Sub-Theme 31: Gender, Governance and Organizations
Title: The meritocracy and the gender question in HR decisions: maternal gift myth
Angela Christina Lucas Centro Universitário FEI [email protected]
André Luiz Fischer University of São Paulo [email protected]
1. Purpose of the Paper: Starting from 1975 with International Women’s Year declaration, the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was ratified by 162 nations. Ever since the U.N. and countries on all continents are striving for greater equity for men and women through government and civil society organizations, with particular emphasis on education (Fiske, 2012). However, the unemployment rate for women is higher when compared to men of the same educational level in most countries.In addition, women typically work in departments featured by low pay, informal arrangements, and even in departments where they are majority,they do not reach leadership positions (ILO, 2010). In Brazil the analysis of the secondary data published by Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE) [Brazilian Institute for Geography and Statistics] shows a similar context to the other countries.On average, women have more years of study, but their activity rate is lower: 56.9%, while the rate for men is 79.2%. At the same time they spend an average of 10.9 hours on household choresweekly compared to 25.3 hours weekly by women (Pinheiro, Lima Junior, Fontoura & Silva, 2016). It also appears that work is still a challenge for women who have small children: only 20.3% of women with children from 0 to 3 years of age are able to attend day care centers in order to work (IBGE, 2012). Until 1988, women’s labor rights were considered protective and restrictive, including the prohibition of overtime and night shift work, with some exceptions, such as flight attendants and nurses, and they became promoters by ensuring the right to maternity leave, wage equity and the fight against discrimination (Lopes, 2006). The high female educational level is associated with a higher chance of women participating in the labor market, which in turn increases “the bargaining power by shaking the legitimacy of this (the man) as provider” (Castells, 1999, p.170), reorganizes the distribution household chores responsibilities (Madalozzo; Martins & Shiratori, 2010) and decreases the fertility rate (Brazil, 2013). Although the education level is considered an important variable in career decisions, women are underrepresented in the highest positions in organizations. Data collected from important companies that operate in the country show that women hold 34.5% of executive positions, 8% of CEO (PROGEP-FIA, 2013) and 5.4% of board members (Lazzaretti, Godoi & Camilo, 2012).
These data stimulate us to reflect on how decisions are made in the field of Human Resource management regarding gender issues. According to the recommendations of more managerialist literature, the competitive world would require that HR decisions be more meritocratic, so performance would be the main criterion in decisions about admission, mobility and career advancement (Delery & Doty, 1996; Barbosa, 2014). In this way, both men and women would have the same chances of career growth. This article shows the results of a research on this topic carried out. By means of interviews and discourse analysis techniques, Brazilian HR professionals’ opinion on the relation between meritocracy and the gender issue in people management decision was sought to be analyzed, with special emphasis on maternity and those referring to career and succession to leadership positions.
2. Theoretical background Gender is a universal social category recognized in all societies, with a role and status division for men and women, different for each cultural group, shaped by history and culture and learned through the socialization process (Maccoby, 1988; Howard, 2000). By accepting gender as a category linked to the socialization process, the concept proposed by Scott (1986, p. 1.067), where gender is “a constitutive element of social relationships based on perceived differences between sexes, and it is a primary way of signifying relationships of power”, will be used in this paper. Scott (1986) has found that although in Western societies the symbols representing women are manifold, religious, educational, scientific, political and legal doctrines try to limit the possibilities of what it is to be a woman. Bourdieu (2007) shows that girls socialization discourages their presence in public spaces and has their behavior watched and oppressed. The differences generated by this process of socialization are naturalized as biological differences. In capitalist society, gender structures the division between productive and wage labor versus domestic and non-wage reproductive labor, typical for women. It also structures the division between valued and well-paid, male-dominated, and low-paid occupations dominated by women (Bourdieu, 2007; Fraser, 2007). The wage difference issue is so complex that it resulted in a specific publication by the International Labor Organization: “The motherhood pay gap”. Grimshaw and Rubery (2015) related the pay difference between men and women to maternity and their explanation on the gap stemmed from three analitical tables, based on the approaches:
Rationalist Economic Approach: the wage gap is a result of labor market interruptions or working time reductions and a choice for family-friendly jobs, which usually pay less.
Sociological Approach: the discrimination as the basis for hiring and promotion decisions, lack of alternatives for childcare and women’s work undervaluation, including their skills, experiences and devaluation of “female dominated” occupations.
Comparative Institutionalist Approach: the need for public policies, such as the creation of specific policies to support care and work, childcare, maternity and paternity, and protection of formal and legalized employment.
