and it is possible the EEO strategy pursued may be the cause of these. This study found that the use of an identity-conscious strategy provoked a considerable amount of negative reaction towards targeted groups.

INTRODUCTION

Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) policies and programmes have been introduced into workplaces as a means to reduce inequality (Briar, 1994), and the enactment of EEO policies and practices is widely considered to constitute 'best' practice in Human Resource Management (HRM) (Johnson, 2000; HR Banker, 1998). There is, however, a growing body of literature that suggests employers are developing an increasingly apathetic attitude towards the practice of EEO, despite the abundance of theoretical support for its usefulness presented in the literature (Mor Barak, Cherin, and Berkman, 1998; Freedman and Bader, 1992; Cockburn, 1989). This is of concern because studies show that positive employer attitudes and employer commitment are crucial requirements for the effective implementation of EEO policies and practices (Konrad and Linnehan, 1995).

There are a variety of plausible reasons that may explain why employer support for EEO is declining. Firstly, EEO initiatives are often forced upon employers by the State as opposed to being employer driven. Secondly, there is little empirical evidence available to employers detailing the bottom-line benefits of EEO practice for the organisation (Johnson, 2000). So although the State often propagandises the desirability and benefits of EEO, for example, through establishing bodies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the very fact that it has to engage in 'selling' EEO through this type of forum suggests that the bottom-line benefits of EEO are not self-evident to employers. It is indeed possible that the generalisations that EEO tries to abolish, for example, women are more likely to take time off to look after children and therefore have higher absenteeism rates, are actually believed by employers, and thus attempts to dispel them are fruitless. A third reason for lack of employer support for EEO may be that employers simply do not see this area of HRM as a priority in their organisations.

Employees, especially benefactors of EEO, should benefit from its implementation. However, positive outcomes for employees can be compromised if programmes lack employer commitment. This can lead to programmes being poorly implemented, and create a situation where employees view EEO as being a waste of time. Support for this comes from studies that find that even those who purportedly benefit from EEO often view it as tokenism and are unappreciative (Kirton and Greene, 2000; Mor Barak et al., 1998; Jewson and Mason, 1986). Negative attitudes can also develop when identity-conscious EEO strategies (those which are aimed at assisting particular disadvantaged groups) are implemented (Konrad and Linnehan, 1995), with those who receive no benefit from EEO resenting its implementation as they see it as a flagrant abuse of favouritism. …