NUS MNO2302 Individual Paper 2009



National University of Singapore
MNO2302 Human Resource Management
Academic Year 09/10 Semester 1
Individual Paper

Handling gender discrimination at Dell
A research into potential areas for improvement

1. Introduction

With the rise of female power and responsibility at the workplace and society, the issue of gender equality has increased in importance. Women are demanding for equal work opportunities such as equal chances for employment and career advancement. This has thus become the focus of many government agencies and many HR executives.

This is clearly an issue we have to address and any company will definitely come to encounter gender equality issues as more and more women become aware of their rights and the things they can demand. Therefore, it is important that we learn from the experiences of other incidents and companies to think about how we can prevent or solve these gender issues at the workplace.

One of the largely publicized incidents involved the large international company Dell which during its restructuring in the year 2007 and 2008, dismissed ten percent of its workforce in order to cut costs. After this layoff, four former female human resource executives filed a lawsuit alleging unfair layoff processes and female discriminating practices at the workplace (Gross, 2008).

This paper will thus investigate locally, the various reasons and problems that potentially led to this backlash and look into areas of improvement that can be learnt from the incident.

2. Background

During 2007 to 2008, Dell cut its staff by ten percent to improve profits. This amounted to almost nine thousand jobs. This sudden announcement was shocking to the employees of the company and also to the rest of the world. The employees were not ready to accept such a decision at that time.

Shortly after in October 2008, four former human resource executives filed a discrimination lawsuit against Dell. They claimed that the layoff unfairly targeted women and that Dell discriminates against women in pay and promotions (Gross, 2008).

Subsequently, in July 2009, Dell agreed to settle the lawsuit for 9.1 million US dollars (Dell settles discrimination lawsuit for $9.1M, 2009). This illustrates the high costs arising from gender discrimination incidents, which includes litigation costs and also costs of lost reputation. Through these articles we can see that if layoffs are not handled well, they can have serious repercussions. Special attention must be paid to the possibility that employees might feel that they have been unfairly dismissed and steps must be taken to prevent such incidents from happening.

Reviewing the current situation in tackling gender discrimination, we observe that Dell has won numerous awards for encouraging diversity, taking care of racial minorities and also some awards for gender equality (About Dell, 2009). On the surface, it seems that Dell has done much to prevent claims of discrimination at the company. However, the fact that the lawsuit still took place also means that simply having awards is not enough and that there are still inadequacies in the employment policies at Dell.

2. Findings

Research into this issue at Dell was mainly done through an interview with a Dell store manager at the Funan Digitalife mall who requested not to be named. Key findings include a low number of female employees at Dell and also inadequate internal communication of staff performance which can potentially lead to a perception that Dell discriminates against women.

2.1 Low number of female employees

Through the interview with the store manager at the Funan Digitalife mall Dell store, it was found that there were only 2 female employees out of the 10 under his employment. He also revealed that there are no female store managers and all his senior sales staff have been male so far. He also only has one female superior out of the three he reports to. In addition, the article states that only a third of the company’s workforce are women. Thus we can observe that there is indeed a disparity between male and female employment at both lower and higher level positions in Dell.

However during my observational study at the Funan Digitalife mall, I found that most of these computer stores employ mainly males, this may be because of the nature of the industry. Females are generally underrepresented in Singapore’s workforce with a representation ratio of 0.58 in managerial positions and also a ratio of 0.92 in sales related jobs (Table 1). The Dell store manager also commented that there are always few female applicants for sales jobs at Dell.
Therefore, the problem of having less females employed at Dell could likely be attributed to two main reasons. Firstly, the nature of the industry attracts more male employees. In addition, we can also see that Dell does not actively seek to employ female employees and simply lets the situation be, leading to a low number of female employees working at Dell.

2.2 Lack of communication of performance

Through the interview, it was found that there are actually regular performance reviews of the sales staff. These are two pronged, the first criteria is through the sales volume of the salesperson and the second is through customer feedback surveys sent to randomly chosen customers which are then linked back to the individual sales staff to determine their service performance and customer satisfaction. This is a good practice but it is revealed during the interview that most of the time, the results are kept within the system and not distributed to the sales staff.

At higher level positions, similar performance management systems may not even suffice. This is because their jobs are more complex and their performance is harder to gauge. From the lawsuit article, we can see that the four female employees ultimately did not understand why they were actually retrenched and were not given proper explanations as to the decision criteria involved.
This lack of communication at Dell can potentially lead to problems in explaining staffing decisions. In the event of a dismissal of an employee, they may not be given a satisfactory explanation of why such a decision was made. This would lead to the risk of having the employee feel that they have been unfairly treated or in this case, discriminated against.

3. Recommendations

To address the two lacking areas identified above, two different approaches to improving human resource management at Dell is proposed.
The first proposal aims to increase the number of female employees at dell by making the working environment more women friendly. This will lead to a change in the perceptions that female staff have of the company by improving the welfare and career advancement opportunities of all female staff working at Dell.
After correcting the perceptions, the second recommendation proposes that improving communication of employee performance between the company and the employees will prevent employees from feeling they have been unfairly treated.