In Brazil the woman identity as a housewife is a social construction still present in the culture that impacts her household chores responsibilities (Chies, 2010; Madalozzo, Martins and Shiratori; 2010: IBGE, 2014). This view is supported by national data: 51% of women and 62% of men believe that the man should provide for their families, 75% of women and 79% of men stated that when having small children, it is better for the man to work out of home and the woman to stay at home (Venturi & Godinho, 2013). In thos scenario, paid work is seen as a burden, making women believe that they need to choose between motherghood and career growth (Bruschini & Puppin, 2004; Carvalho Neto, Tanure & Andrade, 2010). This perception is also related to the assumption of more responsibilities and work-family conflicts for women, which would result in less commitment and less acess to job opportunities (Hoobler, Wayne & Lemmin, 2009; Metz, 2011). The organizational problems linked to motherhood already begin during the pregnancy, a private situation goes public due to the woman’s body changes, and this causes different reactions in the company, positive and negative, such as questioning regarding professionalism, commitment and even disappointment of peers and leaders, “because the woman played her chances off” (Mäkelä; 2012; Gatrell, 2013). On return to work, there are other conflicts that come up, mainly in the enviroment that somehow is inappropriate in this situation: charge to be present at the events to socialize out of working time (Cahusac & Kanji, 2014), change in the scope of work, denial of the training opportunities, negative comments about appearance (Mäkelä; 2012), many hours to work, lack of recognition and denial of job opportunities (Metz, 2011).
So, women realize the need to conceal their role as mothers at work in order to be able to continue their careers, even hiding the milk pumps during the working hours asa if it were a problem. (Tumer & Norwood, 2013; Cahusac & Kanji, 2014). The difficulties faced by women to achieve leadership positions are consequences of this stereotyped view. Behaviour patterns usually attributed to females are seen as less suitable for the leader’s role, which would include male-held characteristics such as aggressiveness, independence and competitiveness (Eagly & Karau, 2002; Shapiro, Ingols & Blake-Beard, 2011). As a consequence, there is “Glass Ceiling” phenomenon, the first metaphor used to explain a barrier to prevent women rising to the highest positions (Weyer, 2007). After that, other metaphors, such as “Labyrinth”, were created to show that there are complex and subtle challenges (Ragins & Winkel, 2011) or “Firewall”, suggesting that men at the top of the hierarchy control who enters the system (Bendl & Schmidt, 2010). These metaphors point to a structural and complex problem, where explicit and implicit gender stereotypes are present in organizational decisions in the discrimination form (Cortina, 2008), which are “barely visible, not always intentional, and rarely recognized and condemned” (Martin, 2006, p.255). The discrimination has been detected in the responsibilities and promotions distribution between men and women (Martin, 2006), in attributing negative connotations to women’s behavior and the qualification of traits associated with men (Ragins & Wilkel, 2011), comments and chauvinist jokes (Irigaray& Vergara, 2009), and in cases of moral or sexual harassments (Mcdonald, Backstrom & Dier, 2008). The finding of discriminatory decisions that use gender stereotypes in organizations opposes contemporary proposals in the field of HRM. The consensus of constructive authors in this area defends the so-called Strategic Human Resources Management (SHRM) model, which presupposes decisions based on meritocracy built on the evaluation of the employees’ contribution to the organization results no matter whether they are men or women (Gooderham; Nordhaug & Ringal, 1990). Meritocracy can be defined as a set of values that postulates the individuals’ positions in the society that must be a consequence of the merit of each one, rejecting every form of privilege (Barbosa, 2006). In this way, HR decisions related to selection, mobility and promotion should be premised on “previously established rules and criteria known by everyone” (Barbosa, 2014).
Meritocracy can be defined as a set of values that postulates the individuals’ positions in the society that must be a consequence of the merit of each one, rejecting every form of privilege (Barbosa, 2006). In this way, HR decisions related to selection, mobility and promotion should be premised on “previously established rules and criteria known by everyone” (Barbosa, 2014). Auster also pointed out the problem of measuring individual performance (1989). For the researcher, the more unpredictable, variable, complex and interdependent the tasks and responsibilities are, the greater the degree of subjectivity in the assessment and consequently the greater the likelihood of being subject to prejudice. Specifically in Brazil, Barbosa (2006, p. 98-99) adds a variable that increases complexity: here there is no meritocratic ideology in social life. Within the companies, there is no legitimacy of rewards; it is difficult to assess performance because equal opportunities are never considered due to social inequalities. In addition to this description, Brazil presents itself as a country of great social inequalities and of great differences in the valorization of the groups´ identity that directly impact opportunities inequality for these groups (Pereira, 2008). But it is reasonable to assume that the implicit premise that employees are seen as a gender-neutral has privileged men, since HR policies and practices are based primarily on their experiences (Dickens, 1998). As a consequence, companies no longer show the contribution of women, mainly in leadership positions, which can reduce their effectiveness and competitiveness by not using the skills that would be essential to the success of the business (Ely & Meyerson, 2000).
