I believe workplace is a great platform to shape societal gender inequalities. This article will bring about reviews of theory and research on gender inequality in organisations; reviews of empirical evidence on gender inequality at work, beginning with studies that explore the cultural, relational and structural mechanisms to reproduce gender inequality in organisations and moving towards discussing research on mechanisms in order to uphold equality. Undoubtedly, more theory and research ought to be focused on the remediation of inequality in terms of discussions on two pathways; the first is an institutional theory of remediation, examining the ways in which institutional environments and actors can weaken gendered organisations; and the second is a political theory focusing on the means and conditions for women to act as agents of organisational change.
Dr. Hemamalie Gunatilaka, senior lecturer (Grade 1) attached to the Business Administration Department of the Management Studies and Commerce Faculty, Sri Jayewardenepura University, with over 25 years of teaching experience in relative fields of organisational behaviour and change, principles of management and qualitative research methods, had this to say in sharing her views;
I believe bringing women to the forefront will undoubtedly solve many issues and their way of managing will help overcome problems which men will even fail to realise existed
“When it comes to academia, the concept of gender in the Sri Lankan context has not been taken up until the recent past. Hence, as a woman and an academic hailing from a privileged social background, I was disheartened by the way I was treated for being a woman. This made me think that if I were treated this way, then how would the poor and lower-class women be treated, being the majority of Sri Lankan garment factory workers within an industry governed by males! These horrendous thoughts led me into pursuing my PhD in such a discipline and henceforth I started reading more on related aspects thereby gathering knowledge on how this was happening worldwide. Subsequently, I started searching for others who were interested in this arena and found Prof. Maithree Wickremesinghe who was into similar regimes. She had even established a centre for gender at the Kelaniya University thereby taking the initiative in gender mainstreaming within the university sector.
I should say that in Sri Lanka, gender has been researched before, though mostly in a societal level. Despite the fact that I come from a management background, I thought it would be interesting to probe the role played by gender in workplaces. I kept searching and researching for a good place to read for my doctorate and that was when I found the Centre for Women and Gender at University of Warwick -- one of the top 10 universities in the UK. This varsity functions under the Sociology Department capitalised as the third in the UK. Having decided on the university, I wrote to Prof. Nickie Charles -- by that time I had a draft proposal ready so I wrote to her with my proposal along with my CV to which she responded instantly. She found the particular subject area to be interesting and said such a discipline had hitherto not been studied in the global south. She expressed willingness to supervise my work and at the same time recommended another erudite personality, Dr. Carol Wolkowitz, to be my co-supervisor.
I then started my PhD which was a study for four years and as I said earlier, I was keen in looking into the garment industry. Although prior studies have been conducted into the subject, elements such as gender, religion, age and so fourth had not been researched. Previous studies only focused on welfare, exploitation, unionization and aspects of relativity. The other fact remained to be that previous studies lay within the free trade zone, which urged me to select factories outside such parameters.
Using the initial literature framework, I looked at the theoretical structure focusing on gender inequality. I cannot argue on this aspect but what I underscore is that all humans should be treated equally and that everyone should be able to enjoy freedom
I believe these factories may have the distant ownership, which might influence the way they manage, ultimately affecting the employees. Scale of the industry, location or may be the market they serve, were taken into consideration. I set my mind on three garment factories nestled outside the free trade zone. One large-scale factory, located in the heart of Colombo and owned by a Muslim family, had more than 10,000 workers serving the international market. Men were at the top. The second was a middle-scale factory in a remote area where the owner was a Sinhala-Buddhist woman with some 6,000 employees serving the international market. Another factory owned by a Tamil Hindu was located in the suburban with 40 employees who served the local market.
This was where I experienced organisational politics. There were comprehensive interviews and three-month observations in each of these factories. A nine-month study inclusive of 36 interviews -- six men and six women at each factory from the owner to those serving in managerial posts.
I walked into these factories and collected data for nine months. I then returned to the UK for data analysis. I established that when inequity reproduces in an organisation, not only gender but social status, race, religion, age and sexuality come into play.
Using the initial literature framework, I looked at the theoretical structure focusing on gender inequality. I cannot argue on this aspect but what I underscore is that all humans should be treated equally and that everyone should be able to enjoy freedom.
The university has found a Centre for Gender Mainstream within the university towards which Prof. Maithree Wickremesinghe has given leadership. Furthermore, the UGC has a centre for gender equity and equality. And now, each university has a Gender Cell or Gender Centre. When I came down last May, I was made the Directress for Gender Equity and Equality at Sri Jayewardenepura University.
My efforts here are to raise awareness on gender by bringing it into the mainstream. When decisions are being made, gender has to play an equal part on both sides. Also, I am trying to establish a centre to make people aware that these kinds of centres do exist.
I believe bringing women to the forefront will undoubtedly solve many issues and their way of managing will help overcome problems which men will even fail to realise existed.
I want to promote the methodology learnt through my PhD which is something novel to Sri Lanka. It is a qualitative approach which allows you to get into people’s experiences, to listen to them and give them a voice through your research than merely filling up a questionnaire. I am trying to give something to the country by ushering a change.
The doctorate I earned from University of Warwick, UKwas possible mainly due to the sacrifices made by my family, only son and husband whose unconditional support I recall with great appreciation.