Wage Differences at Robert Hall
The Robert Hall Clothes, Inc. in Wilmington, Delaware are paying men and women different wages for essentially the same job. This is morally wrong because it is gender discrimination.
A. The management of Robert Hall learned in 1973 that it was entirely legal for them to pay male salespersons more than female salespersons. Management feels that it is okay to pay women clerks less, because the commodities that they sell cannot bring in the same profit margins as the commodities the men sell. The women argue that selling costs and profit margins do not matter, because the skills, efforts, and responsibilities required of all clerks are “substantially” the same. Also, the women are not allowed to work in the men’s department or vice versa, which means they do not have an opportunity to make as much as the men.
The management of Robert Hall must decide if women and men should be paid the same wages. If they decide not to pay the women clerks the same wages, then the morale of the women workers will decline and some women clerks might quit. Management should make a decision quickly, before women boycott their department stores.
B. The primary ethical value at stake is equality. Robert Hall is discriminating against the women employees by paying them less than men and not allowing them to work in the men’s department. Kant’s philosophy states that everyone should be treated as a free person equal to everyone else. It appears that Robert Hall is not treating their female clerks equal to the male clerks.
Another ethical issue to consider along with equality is that of fairness. The management of Robert Hall is not being fair in distributing the goods of the company. The women employees have the same responsibilities, skills, and efforts as the men, if not more. Rawls’s philosophy assumes that a productive society will incorporate inequalities in distributing the goods. Also, Rawls’s theory states that everyone should have an equal opportunity to qualify for the more privileged positions in society’s institutions, which the women clerks do not have.
A. In deciding whether to increase female clerks’ wages or not to increase them, the management of Robert Hall needs to evaluate the company’s distribution system and the fairness of the principles used in that system. They also need to analyze where the company draws the line between legally okay and morally okay according to company policy. According to Rawls, management must choose an alternative that will not discriminate on the basis of gender and improves the position of the least advantaged without making everyone else worse off to be morally right.
One option for management is not to change the wages of the female employees. Robert Hall knows that it is legally okay to have different wages, so they do not have to change anything. Management may not find it beneficial or necessary to increase women’s wages given the data at hand. Another option for management is to increase the wages of female clerks to equal or nearly equal the wages of the male clerks. The morale of the female clerks will probably increase if management raises their wages. Management must analyze the impact the wage difference has on female clerks and evaluate the benefits and costs of changing the wage. The company should also take into consideration its own policy on equality.
B. The first alternative is supported by the legal obligation Robert Hall Clothes Inc. has to their employees. According to a 1973 supreme court ruling, Robert Hall does not have to pay men and women equal. This was based on the fact that the men sell higher and more expensive quality commodities than the women. The company cannot sell higher and more expensive quality commodities in the women’s department, because there is too much competition in the area. In management’s eyes, the equality of female and male wages is equal on the basis of the commodities sold and to the wages of similar department stores in the area. Since management is paying the going wage of the area, the female clerks’ wages are fair. From a utilitarian perspective, not increasing the wages provides management with the greatest benefits or least costs, because their expenses are at a minimum and profits are at a maximum.
On the other hand, not changing the wages of women salespeople will damage management’s relationship with women employees. According to ethics of care, management has an obligation to exercise special care toward those persons with whom they have a valuable and close relationship. The relationship between management and female clerks is one of interdependency. Management needs the female clerks to sell their goods to gain a profit and female clerks need the job to support their family. If management does not increase female wages, then the motivation and morale of those clerks will most likely decline.
The second alternative is to increase the wages of women clerks and indicate the company’s policy on equality. This alternative will meet the requirements of equality, fairness, and ethics of care. The women clerks make a good point about the responsibilities, efforts and skills required of male and female salespersons. If both genders have essentially the same levels in all three categories, then they should be paid similarly. If the salary structure within Robert Hall is to be fair, “workers who roughly do similar work should receive roughly similar wages” (page 440). I believe that a fair distribution system should incorporate work duties, responsibilities, and skills into the system.
On the other hand, this course of action will most likely increase the company’s costs and expenses, which would reduce total profits. Plus, this alternative may require a small reduction in male clerks’ wages, which would harm management’s relationship with those employees. But it is more important to provide a work environment based on equality, fairness, and good relationships.
A. My recommendation is that management increases the wages of female clerks and indicates the importance of equality within the company.
B. I believe this alternative is the most ethical. It is consistent with Rawls’s theory of justice, ethics of care, and it establishes organizational integrity. The management of Robert Hall should allow ethical values to shape and drive their enterprise instead of legal compliance. The best approach is to combine the concern for obeying the law and behaving ethically. Just because the wage difference is legal it does not mean it is morally right. If Robert Hall wants to maintain a good relationship with their employees, then they should focus on the ethical values the company and their employees believe are important. In this case, the salespersons value equality and fairness.
The increase in female wages will make management’s relationship with female salespersons stronger and indicate to all employees that equality and fairness are important. I expect this change to improve the morale and motivation of the female workers, because they will feel that they are being treated equally and fairly. If the men salespeople make a little bit more than the women after the increase, then there will still be an issue of equality. The women would not be able to make as much as the men, because of the segregation of the departments. In this situation, I believe that the women should have an opportunity to work in the more privileged positions at Robert Hall.
When management informs the employees of the change in wages, they must be clear and specific as to why they decided to change it. They need to emphasize the importance of ethical values, especially those of equality and fairness. It is important that management tell the employees that the company’s distribution system incorporates equality and fairness. Also, the employees should be told the process in which the new wage was established. For example, maybe management used comparable worth in deciding on the increases. Also, if management had to reduce the male clerks’ wages to bring up the female wages, then they need to be prepared to deal with angry male clerks.
When dealing with angry male clerks, management needs to emphasize issues of equality and fairness. The best approach to helping the men understand is to ask them how they would feel if they were the women clerks. The men probably would not want lower wages for doing essentially the same job. Management will most likely not have to deal with angry male clerks, because they seem to have enough profit to cover the increase. Also, management can gradually increase women wages to reduce the impact on the company’s financial situation.
Another issue that management might have to deal with is equal opportunity for the more privileged positions. This will only be an issue if male salespersons have a higher wage after the increase in female wages. Since equality and fairness are key ethical values to the employees and hopefully the company as well, management will have to desegregate the departments. In other words, women should be able to work in the men’s department and vice versa.
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