Three Types of Inequality, Eight Solutions
by Jemimah Watkins
Loughborough University’s Politics and International Relations course enabled me to pursue my interest and concerns around gender inequality (as well as other societal inequalities), by providing me with theoretical knowledge and research opportunities. Consequently, when offered the opportunity to do a placement year, I sought to centre it around the practical implementation of ethics, diversity and sustainability. I was offered the role of HR intern with a construction company based in the South East, with specific focus around implementing mechanisms in the company which would increase equality. This provided me with the opportunity to carry out primary research (through semi-structured interviews) about gender inequality in the construction sector. I was particularly interested in investigating the discussion surrounding increased equality and ‘positive discrimination’ (which is argued to cause promotions and hires that are not merit based). Also, it was extremely important to me to not homogenise groups (women), as gender is not the sole cause of discrimination: race, ability and sexual orientation each play important roles as well. However, generalising from a set of experiences was necessary to complete this research, as it was not possible to deal with every person as if they were unique. Also, I felt that it was important to lay out the business incentives and practical solutions when writing up the research, as this would make it implementable for the company I had based my research on.
For this research, I found it useful to examine the construction sector, and determine causes, consequences and solutions of discrimination, using Marshall’s three types of equality:
- ‘Equality of opportunity’: which means that there are no formal rules that prohibit entry. This is the most commonly referenced form of equality. However, ‘equality of opportunity’ alone does not engender total equality.
- ‘Equality of condition’: which requires not only access, but also circumstances of life for different social groups. In other words, this equality seeks to even the starting points of the competitors.
- ‘Equality of result or outcome’: which entails the application of different policies or processes to social groups in order to transform ‘inequalities of condition’ at the beginning into equalities at the end. Specifically, it describes the ‘final destination’ of equality, rather than the starting point. It seeks to break the self-perpetuating cycle of deeply entrenched inequalities. This is the type of equality that I sought to gain when proposing solutions.
Applying these types of equality to the construction sector highlighted the ways in which the industry still fails to provide for women. Despite legislation such as the Equal Pay Act 1970 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the deeper structures of discrimination in the construction industry have proved resistant to change. The industry is plagued with gender discrimination, including individual and institutional discrimination (both direct and indirect) and overt and covert sexism. To eradicate these, businesses must enable women to attain ‘equality of result or outcome’ by providing politics and processes that put them on a level playing field to their male counterparts. Importantly, this does not negate merit-based decisions, simply, it accounts for the lack of ‘equality of condition’, thus lack of ‘equality of opportunity’.
Each type of discrimination was analysed during this research, and solutions were proposed:
- Problem: individual and institutional discrimination (e.g. in recruiting)
- Solution: businesses should provide training, mentoring and shadowing opportunities at all stages of women’s careers to create a competent pool of recruits, because an often-used justification for the low levels of female recruitment is the lack of training and experience they have.
- Solution: a dedicated budget should be set aside for training opportunities
- Solution: policies and processes need to be put in place to account for the ‘inequalities of condition’
- Problem: overt and covert sexism (e.g. in the form of harassment)
- Solution: increased education (to shift mind-sets)
- Solution: specific policies and procedures to prohibit sexism
- Problem: indirect discrimination (e.g. inflexible working structures and family-unfriendly environments, a lack of women in senior roles)
- Solution: making construction sites ‘women-friendly’, by using technical advancements making sites less physically dependent and furnishing female toilets and equipment that fit women properly
- Solution: implementation of networks and mentoring schemes
- Solution: implementation of training opportunities and flexible working practices
Finally, research showed that collective support is essential. Support should come from senior management (top-down approach), who should be held accountable for the success of policies and processes, as well as from governmental policies. Working together, these factors will help to create change towards the eradication of gender discrimination in the construction industry. Applying each of these solutions would, my research suggests, go a long way in closing the gender gap in the construction sector.
Jemimah Watkins studied Politics and International Relations at Loughborough University from 2016 until 2020. During her third year, she completed a placement with a construction company, where she was able to undertake research regarding gender equality in the sector. After finishing her degree, she is looking for work to expand her knowledge in the field of ethics and equality, with a particular interest in artificial intelligence.
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