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The difference between a researcher and a consultant always seems to be less demarcated. Most people think of researchers as people who belong to learning institutions while consultants are typically found in the business environment. Well, while the professionals have some similar roles and attributes and that they might be two different groups with different names and similar roles, there is a difference between what researcher does and what a consultant does in the business context. This essay will evaluate the difference between academic research and business consultancy. This will be achieved by evaluating the study by Ackrill, Caven and Alaktif’s (2017) relevance to business practice.
Ackrill, Caven and Alaktif’s (2017) focus is on gender equality in the workplace and the gap between the policy and practice within the context of the European Union. First, the authors argue that whereas gender equality has been a fundamental principle of the EU’s policy agenda, there has been an uneven attention given by various EU member states and their economies to deliver on this policy agenda. Therefore, from the onset, the researchers take on EU countries’ difference in the implementation of the gender equality agenda, setting a background for their debate.
Upon presenting their thesis, Ackrill, Caven and Alaktif (2017) continue by identifying the construction industry as their case study, from which they want to analyse the issue of gender policy and its practical implementation. Here, the authors use the two concepts of gender and Europeanization to develop a framework through which they explore the existing gap between the policy goals on gender equality and the practical implementation of those policies – based on a comparison between two countries: France and the UK. While this approach seems to be a sophisticated one in achieving their objectives, a reader would question their choice of the UK and France as their comparison case studies, or why they select Europe as their subject context. However, the authors justify their selection for France and the UK by noting that the two countries have contrasting gender equality statistics, especially in the construction sector.
Of usefulness to managers is Ackrill, Caven and Alaktif’s (2017) analysis of gender balance in employment with a focus on the construction industry, which has been considered a male preserve even with the numerous gender equality policies that exist at national and international levels. To give their study a more practical approach (which is useful to managers), Ackrill, Caven and Alaktif (2017) refer to recent policy developments in the UK and France: two countries with the largest construction industries in Europe. By evaluating the recent policy developments as an example, the authors demonstrate their roles as researchers who seek to inform practitioners (through practical examples and illustrations) in a manner that they can easily translate theory into practice.
Moreover, Ackrill, Caven and Alaktif (2017) take a theoretical approach in explaining why they think understanding the gap between policy and practice in gender equality is important and should be taken with great urgency. For instance, they inform HR practitioners in the construction industry about existing research proving that Europe is behind Latin America and Asia in terms of women in senior and junior job positions. They also highlight existing evidence that Europe has not made any significant change since the 19th Century in terms of the number of women employed in professional and operational roles. By disclosing these statistics and interpreting them in layman's language, Ackrill, Caven and Alaktif (2017) play their roles as researchers who inform practitioners on the situation as it is – for purposes of making informed decisions. While the authors use these statistics to support their argunment, they also call human resource practitioners to action.
Performing a critical evaluation of existing policy debates was a useful approach taken by the authors in exploring the issue at hand. By exploring the policy debates, the study creates a better understanding of the gender equality problem through existing research evidence on various labour market outcomes of gender balance and other questions about gender equality. Furthermore, Ackrill, Caven and Alaktif (2017) use the empirically proven approach of reporting construction labour market issues (adopted from the human resource management) to highlight the various policy debates – making it easier for HR managers to effectively follow the discourse and relate with it on a practical sense. This helps to move the discourse from theory to practice.
More importantly, the study by Ackrill, Caven and Alaktif (2017) takes a scientific approach to identify policy and practise gaps by applying policy science to explain the mechanism behind the gap in the transposition of EU gender equality initiatives into policy at a continental level. They do so by linking the Europeanism and gender debates and drawing on HRM and policy science; creating a sector-specific focus knowledge that can easily be translated into practice. This is a significant step in ensuring that they effectively frame their analysis of the processes in a manner that is easily understandable and applicable. To this end, it is plausible to claim that Ackrill, Caven and Alaktif (2017) have used effective approaches to ensure that they make their argument in the simplest and most applicable manner – enabling an easier transfer of the knowledge from theory to practice.
Ackrill, Caven and Alaktif (2017) successfully identify what should happen in the construction sector to create better gender equal working environment while challenging their proposition with an evaluation of empirical evidence of what is happening in the industry. Indeed, this creates a contrast whereby HR managers can compare the desired outcomes with the actual outcomes (in terms of gender equality) to identify the gap. In doing so, Ackrill, Caven and Alaktif (2017) suggest to HR practitioners that they have failed to promote diversity and equality, and this can not only lead to penalties of policy non-compliance but also economic consequences including employee turnover and reputational damage. This calls the managers to action.
