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Qualitative Methodology and Analysis: Gender Inequality in the Workplace

Qualitative Methodology and Analysis:

Gender Inequality in the Workplace



Gender inequality in the workplace has been of great interest to feminist scholars. In this paper, I address Hong Kong women’s perceptions of gender inequality in this sphere. For this assignment, I employed the qualitative way of data collection and analysis, using focus group interviewing. The first part provides a brief review of literature on gender inequality, followed by a rationale for the technique and method of analysis, and finally by discussion of the results. The main purpose of this paper is to examine the relevance of qualitative methodology and analysis on the study of gender inequality at work.

Gender Inequality

Although there has been some progress made in the area of gender equality over the last fifteen years, full equality of opportunity in the workplace has not yet been achieved. According to Jones (1996), in a democratic society, there should be equality in access to occupations. Olgiati and Shapiro (2003) suggest that in gender equality, men and women are free to develop their personal abilities and make choices without limitations set by strict gender roles; that their different behaviors, aspirations are considered, valued and favored equally; that men and women are treated fairly on the basis of gender, which could mean either equal treatment or treatment that is different but considered equivalent in terms of rights, benefits, obligations and opportunities; and that there are equal opportunities and treatment for women and men.

The continuance of gender differences in the workplace is explained by views based in economics, sociology, and psychology. Gender discrimination in the workplace happens due to individual differences and preferences. Consequently, there are differences in hiring, salary, and other work-related phenomena (Benokraitis & Feagin, 1995). According to Larwood & Trentham (1998), individuals who do not themselves hold negative prejudices may nonetheless rationally choose to discriminate as a result of particular attribution and instrumental conditions. For example, they may discriminate if they believe those in power over them and their careers expect such behavior (Katz, 1987).

In their examination on gender discrimination in the workplace, Larwood and Trentham (1998) discover that the perceptions of business norms were accepted by the present working personnel who participated in their survey. More than half of them described themselves as managers. Earlier studies by Szwajkowski and Larwood (1991) shows that acceptance of the discriminatory norms was measurably more than in the later findings by Larwood and Trentham (1998).

In addition to the unequal distribution of paid and unpaid work between women and men (Benokfraitis & Feagin, 1995), other issues that pertain to gender equality in the workplace include the discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace (Williams, Giuffre & Dellinger, 1999), women's concentration in low paying sectors, especially in the service sectors (European Union Online, 2003), higher rates of poverty in comparison to men, and women's under-representation in senior positions (Groves, 1996).

The finding that men and women had similar mean levels of occupational attainment and ascended the occupational hierarchy through similar processes (Featherman & Hauser 1976) suggests that occupational status measures of attainment are precise enough to capture the full extent of gender inequality (Hill 1980). The characteristics of jobs, and in particular the authority associated with jobs, are an important unit of analysis in studies of gender stratification. Gender differences in workplace authority, and in the processes that lead to authority, constitute an important source of gender inequality (Smith, 2002).

Wolf’s and Fligstein’s (1979) study shows that women have less authority than men in the workplace. Moreover, Wolfs and Fligstein (1979) conclude that the behaviors and policies of employers are most responsible for restricting the authority chances of women in the workplace. A consistent finding in the literature on gender-role attitudes is that acceptance of women's involvement in the labor force is greater than acceptance of changes in the domestic division of labor. Changing roles in the marketplace seem to be more palatable to both men and women than do changing roles in the home (Conover & Sapiro 1992). Many authors have concluded that working wives have been and still are responsible for the bulk of household labor (Ross 1987).

This contradiction suggests that questions about work opportunities tap a general commitment to equality. Thornton and Freedman (1979) conclude that there is a more movement towards rejection of gender segregation as a general principle than towards rejection of specific forms of segregation. Similarly, Mason, Czajka, and Arber (1976) find that attitudes toward home and work roles became increasingly consistent.