3. Research gap that is addressed The first articles on women’s issues published in Brazil in the administration area date back to the beginning on the 1990s, but only since the 2000s there has been a significant increase in the number of articles following up the changes brought about by the growth of women in the labor market (Cappelle, Brito, Melo & Vasconcelos, 2007; Souza, Corvino & Lopes, 2013). The main focus of these studies was to show employees’ perception on issues related to career and work environment. Being the focus of this research, the publications on the subject from the perspective of business management or HR were rare, where they mainly discuss the application of policies and practicies related to gender.
Although research on HR policies and practicies and on how women see themselves in organizations are of a great importance, it is considered that a HR professional has a fundamental influence on this relationship. One is the main responsible for the development and application of those policies and practicies that are performed by the managers under one’s guidance. Due to these reasons, the research findings cited here make a significant additional contribution on gender issues by releaving the views of these professionals on career decisions (Czarniawska, 2006).
4. Approach taken This paper was developed as a feminist research that seeks an agenda of changes (Devault, 1996) based on the explication of power relations and dymanics, unspoken rules and forces that help to interpret reality (Brisolara, 2003).Meanwhile, the research is build on a constructivist approach according to the concept of used defined by Scott (1986, p.1.067). From the point of view of the constructivist approach, Berger and Luckmann (2007), “man develops in a socially produced environment”, this includes sociocultural and psychological formations. During the socialization process the realities are built and seized through the experience and refined in the interaction among people. (Guba & Lincoln, 1994). In this socialization process, the individual understands the world within a specific culture and history (Gergen, 2009). When this reality is legitimated by society, it will be passed on as history to the next generations (Berger & Luckmann, 2007). Based on these premises, the constructionist approach lies within the interpretative paradigm. In this paradigm, due to Morgan (1980), the social world is understood as the product of individuals’ subjective experience, and therefore the emphasis of research is mainly the participant’s point of view. In this approach, these formations cannot be seen as result of biology, but as a social construction. For the subject of this article, this point is significant, because the behaviors and roles that were socially constructed are assumed as natural and biological (Beauvoir, 1980; Bourdieu, 2007). Thus, gender, as a social category (Maccoby, 1988), has its behavior limited by culture, history and context, there is no universal reference on what it is to be male or female (Gergen, 1985).
5. Methods of analysis
Among many possibilities, it was decided to use the speech analysis for interviews with HR professionals proposed for this paper by Fairclough (2001). This methodological choice was also based on the alignment between the contructivist approach and the concept of discourse proposed by the author: “discourse is socially constructed constituting social subjects, social relations and systems of knowledge and belief” (Fairclough, 2001, p. 58). Semi-structured interviews were carried out from a questionnaire and these interviews were transcribed and analyzed using software. In addition to the transcript of the interviews, the analysis material included observations made before and after the interviews, conversations after the recorder was turned off and the researcher’s notes. As a way of protecting respondents’ data, their names, names of their relatives, colleagues and bosses have been replaced by “the name of_________” within a bracket. The names of the companies were replaced by the field of work. HR professionals with more than 10 of experience, at least 5 years of work in the area, were invited to the interview. 26 of them accepted: 15 women and 11 men. Regarding the profile, the average age of the interviewees is 42 years old, the youngest being 31years old and the oldest being 57 years old. Only four respondents do not have children and three are single. All interviewees got the higher education, most of them in Administration (10 interviewees), Engineering (4 interviewees) and Psychology (3 interviewees). Most of the interviewees work for large and representative companies in their field of business. The interviews conducted for this study were made in 2015 and lasted on average around an hour. Interviewees (Female – F; Male – M) Interviewee A – F Interviewee B – F Interviewee C – F Interviewee D – F Interviewee E – F Interviewee F – F Interviewee G – F Interviewee H – F
Personal info 2 small children / cmarried 1 small son / married 2 adult daughters / divorced 1 adult son / married 2 small children / married 1 small son / married No children / single No children /
Number of Current position HR companies
Time in HR
Professor and Researcher
Expatriate Manager HR Manager
Interviewee I – F
married 2 adult daughters / divorced
Interviewee J – M
1 small son / married
2 adult daughters / married 1 small son / Interviewee L – M married 3 small children / Interviewee M – M married 2 small children / Interviewee N – F married 2 teenage Interviewee O – M children/ divorced 1 small son / Interviewee P – F married No children / Interviewee Q – M single Interviewee K – M
Corporate Management Director
R&S Full Management
Interviewee R – F
2 adult children
Senior HR Manager
Interviewee S – M
3 small children / married
Interviewee T – F
1 small daughter / married
Talent Management Coordinator
HR Director – Latin America
2 small children and 1 teenager / married 1 small son / Interviewee V – F married 1 small daughter Interviewee W – M / married 2 children / Interviewee X – M married No children / Interviewee Y – F single 3 small children / Interviewee Z - M married Interviewee U – M
The lines said by HR professionals are based on the background of Grande São Paulo cities, with their particularities in a country of great dimensions and deep social inequality, such as Brazil.
