The role of women and minorities in the twenty-first century American work place continues to develop.
For centuries, women have served their families—preparing food, making clothes, and performing other functions—to make homes for their husbands and children. As times changed and economic opportunities moved from the farms to the factories, the roles of women began to evolve. Instead of staying home and producing goods for the family, women began looking for jobs outside the home. While many women worked in traditionally "female" occupations such as teaching and nursing, many women began working in factories or low-paying clerical and labor jobs. The industrial revolution forever changed the way the American economy operated, and with that change, more women chose to work and supplement family income.
Additionally, the demographic mix within the twenty-first century workplace has become much more diverse because many workers now entering the workforce are neither white, male, nor English speaking. People of color continue to increase their share of the labor force. The rates of growth for these groups are projected to be faster than the rate for whites.
In 1950 only about one in three women participated in the labor force. By 1998, approximately three out of every five women of working age were in the labor force. By 2003, close to 60 percent of all women aged sixteen and older were in the labor force. The U.S. Department of Labor projects this figure will continue to increase at a slower rate reaching and is projected to reach nearly 63 percent by the year 2015.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, women made up less than 20 percent of the United State labor force. By 1950, this percentage increased to 33.9 percent. By the year 2000, women comprised more than 46 percent of the civilian labor force. Therefore, within the roughly the past fifty years the number of women in the American workforce has multiplied by more than 240 percent. As of February 2005, there were almost 67 million women employed in the civilian labor force. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that women over the age of twenty participated in the workforce at a rate of 62 percent in 2004. Furthermore, the increase of women participating in the workforce will cover many racial groups, with women of color enjoying the fastest growth rate.
Interestingly, however, the rate of growth of women in the labor force has slowed somewhat during the last decade of the twentieth century. One cultural shift that appears to be contributing to this curiosity is the renewed emphasis on marriage and family. Tradition has held that men were expected to be the primary wage earners of the family, while women were expected to make the home. Renewed societal emphasis on these traditional roles for men and women during the 1990s has arguably placed greater pressure on men to work to support their families and placed greater pressure on women to stay at home. Some researchers attribute the slower growth rate to factors such as increased educational attainment by married women, the recession of the early 1990s, a rising birthrate, and a slowdown in women's return to work after giving birth. While these conditions have not led to lower unemployment rates for men or higher unemployment rates for women, it does appear they are be contributing to the slower employment growth rate for women.
While the employment growth rate for women appears to be slowing, minority labor force participation is expected to continue to increase especially for non-white Hispanics. For example, Hispanics are predicted to be the second largest group in 2025, accounting for 17 percent of the total labor force. Furthermore, as of 2000, Hispanics have a larger share of the market than African Americans, 13 percent versus 12.7 percent. The share of African Americans in the labor force is expected to increase by only 1.8 percent during the same time period. Asians and other people of color would account for 8 percent of the labor force in 2025. Hispanics and Asians, therefore, will continue to be the two fastest growing groups.
Historically, women have endured higher rates of unemployment than men; however, this trend appears to be changing. Through the first quarter of 2005, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for women ages twenty and over was 3.9 percent, while the average rate for men in the same age range was 4.1 percent. The unemployment rate for African American women was higher, averaging 9.1 percent for the first quarter of 2005, while African American men were unemployed at a rate 10.9 percent.
The biggest percentage of women employed in the United States labor force are working in technical, sales, and administrative support occupations. Despite the increase of women working in professions that have traditionally been male-dominated, such as engineering, construction, athletics, truck driving, mortuary science, and law enforcement, most women still tend work in traditionally "female" occupations. However, one of the most significant changes that took place in the twentieth century was the rise of women managers. In 1900, only 4.4 percent of managers were women. By 2000, 46 percent of all managers were women, a tenfold increase. By 2002, 34 percent of working women were in a managerial or processional occupation. However, both women professionals and women managers are clustered in certain specialty areas. In 2002, nearly 50 percent of women workers were employed in three occupational groups—sales, services, and administrative support. As example, only 11 percent of engineers were women, but 98 percent of preschool and kindergarten teachers were women. Furthermore, only 19 percent of dentists were women, whereas 93 percent of registered nurses were women. Therefore, women are still underrepresented in many professions and overrepresented in others.
