Are Gender Roles Still Appropriate in Today's World?

By Dr Lynne Derman, writer
Oct 06, 2015
Image Credit: Monkeybusinessimages / Getty Images

Since the Industrial Revolution, home and work have been separated. They are seen as two separate systems and that work and family life do not, and should not, overlap. It allowed organisations to act as if families didn't exist. Most companies view work and personal life as competing with each other. Any intrusion of family life into the workplace was regarded as unacceptable.

People have always had children, elderly parents, hobbies and community activities, but it was expected that the interests of the company would be put before those of the individual. Many executives accept the clich that success always demands a price, and that is usually the sacrifice of one's private life. With the separation of work and private life came gender segregation of roles.

The term role is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as a person's task or duty in an undertaking. Here's the thing: the individual is more than the sum total of all the roles they fulfil. We are continually changing our roles because of the fast pace of our modern society. This creates stress, which is made worse by the various roles we have to fill on a daily basis. People's ability to keep their roles differentiated and separated, varies. Conflict and stress become overwhelming when a person is unable to meet the demands of different roles.

Roles are not formed in isolation but always in a certain context and, for that reason, no man or woman is an island, and the views of others in the immediate environment often strongly affect the experience of the role. So too, gender discrimination does not exist in the workplace alone but in society in general and are maintained through cultural beliefs.

Gender roles were initially based on practical abilities - the men were the hunters, explorers and warriors because they were physically stronger, and the women bore children and looked after the home. Traditionally, men were the breadwinners, performing work outside the home, and women worked and looked after the duties inside the home. Today, the only role still uniquely gender related is childbearing. Men and women are equally capable of performing the full range of expected duties. Yet, men and women are still socialised to perform their traditional roles.

Unfortunately, these differences meant that most pre-industrial families and societies were patriarchal, with women largely excluded from the public arena. After World War II and the Depression, outside paid work became even more important, being rewarded with money and prestige, and maintaining the home regarded as less prestigious.

Today, the majority of employees fulfil dual or even multiple roles, earning a living and meeting many family and household responsibilities. The change from gender-segregated to multi-role participation in job and family duties is still in progress. Past beliefs and practices continue to bear their mark on current role definitions and expectations and are still limiting for both men and women. For society as a whole to move forward, and for people to live fulfilling and rewarding lives both in the formal economy and at home, some of these old attitudes and gender based roles need to change.

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Lynne Derman is an author, speaker and recognised thought leader on individual and organisational energy and well-being. She is the founder and Managing Director of Goldfish Consulting which provides customised strategic human resource development solutions to meet your business needs. She is passionate about enabling Leadership to bring about Organisational Change that consistently produces improved Performance and Sustainability. She has worked both locally and internationally with Blue-Chip Companies, enabling businesses to deliver cutting edge organisational change where it matters most. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Johannesburg in Leadership, Performance and Change. The title of her thesis is "Organisational Energy & Individual Well-being" . At the time, she was one of the first to investigate organizational energy as a concept, a concept that has since grown in importance internationally in the fields of research and academia. As part of her Ph.D Lynne validated a measure of Organsizational Energy for the South African context, a first of it??s kind. Lynne??s research, as well as her considerable experience in Human Resources, combines toward creating new knowledge in the field as well as making an important practical contribution to organisations. From 2009 to the present Lynne has spearheaded the quest to make the validated climate survey emerging from her thesis, available commercially. As the only climate survey that has been validated in South Africa, this is a unique and valuable tool. This survey, EnergyAccents?? will be launched early 2015 and will be available to South African Companies. Selected HR Consultants and Practitioners will also be trained on how to use the tool. See more on our Company Page
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