6. Results and discussion The results presentation is structured from the themes found during the interview analysis process. These are: characteristics of women, HR role in meritocracy issues, people management processes and organizational environment. First, the interviewees were asked what the differentiating characteristics were between men and women. HR
professionals interviewed tend to exalt typically socially positive women characteristics, such as the high quality of work delivery (high educational level, high commitment, dedication, attentive to details), high conflict resolution capacity (caring for others, empathy,
collaborative profile), ability to deal with several things at the same time, beyond the question of feminine intuition and sensibility. It is noted that, except for the high quality of delivery, other characteristics presented reflect the woman imagine-building in the society. It is also important to emphasize that although super-qualification is seen as something differential, it does not mean that women have more opportunities. It only allows women to compete with men, compensating for the fact that they are women. If a woman has a much better educational qualification than man, and she does, she has better grades, she graduates in more courses, anyway, she has more years of studies; everything you want there from her, using the machines, she will probably know how to press the right button, she will read in English, she will be able to have the reasoning, to work with a team, thus, then the physical issue is getting smaller each time, it tends to decrease. (Interviewee M). I think that the skills are the same, but woman’s delivery quality is very different. She is more careful, you can see her care and attention with it. And the man uses Power Point, barely explains 2 lines, and he thinks it is excellent, he thinks he rocked, didn’t he? (Interviewee A). I think that there are characteristics that typically belong to the gender too, that woman thing with an ability to deal with several things at the same time, and the man has an ability to focus, which may help in some activities, but that will not necessarily reflect on the level of competence,in other words, perhaps, they will achieve the same results in different ways. (Interviewee B). Well, I think that the contribution of this more feminine, more integrative…but, thus, it would be more integrative indeed; inclusive, collaborative, able to handle several different themes at the same time, it is important to the business nowadays. (Interviewee F). Speaking beyond the operational question, thinking about more positions of leadership and so, the woman is much more observant, more sensitive, and more conciliatory, she realizes that the things happen without the need for anyone to say something, [...] So I think that the most sensitive issue, yes, no doubt, is much more developed. (Interviewee V).
In addition to the characteristics and behavior of women that are considered positive, there were moments when the professionals highlighted negative points, such as the more “masculine” behavior of some women, because it takes the differential off the woman. That is to say, she is not seen as an individual, but as a complement to male skills. Femininity seems to be seen as a rule of acceptance for women in the business
world. As if she were accepted if she behaves appropriately to the social image of what it is to be a woman, demonstrating one side of the “firewall”. Well, there is one thing I would point out, for women to be careful about; women do not need to act like males to take up their own space [...] I, particularly, do not think that is, on the contrary, if the woman makes a difference, it is her way, not trying her to be equal to man, on the contrary, she has her value being a woman. (Interviewee M). And I say that, what she cannot lose is what she brings from the feminine to the desk, the charm, the sweetness, the feeling of care, the feeling of affection, which does not mean that she is not intelligent, not a super executive, cannot be a leader and not practical to take decisions. (Interviewee Z).
The respondents also associated spontaneously women characteristics with mother role, without a specific question. The attachment of mothers to their children is described as special and different from the bond between fathers and children. In this way, the myth of maternal love, a term coined by the writer Elisabeth Badinter, is identified to criticize the idealized relationships between mothers and children as innate and special. This bond is considered special by professionals interviewed and it has a negative impact on the relation between woman and job. Although the interviewees exalt this “maternal gift”, women treat as a burden and a social charge, some of whom even boast that they can reconcile all the roles. The fact is that what is expected is that relationship with mother is unique and the father will never have the same one. That’s what everyone says, since the pregnancy. So the expectation that the mother has a relationship, a special role for a child, prevails. It is the fact. [...] But thus, the mother is the affective center, like, family union, and the father has the role of mother’s support. (Interviewee B). Well, I believe that the maternity impacts one’s mind indeed, and then with tangible and intangible things, I think the woman to leave...it is such a concern, leave the child with a nanny, or with whoever, or at school, who will take care and who will not; for her to be able to let it happen, she needs to have a very great, very wonderful purpose at work. (Interviewee J). …it is rare to find a woman who prefers to give up the professional life to devote herself to family life, being just a mother….not just, right? To be a mother and look after the children and the husband is a wonderful gift, but more and more women are able to reconcile this motherhood gift, marital gift, be a householder with professional challenges. (Interviewee O).
