Women Workers in Male Dominated Industrial Manufacturing Organisations: Contrasting Workplace Case Studies from Australia**

Article excerpt

This study compared women's roles, expectations and experiences in two comparable, male dominated industrial manufacturing companies in Australia. Both organisations are subject to legislated equal opportunity program and reporting requirements. The research was conducted to examinee the differences between what is submitted in their EEO reports and the experience of women workers in the organisations. Good jobs and poor jobs existed in the same legislative and industrial framework and in the same local labour market. The differences are located in a combination of organisational and cultural conditions.

Key words: Equal Employment Opportunity, Job Quality, Human Resources Management, Workplace Culture

Introduction

A slow decline in gender segregation over the last twenty years has been demonstrated in the USA and Australia (as elsewhere) but women still predominate in sales and service occupations, and men in skilled trades. The growth of women's overall representation in management and professional occupations has increased, especially in female dominated organisations, but segregation at the workplace level remained almost unchanged, despite nearly two decades of equal opportunity legislation (Watts 2002).

Officially, equal employment opportunity for women is enshrined in Australiawide legislation and is reflected in industrial awards and agreements. The original EEO legislation (Affirmative Action (Equal Opportunity for Women) Act 1986) emphasised the need for positive programs to redress disadvantage, later legislation (Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999) is more general in its statements about what should be done within organisations. The Equal Opportunity for Women Agency (EOWA) that is responsible for administering the Act provides guidelines for the preparation of programs and reports, and collects and publishes reports from larger non-government employers annually. The EOWA requires that each organisation with over 100 employees prepare a workplace profile and address each of six equity areas in an annual report unless waived from doing by submitting a series of satisfactory reports. The equity areas are sexual harassment, pay equity, training and career development, work/life balance, recruitment/promotion/separation, and occupational segregation. Penalties for non-compliance are weak. Employers may also apply to be named as an Employee of Choice for Women and can use this accolade in recruiting or marketing. EOWA has adopted a pragmatic approach towards implementing EEO principles that privileges the business case for EEO but also recognises fair and equal treatment for the individual as an ideal. The legislation is supported by anti-discrimination legislation operating in both the Federal and State jurisdictions.

The EEO legislation and mandatory reports require that, at a minimum, employees suffer no discrimination on the grounds of their sex. Further, the EOWA emphasises the business case for improving women's working lives: 'Employers are reaping the benefits of their equal opportunity for women in the workplace programs through increased employee effectiveness, attracting and retaining the best talent, improved morale and increased consumer and market responsiveness. (EOWA 2005). Thus, good jobs for women are also promoted as good for the bottom line of business. This paper investigates the way in which legislation and reporting promote EEO for women and how this is corroborated by women's reported workplace experience.

In this research two organisations (Cl and C2) in a traditional male employment sector (manufacturing), demonstrated dramatic differences with respect to the conditions and quality of work available to women employees. The most marked of these was the relative number of women in management roles and the availability of flexible employment conditions for women workers. Both organisations are strongly dominated by male employees at all roles and levels except as office workers, but in Cl a much greater proportion of the female workforce was in management. …