HRM Gender Influence Career Success

Gender Influence on Career Success

Melamed (1996) defines a career as someone’s progress in his occupation through his life. Within the scope of this essay, career success will be mainly defined as the opportunity for management positions and promotions. This is necessarily a restricted definition, but is a starting point to examine the influence of gender. There is a growing body of opinion that the so-called ‘glass ceiling’, where women’s prospects for career advancement are limited due to their gender, is a thing of the past. On the contrary, this essay will argue that gender continues to influence career success to quite a significant extent, first by examining the current situation of gender difference in management positions, then considering career aspirations and opportunities, attitudes towards the genders in terms of abilities, and finally touching on theories of gender difference in career success.

Women and Gender

First, women continue to be in a significant minority when it comes to occupying management positions. It is certainly true that women have gradually become a more and more important part of the global workforce since the middle of the last century. The new term “career woman” is getting popular. However, a large number of studies indicate that in the pursuit of career success, women have to overcome more difficulties than men, before they can reach the top of the hierarchy. A study by Glenice and Margaret (2001: 3) has shown evidence of ‘attitudinal, behavioural and structural barriers that are deterring women on their way to achieve career success. Such barriers seem to be more obvious in the senior management level. In spite of more and more women join the ‘paid workforce’ and taking up management roles, no more than 5 per cent of top management position is taken by women in the USA (Glenice and Margaret, 2001:1).

In UK the number is estimated to be 4 per cent or lower, while in Australia it is around 3 per cent. Early studies all prove that the phenomenon of the “glass ceiling” does exist in the top ‘management level’. In the past decade, evidence shows that women are beginning to break through the “glass ceiling” and managing to acquire their position in the top management group (Ryan and Haslam, 2005). On the other hand, Ryan and Haslam raise a concern that women’s ability to perform well in these positions is being undermined by the type of roles they are offered. They identify female executives being given roles in departments which are known to be in structural difficulties or failing financially: “women are particularly likely to be placed in positions of leadership in circumstances of general financial downturn and downturn in company performance”. This is just one study, however, and should not be used as a generalisation for the experience and career success of all women in management positions, or to prove that gender affects career success in recent times.

Gender Careers
Gender Careers

Although evidence shows that women are in a disadvantaged position in the labour market, it is a position that may actually be reinforced by women’s own perceptions. The career aspiration and expectation between different genders has been studied. Glenice and Margaret (2001) indicate that women are not very interested in pursuing a career. They found that women are more easily satisfied and therefore less likely to maximize their career aspirations. Hede and Ralston’s research (1993) also shows that female managers are less likely to pursuit a position in senior management level compared with male managers.

Their expectations of an executive position are also lower than men. Regarding equal opportunities, an interesting fact is that most women managers believe that they have fewer opportunities when there is a chance for promotion, and they are not actively encouraged to participate in career development activities (Glenice, & Margaret, 2001). In contrast, male managers believe the opposite. However, the research by Ryan and Haslam (2005) suggests there is a narrowing difference between men and women’s perceptions of their opportunities for promotion and therefore their aspirations are becoming more similar. However they found that both men and women believe that gender plays an important role in decisions in personnel selection regarding the type or area of a job. It seems that the barriers to promotion may exist partially in women’s attitudes or expectations.

Another possible barrier to female career advancement is the perception that men and women have different skills, with the former being more suited to senior roles. The possible difference in the types of jobs offered to women and men mentioned above requires further exploration. Researchers argue that men and women’s career progress are based not just on different attitudes but also on different attributes.

Tharenou et al (in Glenice and Margaret, 2001:3) argue that ‘women’s achievements are built on experience and performance while male employees are judged on their level of education’. This seems to be rather a controversial generalisation, but a more commonly argued point is that the different genders have different skills or qualities. Eagly (in Glenice, & Margaret, 2001:2) proposed that the expectation that ‘women will exhibit communal qualities and men agentic qualities’ has an effect. Glenice and Margaret (2001:3) describe communal tendencies as ‘interdependence and co-operation and enjoyment at working closely with others’, and agentic tendencies as ‘a desire for self-expansion and independent behaviour’ (Glenice and Margaret, 2001:3). Their study proved that these gender differences were commonly given as reasons for promotions. However, this research only proves that the belief that men and women have different skills is widespread. It does not prove that men and women have different abilities.

It could be argued that much of the evidence above for gender difference influencing career success is based on people’s (both men’s and women’s) perceptions and aspirations rather than a real difference between the genders in terms of ability. However, this does not negate the argument that gender is a major cause of difference in career success.