The man seems to have a supporting role in the domestic life, both in household chores as well as in care and children education responsibilities. As a consequence, he is not charged for his father’s role by the society and he does not feel guilty about it. For men,
the lack of fatherhood, often invisible in the organizational environment, reinforces the idea that the balance between private life and career is only important for women. So, I have seen people (men) with a child, who stayed at home working for 3 days, crazy, and then, like, come back and like get out at around 10, 11 p.m and say: “Oh, no, but the child is sleeping indeed, so I don’t see even at this time”.( Laughs). So, I think there is this…the man does not have so much because he…he does not think it is his responsibility; as he does not think it is his responsibility, he does not blame himself for it either and then he does not suffer from any kind of retaliation either. (Interviewee G) Because, basically, it is the woman who is divided between taking care of the house, of the children, herself and her job; while in general, for the husband, no matter how super participative he is, his responsibility is to work, so he does not care about these things. (Interviewee N). No one asked him (husband) when it was his first time to travel, how he was going to do away from [child’s name]. When it was my first time to travel, everyone was like “oh, [child’s name], how is he/she going to deal with it, how he/she dealt; oh, poor little, does he/she go to the day care? Oh, poor little, he/she is too small to go to the day care, and then, you go to work? Are you going to think of him/her all day long?” No one says this to my husband, no one. NO ONE. No one asked him if he was OK, if he suffered to stay away from his child, if he suffered from putting his child to the day care, you know? No one. (Interviewee V).
The opinion about the impossibility of reconciling managerial career growth and motherhood is unanimous among the interviewees: either they lose their future in careers or the relationship with the children. This dilemma is portrayed as something painful for women, involving the words like “guilt” and “suffering”. The choice discourse is naturalized by concealing the employee’s full availability problem for the company. In relation to men and paternity, this dilemma disappears. He is not responsible for the house and the children, not charged for it, so if it is necessary to travel, work late, they can do it calmly, continuing a vicious circle. And then, speaking of mother, I am a father too, but it is always the woman who has an extra charge as “come on, if I don’t do it for my child, my debt is bigger than my husband’s”, this is natural, the burden. (Interviewee M). … you say like this: I make a plan for the person to be able to come back, but unfortunately that is it, because the world is out there, it is cruel to damn, so, if you get to do it, that will be great. Many accept it in a good way, others feel very bad about coming, but many woman leaders said: listen, I am conscious that if I stay X times away from work at the X moment, when I get back, I lost my touch. And she suffers and goes. (Interviewee D). I have seen executives (women) who leave home crying arrive at the meeting crying, they have to leave a lot, get very sad. Do I get sad when I leave home? For sure I do, no doubts, and my wife works out of home too, but I
leave, it is a different suffering and different guilt. So, I think it is too strong. (Interviewee Z).
Thinking about questions of meritocracy and gender, the role of HR was asked. The first group of responses focused on the elaboration of policies and practices that reveals a HR concerned with the creation and tools establishment, methodologies, criteria that can be used by managers to take decisions with the least possible degree of bias. The role of HR is to provide managers with tools and methodology that allow them to minimize any subjectivity or injustice in the people’s decisionmaking process, dismissal, promotion, award. So, I think we have to contribute with concepts, explaining the competence concept, delivery concept, engagement concept, showing all the ways through methodology so that…to marshal managers so that they can take a fairer decision. (Interviewee O). I think to have defined structures, wage structures, wage ranges, for example, with the function descriptions, and then independently of who gets the position – woman or man, and work within the wage range, that is a tool. The other tool is to have a fair performance evaluation, where you look at the professional, where you look at what the professional is delivering, regardless of sex. And another tool would be to offer the promotions and attract and hire, independently…anyway, to hire, to promote, to keep for what the person is, for what he/she delivers. (Interviewee P).
The second block of responses refers to women’s role in the relationship with manager, raising awareness, influencing and questioning some decisions. The HR professionals assign themselves to the role of managers “conscience”, as well as the character Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio cartoon by Disney, where the main character tried to become a real boy with the help of the cricket, playing the role of his conscience. Encourager, an influencer, process catalyst. And there is…but actively, okay? So, because the idea you are going to sow at first there is a bit of reaction, but you need to be patient, so there is a very clear role and I think you need to raise the risk very clearly that the business has, the opportunity that the business will have as a result, and a great influencer, he is a great influencer. (Interviewee M). …and I think that HR needs to be alert to understand a bit and bring the discussion, what I think is missing is discussion, you know, like? Do not necessarily create a policy and so on and so forth, but, well, how does the HR do to bring the topic and discuss within the organization? Because, in the end, who will take the decision is not even HR, HR can influence, you know, like? (Interviewee Y).
HR professionals mentioned the importance of using the meritocracy principles for decision-making in relation to people management, both in terms of rewarding predefined criteria and differentiating people who stood out from this criterion. Meritocracy is you rewarding behavior aligned to what was explicitly requested by the company. Well, so, if the meritocracy is even a crazy
company that wants a result at any price, that’s what it wants. [...] Well, so, it is you to differentiate people based of the achievement on what was decided with the company, whatever it is. (Interviewee D). Meritocracy is you recognizing people who do different and do better. So, meritocracy is you making it clear that distinctive performance deserve to be recognized in a special way. Treat different who makes difference. Treat different, I mean in terms of award, recognition, promotion, career growth in progress. (Interviewee O).
