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on at Work
Ram Krishna Sahu
The beginning of the 21st century brought with it a spate of problems for the world's largest
retailer Wal-Mart. The company found itself facing one of the biggest lawsuits ever in the history
of the US. Wal-Mart was charged with discrimination against its female employees in
compensation, promotions and job assignments in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of
1964 (Title VII) . The plaintiffs alleged that Wal-Mart mistreated women in various ways: they
earned much less than their male counterparts even when they had more experience than men or
performed better than them. In June 2001, a former Wal-Mart employee, Betty Dukes (Dukes),
had filed a case accusing the company of 'sex discrimination in promotions, training and pay.
Many more employees joined Dukes, and by May 2003, the case had taken the shape of a class
action suit after the plaintiffs asked a Federal Judge to allow the case to proceed on behalf of
more than 1.5 million women. Wal-Mart had for long been accused of not treating its female
employees in a socially responsible manner. A study of Wal-Mart's own employee data
(conducted by some experts hired by the plaintiffs) revealed that women had been discriminated
against in many instances. Even the company's internal memos revealed that Wal-Mart was far
behind its competitors in promoting women at the workplace.

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Discrimination is a sociological term referring to treatment taken toward or against a person of a

certain group that is taken in consideration based on class or category. Gender discrimination
refers to beliefs and attitudes in relation to the gender of a person. It is defined as adverse action
against another person that would not have occurred had the person been of another sex. It is the
practice of letting a person's sex unfairly become a factor when deciding who receives a job,
promotion, or other employment benefit. It most often affects women who feel they have been
unfairly discriminated against in favor of a man.

Types of Gender Discrimination

There are two main categories of gender discrimination:

• Disparate treatment
• Disparate impact

The first category, disparate treatment, is simply treating an employee differently (disparately)
because of her or his gender. For example - an employee may be discriminated against by being
asked discriminatory questions during a job interview, an employer did not hire, promote or
wrongfully terminated an employee based on his or her gender, or employers pay unequally
based on gender.

Disparate impact is a more complex concept. It regards company policies or practices that
exclude persons of one gender from a job or from promotions although the policy or practice was
not designed to do so. There is a disparate impact on one gender. An example is the policy of
many fire departments that had strength requirements for hiring firefighter that far exceeded the
strength needed by an individual to work effectively as a firefighter. Such excessive strength
requirements had a disparate impact on women, many of whom had enough strength to be a good
firefighter, but not enough strength to meet the department's requirement.

Discrimination at work can come from either the employee of from the colleague side.
Discrimination by colleagues can happen to new employees. They may face sarcastic stares or
constant digs made at them by their colleagues during initial weeks. However, if it persists for a
long time, it can affect not only the employee but also the employer. The effect on the employee
can be huge or meager but the impact on organization remains for a longer time. An employee
who is being discriminated witnesses non cooperation from peers and negative feedbacks form
subordinates. Discrimination leads to psychological and emotional disturbance, resulting in
demoralization and descend in performance standards. It brings down the overall performance,
and fuels more discrimination, which in turn increases the number of gaps in one's work further.
Discrimination at workplace also affects the society. The socio-economic inequalities get
widened and social cohesion and solidarity are eroded. It results in wastage of human talent and
resources. The main indicator which indicates that gender discrimination has occurred in the
hiring process involves the qualifications of the job applicants. While a slight difference in
qualifications between a female and a male candidate does not automatically indicate gender bias
(if a lesser qualified male candidate is hired instead of a female candidate, that is), a drastic
difference in qualifications has almost always been upheld by the courts as a sure sign of gender
discrimination. For example, if a male who dropped out of high school without receiving a
diploma is hired in an administrative position over a female who had obtained her master's
degree, then it is likely bias was a factor.

Examples of Gender Discrimination at work

• An employee may be discriminated by being asked discriminatory questions during a job

• An employer may not hire, promote or wrongfully terminate an employee based on his or
her gender
• Employers pay unequally based on gender
• One is refused credit or is offered unequal loan terms based on one’s gender
• Employers in the past paid female workers substantially less than their male workers were
making in the same job.

• Some employers fired female employees as soon as the employees became pregnant, even
though these employees could have continued to perform their job duties.
• Female employees were passed over for promotion in favor of junior or less-qualified
male employees
• Manager only promotes male employees and keeps females in entry-level positions.
• Manager who makes it clear, either through his actions or words that he wants to have
sexual relations with a female employee.

