According to Mogelonsky (1995), “Techno-gurus say that telecommuting – riding the information highway instead of the paved one – is the way of the future” (p. 15).
Approximately nine million Americans telecommuted from home in 1994. Millions more telecommuted from virtual offices and telework centers; another million were expected to join their ranks by the end of 1995. Clearly, a vast number of workers and employers are making telecommuting work for the employees, employers, and society as a whole.
Many people of both sexes who have chosen to leave traditional corporate environments have established home offices. Sharell (1995) has noted that working from home has become increasingly popular for women. This would imply that women are gaining a sense of empowerment over their jobs and personal lives, but is this true or has telecommuting been unfair to women? Is this simply another case of exploitation, perpetuating the view that “the woman’s place is in the home,” which has been established and maintained by a male-dominated society through a totalitarianism ethic that has discovered a means of dominating women from within and excluding them from economic success through the use of the apparatus of coercion? Is this a way to ensure that women retain their housewife and childcare status, while at the same time remain corporate employees at lower levels of service? The purpose of this paper is support these views through a review of appropriate research studies and investigative reports.
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It is first important to note that no clear and definitive studies were found that provided empirical evidence of the percentage of males and females who telecommute, complete with a gender breakdown of different job opportunities and areas of service. Such research would provide support to the belief that significantly more women in service-oriented and sales jobs telecommute as compared to men. It would also support the contention that women are being excluded from the more lucrative jobs, more-or-less maintaining their “clerical,” “sales,” and “secretarial” status. Most studies that were found focused on the reasons why people telecommute, the barriers that exist at the corporate management level and translate in terms of attitudes and myths, and tips on how to successfully make a life while making a living or working smarter (Berner, 1994; Mogelonsky, 1995; Struck, 1995).
Also, no studies were found that have empirically distinguished between telecommuting as a corporate employee and independent home-based businesses, such as those conducted on the Internet.
General approximations of those in the workforce who telecommute via the Internet were discovered, however. Smith (1995), for example, cites examples to support her view that there are two conflicting trends associated with Internet telecommuting. In the world of high technology, engineering, programming, and management information systems (MIS), males dominate the telecommuting opportunities. In the world of marketing and advertising, however, women appear to be more equal in number. When a shift takes place from an MIS focus to becoming marketing-driven, a correlation in gender shift will occur. Her study implies a continuing gender stratification in Internet technologically-based jobs that are available which, in turn, appears to supports the totalitarian ethic of male domination in the higher paying jobs market as applied to telecommuting.
However, from a different point of view, the Internet has served to level the playing field for women who engage in their own home business. Smith (1995) has acknowledged that there is a lack of gender on the net. The new information frontier is being peopled with virtual settlers, currently termed “the virtual community,” who use the Internet as a combination postal system and asynchronous telephone network. Women pose as men and vice versa; the shy appear aggressive; those with lower self-esteem bolster their inner view of self by successfully conducting business on the Internet without the influence of gender stereotyping. What are the ethics of this phenomenon? Some believe that the utilization of cyberspace constitutes a new learning process. Others view it as an escape from reality. Whatever the view, women in home-based Internet businesses do not have to contend with the stereotyped corporate image that has kept them from attaining success in the executive suite.
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Studies have also indicated that ethical decisions have and continue to emanate from the top of the corporate ladder (Card, 1991).
Decisions regarding truth, justice and conscience in the corporate world of conflict derive from a mostly male-dominated population (Miller, 1992).
Because of this domination, ethical technology decisions made at higher corporate levels are based on assumptions about the company’s inherent economic benefits associated with male workers. This, in turn, significantly influences which jobs are offered to men and which to women who wish to telecommute.
Consequenialism is also a concern in any discussion of ethical computer-related corporate economic decisions that have a significant bearing on women’s status, self-identity, self-esteem, prestige, and exploitation, among other factors. Computers, like other fundamental technology, offer certain opportunities while blocking others, thus altering the course of corporate history not unlike the way political change can open a new path in social development, while at the same time closing many alternatives. But computer technology per se differs from corporate use of technology for economic concerns because changes brought about by technology are ostensibly the products of reason. Therefore, they are much less commonly questioned concerning the consequences.
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There are vast and far-reaching ethical consequences to the corporation’s use of technology for telecommuting purposes due to the differences between male and female mind-sets and attitudes. The literature has indicated that, as a result of the male-dominated techo-decision making for economic corporate gain, women continue to be slotted into clerical, secretarial, and sales jobs. Thus, their inner sense of self-esteem continues to be impacted. The consequences of such decision making also acts as a deterrent to any woman’s endeavor to successfully climb the corporate ladder to attain better pay, status and dignity.
It is clear to see that modern technology has again affected the working environment in negative terms for female employees and workers. Computer technology, especially as applied to the new area of telecommuting, has simply multiplied, extended, and intensified the consequences of male-dominated human action. It is just as clear that the new technology is not simply used by men and women who remain outside of it. Today’s technology encompasses and carries attitudes, myths, totalitarian views, and ethical concerns into new realms of experience.
The purpose of this report was to support the contention that women are afforded the same lesser economic status and lower positions in the corporation they have always had as a result of the advent of computer technology in terms of telecommuting. The studies that were included in the review supported this view. While telecommuting has recently become one of the more feasible solutions to corporate cost-cutting problems, it has not appeared to enhance the status, dignity, and self-esteem of women in the workplace. Managers continue to extol the virtues of telecommuting and have remained dedicated to its cause. However, the position of women has remained unchanged for those who continue to serve the company and have not struck out on their own via the Internet. It would seem for women that the domestic environment has once again become the primary site of the intersection of corporate and private realms. These realms have appeared to collapse into one another with the penetration of the work ethic into the home by means of telecommuting devices.
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The validity of this report can easily be challenged on the basis of the number of reports included and the lack of specificity of empirical data. Indeed, the conclusion can even be challenged on the basis of subjectivity. But it would seem that the conclusion is more than a straw in the wind; it appears to coincide with everyday experience in the world of work and with ethics in place in the corporate world of today.
Berner, Jeff (1994).
The joy of working from home: Making a life while making a living. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Card, Claudia (1991).
Feminist ethics. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press.
Miller, Richard W. (1992).
Moral differences: Truth, justice and conscience in a world of conflict. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Mogelonsky, Marcia (1995, June 1).
Myths of telecommuting. American Demographics, 17, pp. 15.
Sharell, Janine (1995, December 20).
Women increasingly lured to home-based business. Web posted CNNfn Archives (http://www.cnnfn.com/mybusiness/9512/home.work).
Smith, Kim J. (1995, September 7).
Women on the Net. Web posted Internet Marketing Discussion List Archive (http://www.popco.com/hyper/inetarchive/September-15-21-1995/0071.html).
Struck, Nancy (1995).
Working smarter from home: Your day – your way. Menlo Park, CA: Crisp Publishers.