The discourse of merit present in HR professionals’ speech initially becomes inconsistent when reporting unfair selection decisions based on stereotypes or on the fact that the candidate is a woman. The motherhood is seen as an event that weakens the commitment of woman, while paternity strengthens. The motherhood, or “potential motherhood”, was pointed out by HR professionals as an obstacle for women to approve in a selective process. The reports show that managers´ fear having less staff due to the months of maternity leave and that after that period, women will have less commitment or limited working time. Some interviewees jokingly told the managers’ speech based on a life-line image in which women marry at around 30; two or three years later have the first child and two or three years later have the second. There was a manager who said: “No, no I am not going to hire this woman because there are already two on maternity leave and she is 32, married for three years and she is going to want to get pregnant.” And I told him the following: “You must be joking! (Laughs) You must be joking.” He: “No, gosh, it’s only me who hires just married women of this age group, this is a joke, I can’t stand it anymore. They want to get pregnant, I think that my area attracts, it must be the area”.”You know that those jokes aren’t jokes, they are discriminations”. [...] and he hired a potential pregnant woman, but it is difficult. (Interviewee E). Because she will need to leave because of the child all the time, when the child is sick it is a woman who leaves, attend parents meeting at school or because she will get pregnant and so on and so forth. So, sometimes he speaks clearly: “Well, you are over 40 and the chance is smaller, and the child has grown a little”. (Interviewee I).
The characteristics and behavior that HR professionals assign to women at the beginning of the interviews are partly used by managers and decision-makers not to hire women, even when they have excellent qualifications, such as sensitivity (“no guts”, “no strength”) and the dilemma of motherhood. Within companies, compensation management is also influenced by gender and motherhood. The managers were pointed out by some interviewees as responsible for remuneration decisions considered by them to be unfair, since managers are sometimes influenced by the gender stereotype in which the man is responsible for the family livelihood and the woman work by choice. The reported cases demonstrate that there is
no consistency in the decision criteria for men and women and that meritocracy is only in the talk, but not in practice. But saying like this…well, and the conversation was: “Well, who are we going to give a raise to?” [...] And then he said: “[name of candidate], look, the girl is not the breadwinner, she doesn’t need it for living, and the boy, he has a family, he needs it more”. And I told him: “But, hey, [name of colleague], who performs better, who is more talented, and who is going to contribute more to the company?” He said: “ Look, it is going to be her, but she isn’t leaving the company if we do not give this raise, but the other guy, I don’t know if he is going to, but he has a family and so on, and I think it is better…” (Interviewee K).
The motherhood appears once again as something that differentiates women in HR processes and it seems legitimate not to increase the salary of pregnant women or with small children, ignoring their delivery, outcomes and skills. It is expected that the woman will not dedicate her availability to the company, where the commitment is measure by the number of hours to work. I think that there is one thing that it is not a policy and practice, but a career part, when you have the motherhood issue you have a career break that delays a woman at least a couple of years of career development. Of course during the time of your pregnancy or maternity leave you cannot be promoted, and there is no wage raise. This already makes a gap between you and the man. (Interviewee B). So, let’s suppose, she had kids when she was 32, 33, 34, 35, she is going to be there for two or three years, I can see it now, there one more thing, you have to balance, you have to try to balance, you have to take you kid to the doctor, whatever. So, take a side walk for a while, or she is going to dedicate herself that much to forget about the rest, and then she may regret for not having done it. [...] And then, compared to man, who did not do it, who is better socially accepted than he devolves it to the woman, he tries to grow at the moment when she needs to do it. And there is a disparity. And sometimes, eventually, two people who had, let’s say, equal conditions, would have equal wage conditions, and sometimes they don’t have. (Interviewee W).
Most interviewees stressed that the company’s promotion processes are fair, showing data, information and details of the process. However, they all learned to know the numerical differences between men and women in strategic positions and to explain these differences, some answers were made. Almost unanimously, the motherhood was also identified as an obstacle to promotions and the consequent women professional growth: during the pregnancy, maternity leave and return to work. It is perceived that “delivery” and “results” are not considered during the pregnancy and maternity leave. The premise is that, regardless of the woman’s contribution, she will not be considered in promotion processes during those periods.
The daughters were born like this, one is January and the other in December. So, she kind of got maternity leave at the same time with two years difference. And the performance evaluation always took place while she was away – on maternity leave. In the first year she got, and blablabla, and with the second daughter she got pissed off. “This is an absurd, I have helped pretty darn much with whatever, and this and that”. [...] And then I said: “[sister-in-law’s name], this is absolutely normal, I mean, you weren’t there, but maybe the other year there weren’t a guy, but there were you; I don’t think it was on purpose that you were on the maternity leave, but it was simply because the other guy was there. (Interviewee D). But there is an age group that is more advanced, today is a bit more modern, which has a strong difference, which have a specific time when they want to have a child. Then the difference between man and woman is very clear. So then, there is big crisis, because depending on the environment the person is, there is not coming back or the person will not go… no promotion, a huge competition; if I leave the environment, how will it be when I am back?...(Interviewee I).
