ISSN: 0368-492X

Article publication date: 1 February 2000




Rudall, B.H. (2000), "Sociocybernetics", Kybernetes, Vol. 29 No. 1.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited



Keywords: Automation, Cybernetics, Research

Participation in organisational change

The European Foundation commissioned a survey in 1996 of 5,800 workplaces in ten European countries. Now a report on the survey based on these survey findings has been made available.

A marked difference in the positions of men and women is a key feature of European workplaces, the foundation tells us, and yet the sexual division of labour is often overlooked in discussions of organisational change. The report shows, however, that innovations in the workplace raise important issues for equal opportunities. While the main focus of the EPOC (employee direct participation in organisational change) was on other aspects of direct participation, this report sets out to analyse the gender dimensions of such initiatives. It provides a fascinating insight into the gender dimensions of direct participation in organisational change. The analysis includes a wealth of material both from the survey itself and in its findings. Sociocyberneticians will agree that the key findings, which are summarised here, will assist in many aspects of their research.

The key findings were:

  • Although men and women are equally involved in the practice of direct participation, this takes place in a context of pronounced horizontal and vertical occupational segregation of the sexes. Women are found in particular industries and occupations, often with poorer working conditions than their male counterparts. Low-skilled and repetitious work, for example, is much more likely to be a characteristic of female-dominated establishments. Similarly, workplaces employing women in large proportions are particularly likely to emphasise their reliance on part-time work. They are also less likely to make large capital investments.

  • Mixed-sex establishments are the most active practitioners of direct participation in organisational change. These are the workplaces which are most likely to practise multiple and/or high-intensity forms of direct participation; they are therefore implementing more integrated forms of organisational change.

  • There is scope for mixed-sex workplaces to improve equal opportunities, through, for example, the introduction of mixed-sex teamwork in gender-typed areas of production and services; the flattening of male-dominated hierarchies; multiskilling for men and women; and the greater utilisation of the social and communication skills of women.

  • Despite this potentially promising scenario, there is no evidence of direct participation being practised with the aim of pressing home equal opportunities objectives in Europe's workplaces. Direct participation has no influence on gender segregation in jobs and working conditions; in some companies, its use even leads to a "de-feminisation" of the labour force.

  • Improvements in economic performance due to organisational change are most likely in male dominated companies.

  • The provision of training for direct participation indicates that equal opportunities objectives are not being strongly pursued. Training is generally provided along gender-stereotyped lines: training in technical skills is mostly offered in male-dominated settings, while "soft" human skills training is most prevalent in female-dominated environments.

Further information about this report from:European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Wyattville Road, Loughlinstown, Co Dublin, Ireland.

Tel: +353 1 2043 100; Fax: +353 1 2826 456/2824 209; E-mail: EF/99/35iEN

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