3.1 Attracting more female employees

As one of the key causes for the perceived discrimination at Dell can be attributed to the low number of female employees, it is recommended that Dell put in place policies that will make the working environment more female friendly in hopes of attracting more female applicants for work positions.

Due to the additional family commitments that a female employee will likely face during her work, Dell should implement a form of flexible work schedule or leave without pay that comes with an assurance of work position. Flexible schedules fit the needs of women more and have also been shown to significantly improve job satisfaction for women over other policies such as child care provisions and work from home strategies (Saltzstein, Ting & Saltzstein, 2001). By implementing this policy, female employees will feel that they are being fairly treated for their needs and will have a better perception towards Dell as an employer.

In order to maximize the number of females working in higher level positions, Dell would also need to implement career development plans for females. Career planning counseling should be given to female employees in order to help them plan for a career that will include a good work-life balance. This is especially important to female employees and also to the company as female employees have more family obligations and research has shown that females may require more planning and support in making career decisions (Hartman, Jenkins, Fuqua & Sutherland, 1987).

Also seen is that the female representation ratio in Singapore is low for job areas such as sales and managerial positions (Table 1). Thus, Dell should actively seek to employ more females in these areas by implementing a quota system that will require a minimum proportion of female employees to be hired. By taking an active role in ensuring a more balanced workforce, Dell would be able to promote itself as a company where male and female employees are equally valued, thus attracting more female applicants for jobs.

3.2 Improving performance feedback system

The second key reason that led to the lawsuit can be attributed to the lack of a proper performance feedback system. Even though there are performance appraisal systems in place, there is no feedback and communication when it comes to the results of these appraisal systems. Therefore, the accessibility of performance appraisal results must be improved at Dell and the processes involved in staffing decisions must be made more transparent.

As Dell already has a current performance appraisal system in place, this should be better utilized in the communications between the employees and Dell. Employees should be allowed to access their own appraisal results in a confidential manner in order for them to understand their own weaknesses and strengths. For each area of appraisal, Dell should calculate a peer average rating and make it publicly available for employees at Dell to evaluate their own performance. This will allow employees to understand their own standing amongst their fellow workers and thus better understand if they encounter any dismissal or retrenchment.

Working hand in hand with an improved performance feedback system would be the recommendation of improving the transparency of the decision processes involved in staffing policies. By showing that all staffing decisions such as promotions and dismissals are based solely on the criteria of merit, the risk of miscommunication between Dell and its employees will be minimized.

A query system for employees to voice their concerns and address their questions is also necessary. Any employee who is discontent with any of the staffing decisions at Dell should be allowed to question the decision and be given a proper explanation. This probably would have prevented the lawsuit seen in the article as the female human resource executives’ concerns would have been properly addressed within the company before it escalated into a public issue.

4. Conclusion

In conclusion, Dell in Singapore may not actually be a company that discriminates against female employees as there is evidence to show that females are generally underrepresented locally (Table 1) and Dell has actually won some awards for encouraging diversity and equality. However, there exist certain inadequacies in Dell’s human resource policies that led to the perception that discrimination exists. This perception is seen to be one of the main reasons why Dell was brought into a costly lawsuit by their former employees in 2008.

Therefore, attention must be focused on ways that Dell or any other company can correct employee perceptions. By publicly implementing policies that increases the number of females employed and also policies that will improve communications between the company and the employees, the chance that the employees will have misunderstandings about gender discrimination at the workplace can be minimized.

References

About Dell: Diversity Awards & Recognition. Retrieved October 27, 2009, from http://www1.ap.dell.com/content/topics/global.aspx/about_dell/values/diversity/awards?~ck=ln&c;=sg&l;=en&lnki;=0&s;=corp
Dell settles discrimination lawsuit for $9.1M. (2009, July 27). Retrieved October 27, 2009, from Austin Business Journal: http://austin.bizjournals.com/austin/stories/2009/07/27/daily1.html
Gross, G. (2008, October 29). Dell hit with discrimination class-action lawsuit. Retrieved October 27, 2009, from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/external/idg/2008/10/29/29idg-Dell-hit-with-d.html
Hartman, B. W., Jenkins, S. J., Fuqua, D. R., & Sutherland, V. E. (1987). An analysis of gender differences in the factor structure of the Career Decision Scale. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 47, 1099-1106.
Occupation segregation: a gender perspective. (2000, April). Retrieved October 27, 2009, from Ministry of manpower: http://www.mom.gov.sg/publish/etc/medialib/mom_library/mrsd/ms.Par.35775.File.tmp/867_op_11.pdf
Saltzstein, A. L., Ting, Y., & Saltzstein, G. H. (2001). Work-family balance and job satisfaction: The impact of family-friendly policies on attitudes of federal government employees. Public Administration Review, 61, 452-467.

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