Many interviewees argue that the difficulty of career growth for women does not occur on the companies part, but by own choice of women. It is believed that they choose not to stay after for the overtime and opt for positions which do not demand trips, often linked with the higher hierarchical levels. Some women who work for the company with a successful career, but sometimes they don’t have the option of power, eventually work overtime, sometimes, it is inevitable to dedicate yourself a bit more, stay a little more at work, travel, take on commitments and challenges, delivery, papers; the higher the position in the pyramid is, the bigger the delivery is, in terms of responsibility, willingness, commitments out of your workplace; when it requires more, much more travelling, it ends up being limiting, so that women can really balance management positions in the company. [...] and then, unfortunately, there is no way the corporate world cannot be…have a hypocritical view of finding that the corporate world, professional challenges do not require a great deal of body and soul. (Interviewee O). And there is still Latin habit, perhaps, that woman more responsible for taking care of the family in broad way, not the specific things man can help, but in a broad way, she is a caretaker of the family. So sometimes some positions or roles, as they demand a greater absence of woman at the base, they threaten women in a particular way. (Interviewee W).
On the other hand, there were interviewees who pointed out the difficulty of women rise such as “lack of choice”, cultural reasons: opportunities not offered due to the prejudice that the woman will not accept because of the children or even husband who does not support career choices and limits the spouse’s growth. And sometimes I think, gosh “oh, so-and-so…well, could we call so-and-so as expatriation for Europe?”. “Oh, but she is married, isn’t she?” “So what?” “Her husband works”. “So what? Has she ever told you that she is not open to travel?”. “No”. “Well, so you assume that because she is married and her husband works. And if it were a guy with the wife who works, what would you do? You would ask him”. It is the same thing for me, it is a bias, it doesn’t mean that they are joking, but it is prejudice. (Interviewee V).
So, there are a lot of women that have the capacity to grow, but they prefer not to, because the husbands don’t endorse them. And then mix everything, mix man, manhood, understand? The male, the questions of “me having to pay for me wife” or “having to pay for my family or my son”, feels diminished, helpless…no, it is amazing, it is something crazy to imagine how our way of thinking goes, got it? (Interviewee Z).
When the discourse presents “woman’s choice” for not growing professionally, it is important to question what made her do it. One might think that she is burdened with household chores, that the society wants to make her responsible for taking care of the house and the children, that she needs to be better qualified to compete for the same jobs and that she often works in a hostile environment for women. At the end of the interviews, some women (not men interviewed) concluded that HR practices and policies are designed for all gender-independent, but are not equally applied to everyone. Because it is no use the policy say, but in practice, because the policy always says that everything is fine, everyone is equal, and has the same opportunities, but then in practice you take a different decision. (Interviewee N). Because if you look at policies, all companies have wonderful policies, don’t they? So, the fact that they were respected would make the companies fairer. A policy, it is not… it is not written, it would not be approved, it would not be validated if it had a difference of roles there. (Interviewee A).
Ultimately, we can affirm that HR decisions are influenced by gender and motherhood, in an explicit or implicit way instead of results, experience, competences or merit.
7. Main findings According to the analysis of interviews with HR professionals, there are several variables that interfere in meritocracy application as guiding element of career organizational decisions. There have been bias in HR area itself, that gets itself a role of developer of applicable policies regardless of gender and the awareness of managers towards more meritocratic decisions (Dickens, 1998). As for the context of women in society, in HR professionals opinion, women are mainly responsible for the home and the children. It should be noted, according to their opinion, that all women are heterosexual, married, have children and they are more careful, more dedicated to studies, more aware and more sensitive.At no time were there words to describe women who were linked with power and leadership representation (Eagly & Karau, 2002; Shapiro, Ingols & Blake-Beard, 2011).
