Gender discrimination in the workplace manifests in many ways, but most visibly in a pay gap that is anywhere for 5-30 percent between men and women. Although laws have been introduced to address gender discrimination in the workplace, it still pervades. Utilitarianism ethics proponents a framework within which to speak to the benefits of ending pay inequality, which are economic in nature.

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Gender discrimination refers to unbalanced treatment or viewpoints of individuals based on their gender. It arises from variances in social, political or economically structured gender roles. In the business setting and world, gender discrimination can manifest in a variety of ways, including unequal pay, sexual harassment and different treatment of women in the social setting of the workplace, like pregnancy or family leave discrimination. The most obvious and measurable of these is unequal pay, which has been addressed in various laws. Such laws include the Civil Rights Acts of 1964: Title VII, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender in employment and Equal Pay Act of 1963, which support equal payment of employees regardless of gender. These laws impact business practices and operations, including how they report pay, how they classify different types of jobs, and how employees are compensated at different levels. While the laws do address unequal pay and other forms of gender discrimination in the workplace, they are not always effective. A good example of this is the Supreme Court Case Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co, in which Ms. Ledbetter claimed that she was being paid less compared to her fellow male co-workers (Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 2006). Ledbetter lost her pay discrimination case in the Supreme Court since her lawsuit was termed to be untimely because she had filed the complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Gender discrimination has no place in the modern-day work environment. All employees at the same career level should be paid equally regardless of their gender. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research says that women only make about 80 percent of men make, and that the gap in wages exists in almost every occupation that is measurable (“Pay Equity & Discrimination”). While the pay gap does vary based on the age group of women in question and the occupation (Patten, 2015), it will still require action. Utilitarianism, which is an ethical theory that focuses on outcomes of one action over another (“Online Guide to Ethics and Moral Philosophy”), applies to gender discrimination well. The utilitarian case for this is that with equal pay, more women will enter the workforce, creating a larger and more skilled workforce that is more competitive and will allow businesses to be more selective in their employment decisions. Because women make up half of the population, there is utility in encouraging that portion of the population to work; with equal pay, more women will enter the workforce. The action of passing legislation that promotes gender equality means there will be better outcomes for both businesses and the overall workforce. According to utilitarianism, it is the consequences or the results of an action, law or policy that determines whether that process is good or bad. Under the law, employers found guilty of gender discrimination should face a consequence, like the heavy penalty of paying back employees for the gap in pay they have experienced and a raise to the correct salary if those employees still work for the company. Related, as good policies start to take effect, companies who practice gender pay equality will be free from the legal burden of punishment.

With equal pay, more women will enter the workforce; this means that businesses will have the ability to be more selective in their hiring decisions. As lawmakers decide to put more effort into policies that promote gender equality, the workforce will grow because more women will be encouraged to join. With more people in the workforce, more skills are available to potential employers. This means businesses can be more selective in employment decisions and pay less in training costs as they hire people who already have applicable skill sets for the vacant positions. The outcome of the action is better and more efficient business practices. Businesses will support legislation that increases their output while potentially cutting costs in training and rehiring processes.

With equal pay, more women will enter the workforce; this means that families will have more sources of income. If legislators decided to move forward with laws that demand equal pay, more women will join the workforce and therefore families will have another source of income. There are many benefits of this. One benefit is that families will be able to spend more, which grows the overall economy. This means the addition of jobs, better stock and investment growth, and more trade. Additionally, with more money, families will be able to pay off debts faster, including student and credit card debt. This means that in the future, those same families will have more disposable income to spend, again growing the economy. With a second income, families can also save more, which means that in the event of an emergency or unexpected expense, they will be prepared to pay for it themselves instead of relying on government assistance. Things like healthcare costs could be reduced if there are not non-paying actors using them; if families are more prepared to take on these expenses themselves, the overall costs of things like healthcare could decrease. All of these benefits reflect the utilitarianism theory, in which outcomes of actions are important and the benefits of those outcomes extend beyond the individual receiving the initial benefit.

Because utilitarianism is generally focused on what does the most good (Driver, 2009), it explains why gender discrimination is not beneficial because of the obvious economic benefits for all when women are more a part of the workforce. Comparatively, duty ethics or deontological ethics do not provide a great solution to gender discrimination. Deontological ethics says that some choices are not moral, not matter the outcome (Alexander & Moore, 2007). Basically, utilitarianism and deontological ethics could both provide solutions to gender discrimination, but it would be difficult to have consensus on deontological ethics solutions because some decisions could be morally wrong but have an outcome that increases the good for a larger group of people or effectively abolishes the need to make that decision again.

  • Alexander, L., & Moore, M. (2007, November 21). Deontological Ethics. Retrieved April 01, 2017, from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-deontological/
  • Driver, J. (2009, March 27). The History of Utilitarianism. Retrieved April 01, 2017, from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/utilitarianism-history/
  • Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. 550 U.S. 618 (2006). Retrieved from https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/05-1074.ZO.html
  • Patten, E. (2015, April 14). On Equal Pay Day, key facts about the gender pay gap. Retrieved April 01, 2017, from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/04/14/on-equal-pay-day-everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-gender-pay-gap/
  • Pay Equity & Discrimination. (n.d.). Retrieved April 01, 2017, from https://iwpr.org/issue/employment-education-economic-change/pay-equity-discrimination/