In fact, it seems clear that two factors are strong influences in career success: the relatively unproven issue of actual difference between the genders, and the more commonly agreed-upon issue of belief in this difference. This belief creates external barriers to promotion for women in the workplace, as well as internal barriers, which are that women do not aspire to greater success but may be satisfied with positions lower than their actual abilities.

In conclusion, gender has significant influence on employees’ career success. First of all, the disadvantaged position of women is clear, especially in the top management level. The “glass ceiling” does exist in most countries. Secondly, evidence shows that men and women employees have different experiences in their careers. It is generally believed that men have higher promotion opportunities and career expectations than women, although this is not true in all studies. Thirdly, the career success of men and women are influenced by different factors, because of the different social roles they are expected to play. Men are expected to be agentic in their beliefs and behaviors, while women are expected to be communal. In other words, the traditional view is that women’s internal attributes do not fit the requirement of top management. It will take some time to eliminate such bias before more women can have the chance to prove their ability and reduce the influence of gender on career success.


Hede, A., & Ralston, D. (1993) Managerial career progression and aspiration: evidence of a “glass ceiling”? International Journal of Employment Studies, 1: 2, 253-282.

Melamend, T. (1995) Career Success: the moderating effect of gender. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 47, 35-60.

Melamend, T. (1996). Career Success: An assessment of a gender-specific model. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 69, 217-242.

Ryan, M. K., and Haslam, S. A. (2005) The Glass Cliff: Evidence that women are over-represented in precarious leadership positions. British Journal of Management, 16, 81-90.

Wood, G. F., and Lindorff, M. (2001) Gender differences in explanations for career progress. Women in Management Review, 16(4), 152-162.

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I do hope you enjoyed reading this post on gender influence and how it affects career success. There are many other titles available in the HRM Dissertation Collection that should be of interest to human resource management students and CIPD professionals. There are many dissertation titles that relate to other aspects of HRM such as employee engagement, HRM Theory, absenteeism, training and development to name a few. It took a lot of effort to write this post and I would be grateful if you could share this post via Facebook and Twitter. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section. Thank you.

Discrimination Human Rights

Is discrimination ever tolerable? When should discrimination become a human rights issue?

If one had to explain what exactly discrimination is, in the context of mutual human relations, one could simply say that it is an action in which an individual is treated unfairly in comparison with another person, under similar circumstances. But the issue is far more complex than could be expressed so briefly as there are many forms of discrimination, both direct and indirect. While defining discrimination in plain and simple language would not be possible,  it can be stated that discrimination becomes noticeable only when a person is unjustifiably excluded from an activity or expelled completely from a group of people; and after it becomes noticeable it also becomes a human rights issue and needs to be dealt with seriously.

While unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of people can be termed as discriminatory and illegal, it certainly does not mean that discrimination is always unlawful. Two common examples of justified discrimination are affirmative action and varying height requirements for men and women who wish to be part of the Police Force. This kind of discrimination is, in fact, aimed at ironing out the existing inequalities. Affirmative action is used to give opportunities to already underrepresented groups. Similarly, having different height requirements for men and women means women are given an equal chance to be part of the Police Force.

There are instances where discrimination becomes absolutely essential and if not practiced there is a serious risk of causing harm to one or more persons. One would not expect a blind person or a person with limited vision to be issued with a driver’s license. The act of discriminating against him in this case, is crucial in ensuring his own safety and the safety of people on the road. In other words, discrimination against people with some kind of physical or mental disability becomes vital when it means putting them in life endangering situations. Similarly, one would not hire a person with learning disabilities to teach school children. One needs someone who can effectively teach the students and that would be impossible in this case. Discrimination in cases where a person is considered to be unqualified for a particular job should not actually be regarded as discrimination at all. If a person is not qualified for a particular profession or job, there might be many other opportunities that fit perfectly with their skills and expertise.

Discrimination in Society

Instances of justifiable gender discrimination can be seen in society and are definitely not considered to be wrong. A woman is treated with love and affection by her boyfriend. He would not do the same with one of his male friends, (if he’s heterosexual) and this is not discriminatory at all. Justifiably, a man with a terminal disease would either be unable to get health insurance or get it at a very high rate. A person who gets pulled over for driving drunk a couple of times, may get his license revoked and this is definitely rational discrimination.

The only negative side to defending certain forms of discrimination is that sometimes the line between the benefits and harms of discrimination is somewhat distorted. What seems right at the time from every logical angle may eventually turn out to be discriminatory in the future. In many ancient societies women were rarely allowed outside the house; they were considered to be weak and mentally less capable and therefore, not fit to do things other than household chores. At that time this was considered to be the norm but today it comes under gender-based discrimination. The only rational way to decide on an issue like this is to consider whether the particular discrimination has more benefits or harms and to decide accordingly.