An area of gender equality explored by Ackrill, Caven and Alaktif (2017) that is important to the practice of HRM is the industry level implementation of diversity initiatives in the construction industry. Here, the authors begin by remarking that while the problems faced by women are starting to be understood, they are being understood from different perspectives of women in the industry. The authors further refer to various pieces of research evidence on how institutions are conspicuously not playing their role in influencing policy outcomes.
To make their argument more practical, Ackrill, Caven and Alaktif (2017) argue that both the UK and French construction industries have done little in terms of promoting gender equality. Furthermore, they observe that whereas small gains have been made by French companies between 1993 and 2013, the UK figures are continuing to dwindle. These remarks point to the role of research in promoting evidence-based practice. Based on these remarks, managers can make informed decisions on how to increase their efforts towards gender equality. Moreover, it is through such research-based comparisons that HR managers or consultants can know exactly how to invest in gender equality. Once again, there is a demonstration of research as an embodiment of theory, while consultancy is demonstrated as a transfer of theory into practice. The HR managers are supposed to use this research evidence in developing practical strategies for addressing gender inequality.
One of the significant roles of researchers is to assess the current situation and give recommendations for practice. On the other hand, consultants’ main role is to develop implementation strategies that are evidence (research) based. To demonstrate this, Ackrill, Caven and Alaktif (2017) studied existing initiatives meant to attract women workers into the construction industry and identified a discrepancy between France and the UK. Here, the researchers reveal that in France, women’s workplace rights are advocated for through industry associations, which are single professional bodies that are legally registered.
Rather than professional bodies that focus on one profession, women’s rights in the construction industry are advocated for by a professional body representing women from different professions and consists of more than 3000 members. Contrastingly, in the UK, several fragmented professional bodies represent women in the construction industry and do not seem to have a high-priority concern, and thus not effective in facilitating better gender equality advocacy. This illustration gives a practical comparison between professional bodies in the UK and that in the US, as well as the practical implications for having the professional bodies structured that way.
From a critical perspective, researchers solve problems, and so do consultants. In the same way, while Ackrill, Caven and Alaktif (2017) have identified the problem of gender in and proposed various ways of solving this, an HR consultant would also identify the problem and solve it. However, the two parties would take a different approach – or play different roles in solving this problem. For example, Ackrill, Caven and Alaktif (2017) have identified that the position of women in the UK and France construction workforce have largely been neglected overtime despite the various EU-led policy initiatives to achieve better results. But they have tried to solve the problem by evaluating two distinct yet complementary pieces of literature from human resource management and policy science to understand the factors that act as barriers in implementing EU-led policies at national levels. This implies that the researchers have solved the problem by just unpacking the issues and explaining them in more practical language, rather than initiating the managerial actions towards filling the gaps. They have just provided more evidence upon which an HR consultant would base their decisions as they attempt to practically solve the problem.
Ideally, Ackrill, Caven and Alaktif (2017) have identified three categories of challenges that prevent the enactment of EU-led gender equality policies namely: challenges in enacting the EU-led initiatives at the national level, challenges associated with the enactment of the policies from the government level into the industry level, and challenges associated with the enactment of the policies within the industry. These challenges, as they are, provide a structure for HR consultants and other relevant stakeholders to work towards building the gender-equal construction industry.
In more practical terms, research by Ackrill, Caven and Alaktif (2017) have identified a mismatch between the European idea of gender equality and the various initiatives developed to increase women participation in the construction industry as employees. It is, therefore, upon HR consultants in the industry to redesign these initiatives and align them to the problem being solved. Again, this demonstrates the idea that whereas researchers are more interested in theories, consultants are more interested in translating the theories into practice.
Nonetheless, Ackrill, Caven and Alaktif (2017) have also concluded that the gap between EU-led gender equality policies and the enactment of those policies in the UK’s construction industry is created by a lack of growth in the number of women employed in the construction industry. It is therefore upon HR consultants and other industry stakeholders responsible for recruitment to develop recruitment models and approaches that would see more number of female employees recruited in the industry.
In conclusion, this essay has reviewed the study by Ackrill, Caven and Alaktif (2017) and identified various pieces of research evidence that are of important implication to HR consultants or practitioners – including the challenges that prevent the enactment of EU-led gender equality policies in the construction industry. More importantly, this essay has demonstrated the ‘thin’ difference between researchers and consultants by establishing that whereas they both identify and solve problems, researchers are more interested in providing the theoretical solutions to the problem while consultants are more interested in translating those theoretical solutions into practice.
Ackrill, R., Caven, V. and Alaktif, J. (2017) ‘“Black Boxes” and “fracture points”: the regulation of gender equality in the UK and French construction industries’, International Journal of Human Resource Management,28(21), pp. 3027–3046. doi: 10.1080/09585192.2016.1277366.
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