Throughout the interviews, it was seen that they believe in a woman who can choose between motherhood and work, or between motherhood and career growth, as if they could opt something out (Grzywacs & Butler, 2008). In Brazil, at least 38% of women have no choice, since they are responsible for the family and the raising of children (IBGE, 2010). Even among those who live in families that do not depend on their salary, there is a discussion about the real power of choice since the organizational environment is fraught with problems for women, and especially for those who are mothers (Metz, 2011). Motherhood was seen as an obstacle, consisting of division of household chores, prejudice against married and childless women who could get pregnant, and prejudice regarding the results and commitment of female employees who are mothers. The sexual division of labor, where the woman is in charge of taking care of the children(Fraser, 2007),avoids her having an ideal employee profile: one who is able to travel anytime, work overtime and be always available for the company(Dickens, 1980). The society takes these responsibilities out of men, and this makes them “free” while drifting them away from their family and home. Commitment is then measured and used as a basis for decision, rather than evaluating devotion, results and proficiency. That is to say, women within the business environment are associated to motherhood, even when they are not mothers, while men are not associated with fatherhood even when they are fathers. Women whose behavior is considered more masculine are poorly seen in the workplace. Since the male way is the standard, the woman is expected to contribute her “feminine” side to the company. Just as women are considered “The Second Sex” in the society, according to Beauvoir (1980), it works the same way in the workplace. In addition to this analysis, Bourdieu (2007) presents women as an object for the eyes of others, so they are expected to be attractive, smiley, nice, attentive and discreet even if those characteristics are not considered important for a promotion and participation in strategic positions. Besides their own bias, HR professionals mentioned managers’ bias, who as the main decision-makers, discriminate against women based on their social construction. While it is not allowed by Brazilian law, many managers or employers define the sex of the professional who must be selected for a certain vacancy (Hirata; Kergoat, 2007). During the process, women are evaluated based on the stereotyped characteristics, whether they are mothers or not; and if they do not have children, they are assessed by
their age or marital status as a way to avoid pregnancy in the team. In general, the arguments used for this are the facts that women who are mothers cannot work overtime, travel constantly, and hold meetings at night, which a higher hierarchical position would require (Turner & Norwood, 2013; Cahusac & Kanji, 2014). After the discourse analysis, it was seen that meritocracy, based on previously established and transparent rules and criteria, can be questioned within the companies.(Barbosa, 2014; Castilla & Benard, 2010).It is observed that in the particular case of this study, the assumptions about the gender forego the meritocratic criteria in HR decisions. The Brazilian HR professional seems to be aware of this discrimination, but is powerless to influence in its overcoming – whether it is through the implementation of corporate equity policies or through the guidance of managers in their decisions. The arguments against the meritocratic decisions are related to the devaluation of stereotyped features such as beauty, care, sometimes the relentless issue of “potential pregnancy” and other family responsibilities. Thus, a vicious circle is formed, where due to these characteristics the woman opts the positions of power out, and by doing so, the workplace turns more masculine, where exceptionally feminine characteristics, such as motherhood, are seen as defects to be avoided. HR professionals and managers internalize the speech about “motherhood gift” as something important and valuable while they take decisions that devalue motherhood. This HR study confirms women’s views on the impact of pregnancy and motherhood on Selection and Promotion decisions, the presence of stereotypes and discriminatory actions in companies, and the episodes inappropriate behavior against women. Understanding that there are biases in the evaluation for Selection, Compensation and Promotion and that other non-legitimate criteria can be used as a basis for decisions, companies could also adopt actions such as inclusion of issues related to women in the workplace in employee awareness programs, leadership development programs and in the form of lectures. In relation to managers, considered the main agents of meritocracy, it would be important for companies to pay attention to the values of the candidates for leadership positions, besides their experience and competences. And the values and behavior used for hiring could be used for other internal processes, such as promotion. HR professionals talked about the difficulty for women, especially mothers, to travel regularly on business and work overtime, the difficulty that would diminish their
competitiveness in relation to men in a hiring or promotion choice. As Lewis, Gambles and Rapoport (2007) warn, lack of time for personal life would not a problem for women to solve, but for men and women to work out together with companies. There are structural and cultural changes that need to be made so there is a greater balance between personal and professional life. Overtime and travel that should be exceptions today are adopted naturally as rules of corporate life, and impact employee’s health (Becker, 2010), the relation between parents and children, and the choice of women to become mothers (Carvalho Neto, Tanure & Andrade, 2010; Silveira & Hanashiro, 2011). As recommendations for future research, some themes that emerged during the interview analysis process were interesting and promising to study. The interviewees, in general, talked about the problem of a narrow group of women: those who have graduated, hold managers positions, are heterosexual, married and mothers (or almost mothers). Thus, we suggest research that may specifically address other women not covered by the interviewees for this thesis, such as black women, handicapped, homosexual and those working on more operational levels. New variables would possibly be added to the discussion. Finally, it is suggested to carry out a research on the decisions on Selection, Remuneration and Promotion with the managers, to include a third point of view to the question dealt with in this thesis, based on the view of women by the Theoretical Referential and HR professionals’ research. As a first limitation, one has the possibility of finding answers biased by the consciousness of what would be the correct to be spoken and expressed about women in the organizational environment. It is also important to highlight that most of HR professionals have experience in companies considered to be excellent in the market, and cannot be considered as a sample of all HR professionals in Brazil, not even in Grande Sao Paulo. Another limitation is invitation acceptance to answer the survey. Women, and especially the men interviewed, have shown to be somewhat interested in the subject, both personally and professionally.
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