Determinants of Gender Mobility in the Public Service of Trinidad and Tobago

By Bissessar, Ann Marie | Public Personnel Management, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview

Determinants of Gender Mobility in the Public Service of Trinidad and Tobago


Bissessar, Ann Marie, Public Personnel Management


Gender issues are now, and probably will continue to dominate the agenda of a number of feminist organizations and lobby groups. One issue, equal representation of women in the work place has been particularly prominent in many discussions. What has emerged from these discussions is that for equal representation to become a reality there must be an accompanying change of "consciousness." In other words, there must be a change in culture. This article proposes, however, that more than a change in culture is required. Rather, institutional and structural re-organization must accompany cultural changes. It is the purpose of this article to demonstrate that it is difficult for women to attain higher level public service positions in small ex-colonial societies such as Trinidad and Tobago because of the structures and systems that were introduced under the British administration. The article proposes to show that because the structures and culture of the public service has not changed significantly over the years, women will continue to be accorded secondary level positions into the foreseeable future. It accordingly suggests that equal representation can only be attained if affirmative action plans are introduced.

As early as 1951, laws have been enacted to safeguard women against occupational hazards and discrimination.1 While it has been recognized that women have not enjoyed equal access to employment opportunities in the work place, there is nevertheless disagreement over the factors that led to this imbalance. Walby (1990), for instance, has suggested that women had lower levels of skills and little knowledge of market forces. Braverman (1974) has argued, using a Marxist approach, that women were considered a 'group' whose employment fluctuated according to the demands of the market. Others such as Boserup (1970), Scott (1986), Brydon and Chant (1989) have suggested that the marginalization of women in the market place is part of a cyclical process. They explained that in the transition to modern capitalist forms of production, women were excluded from economic production and relegated to what they termed 'female' jobs.2

Research on the status of women in the public sector, however, has been more limited. Where such research was attempted, it appears that writers have failed to arrive at a consensus on the factors that seem to prevent women from attaining higher positions. For instance, Turner and Connor (1994) in their study of the Civil Service in Zambia found that age rather than gender seemed to inhibit the upward mobility of women. Similarly, in their study of the Civil Service in Malaysia, Yousof and Siegel (1994), found that women who attained senior positions, and who were generally successful, were able to do so because of the socio-economic status of their parents and the apparent willingness of their parents to educate them.

In the United States, however, research by Kellough (1990), Ballard and Wright (1993) and Guy (1993) concurred that mobility was not related to any one factor. Rather factors such as education, training, and the organizational environment were all important.3

While the factors outlined by these writers have a great deal of relevance, it appears that they have not attempted to investigate the effects that the structure of the organization and the cultures that exist within these organizations may have on mobility. Yet, these factors are equally important. The idea of structure is basically simple. Generally, the structure of many public services is based on five characteristic elements of an ideal 'bureaucratic model' described by Weber. The model implies:

1. a clearly defined division of labor;

2. rules that are administered consistently to employees;

3. a clear chain of command and communication;

4. the impersonal conduct of business; and

5. employee advancement based on expertise and performance.

The division of labor carries a number of connotations.

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