Despite the progress that individual countries and companies have made in addressing gender
inequality and discrimination, there is still much to be done to achieve true equality in public
institutions and in the corporate executive suite. Glass Ceiling is yet another form of
discrimination towards women, which exists in the corporate hierarchy. Glass ceiling has been
used as a metaphor for twenty years now to describe the apparently invisible barriers that prevent
more than a few women from reaching the top levels of management. Compared to formal
barriers to career advancement such as education, the glass ceiling refers to less tangible
hindrances — frequently anchored in culture, society and psychological factors — that impede
women’s advancement to upper management or other senior positions. One of the main reasons
cited for the existence of a glass ceiling was that women did not have the required experience and
skills to reach the top management. They were restricted to clerical and other support services
jobs. The reason seemed to be true, as in the late 1970s and early 1980s, very few women had
proper college education and fewer had management degrees.
Breaking Glass Ceiling

Although there is a glass ceiling, many women recently have surpassed that hurdle. When at the
top management, many women feel isolated like outsiders. Most of the time they are the only
female at that level and are surrounded by males. Many women have faced sexual harassment,
wage inequality, blocked movement and gender stereotyped roles. Women are said to have
different styles of leadership and management once they break the barrier. They are generalized
to be more nurturing and caring in nature than men. Men are stereotypically, more “tough” and
shrewd in business, which is sometimes seen as positive traits. Women’s traditional role is in the
home, taking care of children, and keeping house. The stereotype of maternal leadership stems
from that. Some men in senior management that do not want to see women climb the corporate
ladder believe that they do not have the qualities to lead a company. Many believe that making
assumptions about the way women act in a leadership position perpetuates the stereotypes that
cause the glass ceiling. There are many reasons why women have been able to break the barrier.
Some believe that having women on an executive board is a positive thing. The more women that
are accepted into management positions, the more will get promoted to senior management and
serve as role models for the younger. Younger men have also been more accepting of female
superiors. The perception of a woman’s role is changing with the younger generation.

When it comes to breaking the glass ceiling in the corporate world, Ms Indra Nooyi has done it
with aplomb — that too in the global arena. Chennai-born Nooyi is now slated to be one of the
most powerful women in corporate America when she steps into the role of Chief Executive
Officer at PepsiCo International later this year. Ms Nooyi's elevation has not come as a surprise
to the corporate world. Over the past several years as President, CFO and Director on the
company's board she has forged several changes that had already earned her the reputation of a
doer, who has moved from strength to strength in the restructuring of the company.

In the developing countries, like India, Lalita D gupte (Lalita) was made the head of ICICI’s
global operations. She also ranked 31 in the Fortune's Power Fifty 2001. Other examples
included Kalpana Morparia, Senior General Manager (Legal), ICICI and Gayathri
Parathasarthy Head, Development Integration Services, a SBU for the IT services division at i-
Flex Solutions. Indian women achieved top management positions in corporates outside India as

In August 2002, Naina Lal Kidwai (Naina) became the Vice-Chairman and Managing Director
of the Indian investment banking division of HSBC. Naina was also ranked third on Fortune's list
of Asia's most powerful women, and she was declared the 47th most powerful women in business
in the world. Others included Jayashree Vallal, Vice-President at Cisco Systems, and Radha
Ramaswami Basu, CEO of

An ICICI Group Case Study

The ICICI case study presents how gender inclusivity is important for an organization to grow
and why increased gender equality measures are necessary to keep an organization in a
competitive global marketplace. A review of the case study would provide deep insights to other
organizations intending to implement the best Gender Neutral practices at their work places.

ICICI has been chosen as case study, as the ICICI culture, woven sub-consciously into the
mindset of the institution over the years, has been that of clearly providing opportunities to its
employees solely on the basis of merit and performance without any gender discrimination. It is
this organizational mindset that has made it rewrite the rules of structure in corporate India. This
fact is also corroborated by employee statistics - against a mere 4 per cent representation in
senior positions in Fortune 500 companies, the women managers of ICICI occupy about 40 per
cent of the corner offices in positions above the Assistant General Manager (AGM). This shows
that the infamous “glass ceiling” does not exist in this organization. The entire group being
headed by a Woman CEO, with two key group entities also following the same trend, is also a
case in point.

ICICI provides equal growth opportunities for its women employees and today the Company can
boast of having important and critical functional areas which are manned by women employees.
There is no discrimination of employees on the grounds of gender. The women employees
represent 19.62 % of the total work force. ICICI’s philosophy to be a gender neutral organization
is reflective in all its policies, which seeks to ensure that both genders have equal opportunities
and no preferential or discriminatory treatment is meted out to anyone on grounds of gender.
ICICI has a well defined gender neutral policy and a complaint committee for sexual harassment
and gender discrimination.

