Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Beneath the surface

Izah Azahari

Workplace discrimination can be considered a legal offence, and it can take in many forms such as unfair treatment of an employee or job applicant based on their gender, race, sexual orientation, age, special needs, religion, and social background.

Secretary General of International Economic Association (IEA) and Lead Advisor of the Southeast Asia Region at the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) Lili Yan Ing details this in her Op-Ed titled ‘Inclusive ASEAN: Women, Young, and People with Disabilities’.

The author shared that discrimination can occur in any aspect of employment starting from hiring, promotion, pay, to facility and working conditions.

“Workplace discrimination is a concerning issue that affects many people globally, including those in ASEAN. One of the most prevalent forms of workplace discrimination are the gender and/or (nationality) race wage gaps or different treatment/facilities,” she wrote.

She believes that workplace discrimination has far-reaching negative consequences on employment. It not only affects the individuals who experience discrimination but also has a detrimental impact on overall workplace dynamics and organisational outcomes.

Discrimination can result in reduced job satisfaction and productivity, higher rates of absenteeism and employee turnover. Moreover, it can significantly impact the mental health of those subjected to discriminatory practices.

Secretary General of International Economic Association (IEA) and Lead Advisor of the Southeast Asia Region at the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) Lili Yan Ing. PHOTO: ERIA

The repercussions of workplace discrimination extend beyond individuals and can also affect various entities, including international organisations, academic institutions, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which she collectively refers to as “companies et al”.

Companies et al that fail to address discrimination face serious consequences.

“Discrimination can lead to a loss of talent which results in lower productivity and outputs (profits). Companies et al that fail to address discrimination may also face legal action, which can result in costly settlements and damage to the company’s reputation,” she added.

In many ASEAN member countries, Lili shared that the gender wage gap and discrimination are serious problems as women often earn less than men for doing the same job, and this gap ranges from 16 per cent in the Philippines to 34 per cent in Cambodia, due to a combination of factors that include gender stereotypes, occupational segregation, and unequal access to education and training.

“Specifically, in Indonesia, the average monthly wage for women was 25 per cent lower than that of men (BPS, 2021). It also finds that women were more likely to work in low-paying sectors such as agriculture and relatively lower skilled services sector, while men were more likely to work in higher-paying sectors such as finance and mining,” said Lili.

The author additionally stated that only 25 per cent of high-paid managerial and supervisory jobs are held by women in Indonesia, and even in these fields, women remain underpaid compared to men (ILO, 2020).

While the government has made progress in reducing the gender wage gap in the Philippines, Lili noted that significant disparities remain with the average wage for women in the country was 22 per cent lower than that of men, and that women were underrepresented in high-paying sectors such as finance and technology (WEF, 2020). Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has also disproportionately affected women by job losses and reduced working hours not only in ASEAN, but also worldwide.

The author noted at least three underlying factors that stimulate discrimination, and this includes gender stereotypes playing a significant role in perpetuating the wage gap and different treatment in ASEAN; occupational and education segregation that see a concentration of women in low-paying and traditionally female-dominated sectors such as healthcare, education, and social services; as well as unequal access to education and training as women often have less access to education and training than men, which limits their opportunities to acquire the skills and qualifications necessary for higher-paying jobs.

Aside from discrimination against women, Lili also wrote on the discrimination against people with special needs and young workers in a number of ASEAN member countries.

“People with special needs often face barriers to employment and are often paid less than their non-disabled peers. Young workers also often face discrimination in the workplace, including lower wages and denied opportunities for development,” she noted.

As in all other countries, Lili acknowledged that concerted efforts are required to promote gender equality in education, employment and social norms, outlining that companies et al should have clear policies, regulations and procedures in the workplace to prevent discrimination.

“These policies should be communicated clearly and enforced consistently and non-discriminatorily to all employees,” said the author.

She added that hiring and promotion practices should be fair and unbiased, which includes developing job descriptions and requirements that are based on the actual job duties and qualifications needed, rather than personal characteristics such as age or gender. Companies should also ensure that all candidates are evaluated fairly and consistently, and that promotions are based on merit rather than personal biases. Policies should also include reporting mechanisms for employees who experience discrimination, and the company should take all complaints seriously and investigate them promptly.

Second, companies et al should provide facilities for employees with special needs and for working parents. This may include modifications to the physical workspace, such as wheelchair ramps or accessible restrooms, accommodation close to the office, and assistive technology for people with special needs as well as childcare facilities for working parents.

Last, companies et al should strive to create a culture of inclusion, where all employees feel valued and respected. This includes promoting diversity and inclusion in all aspects of the workplace, from the language used in communications to the events and activities offered to employees.

By creating a culture of inclusion, companies and other institutions can help to reduce the likelihood of discrimination occurring in the workplace. This includes implementing anti-discrimination laws and policies, providing equal access to education and training, promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and raising awareness of the harmful effects of discrimination. The author highlighted that it is imperative for governments and civil society to uphold equal opportunities for education and basic human rights for all individuals, as addressing workplace discrimination and the gender wage gap in the ASEAN region becomes crucial to foster social justice and provide equal opportunities to all workers.

To promote equality and inclusivity in the workplace, collaborative efforts between governments, employers, and civil society organisations are essential. These stakeholders must actively work together to eliminate discriminatory practices and policies while actively promoting diversity and inclusion within the workforce.

By joining forces to address workplace discrimination and the wage gap, the author believes we can foster social justice and ultimately achieve a more equitable, inclusive, and prosperous ASEAN region. This requires a collective commitment to creating fair and inclusive work environments where every individual has equal access to opportunities and is treated with respect and dignity.