Qualitative research

According to Yin (1984), qualitative methods assist researchers who desire to understand complex social phenomena. They are appropriate when seeking knowledge about the fundamental characteristics of a phenomenon being studied before theorizing about it. This knowledge often surfaces through close contact with subjects of a study, allowing the researcher to understand their points of view about and experiences with the phenomenon.

Researchers even disagree on the definition of "qualitative." For example, some researchers use terms such as naturalistic and descriptive, as well as field, product, and case study. Perhaps the best way to clear up some of the confusion about qualitative research is to examine some its most accepted methodologies and characteristics.

Wolcott (1992) proposes that there are but three general types of data-gathering techniques in qualitative studies: experiencing, enquiring, and examining. These three techniques are used, Wolcott argues, in such diverse qualitative approaches as case studies, non-participant observed studies, interviews, participant observation, phenomenology, ethnomethodology, enography, and ethnology. As Wolcott (1992) notes, most qualitative research is based on a case study that uses one or several of these qualitative techniques, enabling researchers to immerse themselves within a culture or a context and producing questions to pursue for further research and understanding of phenomena.

As an extension of the qualitative technique of interviewing, Byers and Wilcox (1991) propose that focus groups offer researchers a rich source in which to gather genuine information about participants' perceptions, experiences, and attitudes which provide a basis from which to build theory. Another variation of interviewing techniques proposed by Martin and Chaney (1992) is the Delphi technique, which can be valuable in gathering data on a subject from a panel of experts.

For researchers who want to learn how to conduct qualitative research, numerous sources are available. Herndon and Kreps (1993) present essays on interviews, focus groups, narrative analysis, critical incidents, and ethnographic analysis; Anderson (1987) offers good procedures for participant observations; Smith (1988) describes conversation, narrative, and content analysis; Morgan (1988) provides guidelines for focus groups; and McCracken (1988) discusses interviews.

In this assignment, I used qualitative methodology and analysis to determine Hong Kong women’s perception of gender inequality at work. In doing this, I prepared a set of guide questions for the focus group that would be asked to the intended respondents. A total number of 10 female respondents, purposively selected, participated in this assignment. During the process, I attempted to obtain as much information as possible about how the interviewee feels about the topic.  The focus group took an hour and a half. I encouraged the participants to clarify vague statements and to further elaborate on brief comments. I did not share my personal beliefs and opinions so as not to influence their answers.

Results and Discussion

In the focus group, all participants are asked to consider whether inequality between men and women exists in the labor force as in the rate of participation, unemployment, employment status, job opportunities, occupational segregation, job status, and work-family issues. The prevalence of gender discrimination in employment situations such as recruitment, job assignment, performance appraisal, compensation, entitlement to fringe benefits, promotion, training, career development, sexual harassment, and distribution of authority is also explored.

Six out of ten participants perceive situations related to difficulties encountered by married women in juggling between work and family life as constituting gender inequality at work. The other four consider various aspects of gender division of labor in the labor force as being unequal for women.

Gender differences are found in the perception of gender inequality and its prevalence in the labor force. Seven members of the group perceive that the current situations in the workforce regarding gender are disadvantageous to women. These participants believe that the greatest gender differences are found in situations related to pay, job opportunities, and work-family issues. The remaining three participants do not believe that gender inequality in pay, job opportunities, and work-family conflicts exist in Hong Kong.

All of them agreed that they are sensitive in perceiving gender inequality in the employment situations. When asked what were the most severe forms of gender discrimination in the workplace, six answered sexual harassment of women at work, three said gender-based differential benefits and one answered dismissal due to pregnancy.


This paper employed qualitative research method because it intended to find and build theories that would explain the relationship of one variable with another variable through qualitative elements in research. Through this method, qualitative elements that do not have standard measures such as behavior, attitudes, opinions, and beliefs within Hong Kong culture would be analyzed. Furthermore qualitative research is multimethod in focus, involving an interpretative, naturalistic approach to its subject matter. I intended to use qualitative methodology and analysis to make sense of, or interpret phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them.



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