Discriminatory policy of ICICI

Discrimination and Harassment and Intimidation

• ICICI Group is committed to prohibition of harassment and intimidation of employees
in the workplace. ICICI Group discourages conduct that implies granting or withholding
favors or opportunities as a basis for decisions affecting an individual, in return for that
individual’s compliance. Such action is an easier form of harassment to identify because
it takes the form of either a threat or a promise, whether explicit or implied.
• ICICI Group has a Gender Neutral Policy that prohibits unwelcome advances, requests
for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct where such conduct has the purpose
or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an
intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.

How ICICI is dealing with Gender Discrimination

• Pay attention to what you don’t always see. You can’t always see it, prove it, or stop it,
but if you ignore even the hint of discriminatory behavior, you and your company could
suffer in the long run. Low morale, employee conflicts, and even lawsuits are just a few
of the serious problems that could arise.

• Don’t play favorites. If you offer certain benefits to employees, make sure these perks
are available to everyone. For instance, if you want to provide a flexible work
arrangement for your older workers, avoid appearing discriminatory by being sure to
offer this option to everyone.

• Keep your personal beliefs personal. Your personal philosophy regarding race, religion,
sexual orientation, and other potentially contentious issues should not affect your duty to
monitor workplace discrimination, nor should it cloud your views regarding what’s legal
and just.
• Be careful of what you say and to whom you say it. It’s easy for an off-the-cuff remark
— said by either you or an employee — to start an avalanche of bad feelings and even a
charge of discrimination. Think before you say something that might be misconstrued,
and teach your employees to conduct themselves similarly. People should not be afraid to
be themselves, but they do need to be careful, sensitive, and knowledgeable about what’s
okay to say and what’s better left unsaid.

• Respond quickly. If an employee expresses concern about possible workplace

discrimination, do what you can in the shortest period of time to resolve the issue.
Allowing it to linger will only add to the employee’s anxiety and allow whatever may be
occurring to continue. Establish a clear policy for yourself and others for dealing with the
problem. Do some intelligence gathering by having an honest conversation with the
person who has lodged the complaint. Who said what? What exactly happened? Who else
was involved? Along with the help and guidance of your human resources manager, talk
to the person who has been accused. Make sure to take (and safeguard) copious notes of
your discussions.

• Educate yourself. Stay informed about workplace discrimination. Talk with your peers
in similar and different industries, read your daily newspaper for information about
what’s happening locally, and conduct research on discrimination and harassment law.
Find out what it means for you as an employer. Consider paying an attorney who
specializes in this area a one- or two-hour consulting fee, and ask as many questions as
you can. Think of your investment as part of the cost of doing business. In the long run, a
short meeting could save you a lot of money.

• Formalize the policy and the consequence. Create and post an antidiscrimination policy
(or consider paying an expert to create one). Keep in mind that no antidiscrimination
policy will be taken seriously unless you take concrete action against any possible
wrongdoing. After you’ve assessed the situation and consulted a lawyer, determine how
you’re going to proceed. If you discover that some kind of discrimination has taken place,
decide if you will start with a warning, insist on counseling, or formally terminate the

So there is a potential to address and eradicate all the problems. It is also proven that women
have been contributing to the economic development of many countries but there lacks a
realization and all their work go invisible. But, for a few super success stories like Kiran
Mazundar Shaw of Biocon, Chanda Kochar, the incumbent MD & CEO of ICICI Bank,
Mallika Srinivasan of Tractor And Farm Equipments (TAFE), Amrita Patel of National Dairy
Development Board (NDDB), Vinita Bali of Britannia Industries, Kalpana Chawla, Sunita
Williams of NASA, President Pratibha Patil, Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson of UPA, Mamata
Banerjee-MP, Jayalalitha (TN) from Indian Politics, Shobaa De, Arundhati Roy, Priety Zinta
from IPL very few have achieved limelight they deserve. Although few women have been
striving hard for women’s emancipation and overall growth along with several other causes like
Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachchao Andolan, Mother Theresa-the Nobel Laurete, most of
the contribution goes unnoticed. There should be a framework, an action plan to uplift women
from the oppression and give them independence from gender discrimination.



9. Business Ethics and Corporate Governance by ICMR India Ltd.