Generally, discrimination becomes illegal when it is carried out in respect of a person (persons) belonging to a specific social group. If one doesn’t hire a mentally challenged person for a teaching job that would not be discrimination but if one excludes him simply because he is Asian, it definitely comes under discrimination. If this happens in rare instances, the said individual could always find a job elsewhere but if it becomes a general practice in society, whereby the person is unable to find a job anywhere, it is social discrimination. This means a personal dislike for a certain social group cannot always be fought against; every human being has the right to have likes and dislikes. However, if this dislike is so widespread in society that it affects a person’s right to a normal life, it is clearly discrimination.

Even in cases where the intention was not to discriminate, if the final outcome is the exclusion of a particular group and unequal opportunities for them, it will still be called discrimination. For example, if there is the same height requirement for men and women who wish to enter the army, this would mean fewer women would get in. If this gender inequality is present in other parts of society as well, then it means fewer employment opportunities for women and therefore, it is definitely discriminatory even if the intent was not there.

There are certain factors that are uncontrollable and therefore, being discriminated against on account of these factors is completely unjustified and unlawful. For example, one has no control over the color of one’s skin or one’s country of origin. Discrimination based on these factors, is thus all the more unfair.

There are five main factors which are used to discriminate against individuals. Discrimination against people from a particular race or a certain ethnic background is the most common one. Treating a person unfairly because of his/her sexual preferences is another. Using a person’s religion or belief system against him in a way where he is denied equal opportunities and is unable to profess his beliefs is also wrong. Age-based discrimination, whether it is because the person is too young or too old is still unjust. The last is unfavorable treatment of people with disabilities, both in employment and in general dealing.


Most countries in the world have some form of legislation to deal with cases of discrimination. The people of New Zealand, for example are protected against discrimination in a number of different areas in accordance with the Human Rights Act 1993 and with United Nations conventions. Similarly, the Employment and Industrial Relations Act (2002) completely prohibits discrimination in the workplace. Federal law prohibits discrimination based on (but not limited to) race, sex, religion, disability or age and yet it is only the state of Michigan and 6 other cities that have actually imposed a ban on discriminating against hiring people who are overweight. It is understandable if obese persons are unable to perform their duties but to overlook them simply because they don’t look good is completely unwarranted. The Citizens Medical Center in Texas only hires people with a body mass index less than 35. They claim that the intent is to hire people who appear normal and therefore do not attract attention to themselves. The policy clearly goes against the federal law on discrimination. Certain companies refrain from hiring smokers which is justifiable considering the side effects of the habit and the consequent higher health insurance premiums for such people. However, any form of physical appearance, which does not hinder the person from performing his work efficiently, cannot be used to discriminate against him. Appearance discrimination indicates intolerance towards the physical appearance of people which is completely and totally unjustified.

There are several courses of action that can be taken by a person who is being discriminated against. Going to court is one option but before going to the court one can also file a complaint with one of the several government bodies. These include the Industrial Tribunal  (under the Employment and Industrial Relations Act, 2002), the National Commission for Persons with Disability (under the Equal Opportunities (Persons with Disability) Act) , the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality for Men and Women  (under the Equality for Men and Women Act), the Public Service Commission (under the constitution of Malta), the Ombudsman (under the Ombudsman Act), the Broadcasting Authority (under the Constitution of Malta), and the Employment Commission (under the Constitution of Malta) .

In order for the authorities to take action, the complaint must be made by the victim himself. Legal Notice 461 0f 2004 and Legal Notice 85 of 2007 however, allows people or organizations with a legitimate interest in the case, to support the individual in judicial or administrative procedures, with his permission. By law, the National Commission for Persons with Disability has the power to assist such people. The assistance could be of a financial or legal nature or it could simply be help in writing the complaint. The Commissioner for the Promotion of Equality is empowered under Article 11 of the Equal Treatment of Persons Order, to investigate the matter and to take necessary steps if the complainant needs help in formulating the complaint itself.

Under the Employment and Industrial Relations Act, if there is a case where an employee has been dismissed without due cause or if there is any other violation under Title 1 of this Act, the matter will be transferred to the Industrial Tribunal for a decision, following a referral made by the complainant or someone acting on his behalf.


To conclude it needs to be emphasized that the defining factors in the act of discrimination change with time. What we consider a normal act today, might become discriminatory in the not-too-distant future. However, discriminatory actions against certain individuals or a particular group have far-reaching consequences and therefore cannot be taken lightly. Steps have to be taken to regulate society through effective legislation and through regulatory bodies that can take action against individuals or parties that are guilty of such discrimination.

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