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From glass ceiling to pay gap
Shyamal Majumdar |
July 16, 2004
When Allison Schieffelin, a former Morgan Stanley bond seller, triumphantly walked out of a courtroom in New York on Tuesday, the reason for her broad smile went much beyond the $12 million damages she received from the Wall Street investment bank. At one stroke, she became the focus of attention of female employees all over the world.
For, Schieffelin was at the centre of a sex bias charge brought by US employment regulators against Morgan Stanley. While Schieffelin said she was denied a managing director's post because of her sex, Morgan decided to settle the matter out of court by agreeing to pay $54 million, of which $12 million would go to Schieffelin and the balance to 340 other women employees at the bank.
Morgan Stanley settles sex lawsuit for $54 million
Morgan, of course denied the charges and said she was fired after initiating "an abusive confrontation" with her boss, a woman who got the job over which Schieffelin sued.
But Morgan is not alone. The $54-million settlement is the second-biggest sex discrimination case settlement behind the $81 million that Publix Super Markets agreed to pay in 1997. In 1998, Merrill Lynch and Smith Barney, now a unit of Citigroup, settled discrimination cases involving hundreds of female employees.
America's largest workplace, Wal-Mart, which employs 1.6 million women, has also been accused of sex discrimination in a lawsuit in June this year. The lawsuit alleges systematic bias against female employees and states that women at all job levels are paid less than men.
Or, take the case of Boeing. Twelve women employees filed lawsuits last year, charging that women at Boeing's Wichita plant were denied equal pay, promotions and other employment opportunities based solely on their gender.
The situation is no better in Europe. According to a study for the European Commission, up to 50 per cent of EU women have faced unwanted sexual proposals, yet the level of awareness of this phenomenon in the member states is extremely poor. And women who complain about being harassed are often advised by colleagues and superiors to develop a sense of humour.
Experts, however, say the odd headline-grabbing settlements aside, modern sex discrimination in the workplace is still difficult to quantify.
The problem in India, they say, is nearly 95 per cent of the women bringing a case refuse to make a formal complaint to anyone at work because there was no one they felt they could complain to. They were too embarrassed, they feared that they would not be believed or they thought they could handle it for the sake of their careers.
Though some companies like Wipro and Mascot Systems have initiated gender sensitivity training for employees, HR heads admit there is a kind of institutional sexism that assumes women are less able than men.
According to some, women themselves are partly responsible for this. They quote a BBC report late last year, which said "at the heart of the matter is the Cinderella complex -- where no matter how successful a woman is, subconsciously she still expects that a prince is going to come along and rescue her.
Whatever the reasons, the fact is women employees in India are still fighting an uphill battle for level pegging, in areas such as equal pay for equal work.
Consider the startling findings of a Sakshi survey of 2,400 men and women in a cross-section of workplaces and hierarchies: 80 per cent of respondents said sexual harassment existed at their workplace and 53 per cent said men and women did not have equal opportunities at work. Frequently, managements pressured the victim to withdraw the complaint.
Last year, a team of labour researchers did a survey of women workers in three prominent industrial belts of India (Bangalore, Delhi-Faridabad and Pune).
The study, done by Best Practices Foundation, Bangalore, and titled Women Workers: Inequalities at Work, found that bias against women included wage and non-wage discrimination as well as qualitative differences in the nature of work offered to women.
Although more and more women are working, much remains to be done. In addition to the "glass ceiling", the "pay gap" between women and men is still significant in most countries. Women are also more likely than men to be found in the lower-paid and least secure jobs. Unemployment rates have almost always been higher for women than men.
Discrimination can occur at every stage of employment, from recruitment to education and remuneration, occupational segregation, and at time of lay-offs. Men and women tend to work in different sectors of the economy and hold different positions within the same occupational group.
Women tend to be employed in a narrower range of occupations than men, and are more likely to work part-time or short-term. They also face more barriers to promotion and career development.Coming out of the courtroom, Schieffelin alleged that Morgan Stanley had destroyed everything that she had put her heart and soul into for 15 years." Very few women employees in India have shown such guts to air their grievances in public, but India Inc would do well to take the early warning signals seriously.