The Malta Independent 5 December 2023, Tuesday
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Managing gender inequality through upbringing, education and work practices

Sunday, 24 September 2023, 08:41 Last update: about 3 months ago

Katya De Giovanni

In my career I have come across many young people embarking on their studies in the hope of having a successful career. I have also met others who have moderate to severe difficulties integrating at work. Our thoughts are shaped by the type of dialogue that is carried out within our family over a cup of coffee, at dinner as well as in the discourse and curricula that are evident in the early years of our educational programmes. It is essential to review what is taken for granted, what toys we are exposing our youngsters to and the kind of language that is used over experiences and discussions involving careers and relationships. As individuals, these experiences in the early years of life create schemes within which we interpret the world around us and with which we make choices accordingly. For example, it will be hard for a female adolescent to undertake a career involving shift work if her mother was the main caregiver at home and her main role model.


Therefore advocating dialogue, turn taking skills and tolerance in the early years curriculum followed up by such concepts on cross curricular programmes is a must. Most of the work will be ready and forecasted rather than a reaction to make amends once individuals are already adults and expected to fully function as citizens in the world of work.

Research indicates that programmes ought to collaborate to incorporate LGBTIQ identities within and across programmes, departments, universities’ and placement opportunities beyond the traditional classrooms. Moreover, research ethics committees and admission forms should be revised to offer a rage of gender identity options. Moreover, in educational administration, professional development opportunities need to focus on the understanding of LGBTIQ concepts and school based issues covering what constitutes a welcoming and inclusive environment in schools for all. Moreover, recruitment should support staff with LGBTIQ research agendas. May I remark that the University of Malta has a department devoted to Gender and Sexualities set up in 2012 and that, however, issues in relation to such topics of discussion should not be relegated to only this department but should be discussed in all faculties and departments within educational institutions. With a special emphasis on the discussion of inclusion within Malta which many a time has focused on levels of ability, this must be continuously revised to include also sexual orientation and also race. In the transition towards the world of work, employment opportunities and recruitment exercises should reflect individual ability and potential and not in any way emarginate those who do not fit in the usual norm.

The participation of all individuals who are available to work in employment, and their full inclusion in organisational life, is both a moral and practical imperative. Workplace abuse and discrimination cannot be tolerated. These experiences can harm workers’ health, limit their capacity to enjoy a full life and represent threats to their human right to just and favourable conditions at work. At the same time, the participation and meaningful inclusion of all workers has the potential to bring the benefits of different perspectives to the solutions to organisational problems and the development of new products and services, including entering and effectively servicing new and complex markets. Importantly, preventing the exclusion of workers based on their gender identity, sexual characteristics or sexual orientation also has the potential to reduce the risk of litigation against organisations with the opportunity of investing resources into further business development.

Organisations implement a range of inclusion strategies, such as sponsoring community events, educating all staff to reduce stigmatisation or introducing peer support programmes, to enhance the sense of inclusion among LGBTIQ+ staff. However, a few questions remain on whether these interventions do achieve their intended objectives, whether they are perceived as fair by all staff and, crucially if we want to create change, whether and how they trigger passive resistance or even on the other hand, active backlash.

In order to address these gaps in research, there are several important considerations. First, interventions should be based on theory and evidence from previous research about their effectiveness. Given the urgency to remedy disadvantages in organisations, it is imperative to ensure that planned interventions are based on decades of existing research about prejudice and discrimination, human behaviour in organisations, organisational change and development, and programme evaluation. Importantly, one must be careful when extrapolating findings about one dimension of gender and sexuality and applying those findings to another. Exploring the intersections of gender identity, sexual characteristics, sexual orientation and other dimensions of human life such as ethnicity, disability status and age will be necessary to inform organisational research on inclusion effectiveness. Deploying inclusion interventions without sound evidence behind them can be unethical, ineffective and wasteful, and may even increase the likelihood of unintended consequences.

Academics must work with the affected staff (e.g. women in male-dominated environments, intersex workers) to make sure the objectives and approaches of interventions match the expressed needs of the relevant workers. Co-design can be encouraged, yet is unfortunately sometimes neglected, as an approach to ensure relevant groups are included in the definition of objectives, approaches, delivery and evaluation of interventions. Organisational issues are multi-level and include multi-stage processes. For research conclusions to be valid, our designs and data collection tools and approaches first need to be valid, that is, tools need to be effectively used to gather information about organisational process as they unfold. This means that we might need to combine different forms of qualitative and quantitative approaches that best help them reflect the nature of the process under study.

Intervention objectives must be clear. Diversity management practices and interventions can have many aims; they may aim to remedy disadvantages, foster equal access, guarantee equitable treatment, reduce prejudice or enhance a sense of belonging among minoritized groups. While these objectives might seem similar, and working towards one might facilitate progress towards the others, these are not the same objectives. Articulating from the start the intended, and potentially unintended, consequences of our inclusion efforts is central to our capacity to evaluate whether these interventions are having the expected effects without creating unexpected negative consequences.

We must encourage the design of inclusion interventions in ways that consider, reduce and evaluate the emergence and impact of backlash. Research in management and psychology has contributed significantly to our understanding of resistance to change. Past research has also shown that workplace inclusion interventions can generate negative reactions among the workers we try to include and other staff. Disadvantaged groups might feel the interventions are tokenistic and do not consider their perspectives. In this case, co-designing interventions might be a mitigating strategy also ensuring representation on organisational level.

Finally we must push issues of inclusion high on the agenda. Participatory research is essential and encourages ownership of the research process. The coming together of researchers, research participants and role switching in this regard is the way forward.


Katya De Giovanni is a Labour MP and an organisational psychologist

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