Rhetoric and the Politics of Workplace Innovation
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Rhetoric and the Politics of Workplace Innovation

Struggling with Empowerment and Modernization

Martin Beirne

This book provides a critical insight into the ongoing debates and controversies that surround employee empowerment and workplace innovation. It highlights competing interests and conflicting values, and illuminates some basic tensions between confident rhetoric and everyday realities.
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Chapter 5: Gender and empowerment

Struggling with Empowerment and Modernization

Martin Beirne


The most potent and compelling arguments for empowerment tend to address concerns about injustice and disadvantage, rather than matters of business, commerce or job performance. As Chapter 1 established, the consciousness-raising polemics of the civil rights and women’s movements of the 1960s and ’70s played an important role in encouraging people, in large numbers, to take empowerment seriously, and to reflect on underpinning principles and options for progressive intervention. Gender represents one of the most widely analysed and frequently discussed sources of privilege and disadvantage at work and in management, and has been at the centre of some heated debates and highly controversial thinking about employee empowerment. International workplace and public policy studies have repeatedly and dramatically highlighted gender-based inequalities of opportunity and reward in companies and countries around the world, exposing significant earnings differentials between men and women, job segregation and limited career advancement for women, even where they represent a majority of the occupied population (Kanter, 1977; Purcell, 1990; Wajcman, 1998; Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2008; Alvesson and Billings, 2009; Broadbridge and Simpson, 2011; Scholarios and Taylor, 2011; Al-Ahmadi, 2011). Historically, female employment has centred on particular sectors and occupations, demonstrating inequalities in the distribution of work and also rewards and decision-making influence. Service jobs have provided the highest levels of female participation, with clerical work, education, catering, cleaning and personal care accounting for the greatest concentrations of women in paid employment, though on a segregated basis, covering basic jobs and affording relatively few opportunities to reach responsible and well-paid positions.

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