Businesses owned by women are increasing in terms of quantity, diversity, and impact on the American economy. In 2003, over 38 percent of self-employed persons were women and about almost 6 percent of employed women were self-employed. Furthermore, women-owned businesses employ over nineteen million people in the United States or 1 in every 7 employed persons nationwide according to figures published by the Center for Women's Business Research. As of 2004 there were 10.6 million women-owned businesses in the United States. Job growth provided by women-owned businesses has exceeded the national averages in almost every major industry. Between 1997 and 2004 the number of businesses owned by women increased by 24 percent compared to 12 percent for all firms. Among the industries that have experienced the most dramatic growth in women-owned businesses are construction, manufacturing, wholesale trade, transportation, and communication. This growth in businesses owned by women has exploded despite the fact that female entrepreneurs generally have lower levels of credit available to them than businesses owned by men.
Many of the businesses owned by women are home-based. By 2002, 66 percent of all home-based businesses were owned by women. These businesses are changing the face of business since they enable many women to balance work and family commitments at home while fulfilling their business objectives.
The combination of increased cultural and governmental pressure for corporations to add women to their boards has resulted in an increase of women seated on corporate boards. As of 2003, 89 percent of the corporate boards in the Fortune 500 had at least one female director. Nonetheless, women still only accounted for 13.6 percent of all corporate board members in 2003. Further, the same women often hold several of these seats on different corporate boards.
Although minorities have been entering the workforce in record numbers, their attempts to reach the top of the corporate ladder have been disappointing. For example, an examination of the Fortune 1000 companies reveals that only 3 percent have an African American on their Board of Directors. Only 1.97 percent of Fortune 1000 board seats are held by Hispanics and Hispanic women hold only three tenths of all Fortune 1000 board seats. That is just 34 out of 10,314 seats. In addition, only seven Hispanic women serve as executive officers at Fortune 1000 companies.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 was enacted as an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Equal Pay Act forbids employers from paying employees different wages or salaries based on sex. The act mandates that employers may not pay men and women different wages if their jobs require equal skills, effort, and responsibilities and occur in the same work environment. If men and women in the same jobs do receive different pay, their pay must be equalized by raising the lower pay rather than lowering the higher pay. The Equal Pay act specifies four instances in which differences in pay are permitted: (1) under a seniority system; (2) under a merit system; (3) under a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or (4) under a differential system based on any other factor besides sex.
The act is administered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). To ensure enforcement, employers are required to keep records documenting employee hours, pay rates, job descriptions, and other relevant information. If employers violate the act, they may be required to pay back wages and possible punitive damages.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in hiring, firing, promotion, assignment, and other treatment of persons in the workplace based on race, color, national origin, religion, or sex. Title VII applies to both public and private employers, employment agencies, and labor unions with fifteen or more employees or members. As with the Equal Pay Act, the EEOC administers enforcement of Title VII (Civil Rights Act of 1964).
In addressing claims, the courts have held that sex discrimination under Title VII refers to discrimination based on gender and not related to sexual orientation. In addition, while Title VII does not ban discrimination based on marital status, there are many state laws that forbid such discrimination.
Subjecting women to sexual harassment in the work place is considered a form of sex discrimination under Title VII. Generally, there are two primary forms of sexual harassment: quid pro quo, and hostile environment. Under the quid pro quotype of sexual harassment, a victim (usually a woman) is either promised a reward (i.e., pay raise, promotion, etc.) in exchange for sexual favors, or threatened with punishment for not complying with sexual requests. These requests can be expressed or implied.
Under the hostile environment theory, the employer is charged with creating conditions, or allowing others in the work place to create conditions, that make the work environment extremely unpleasant or hostile for the victimized employee(s) (usually women). The types of activities that may contribute to a hostile work environment include: displaying sexually suggestive pictures; using offensive or sexually suggestive language; discussing sexual activities; talking about a person's physical characteristics; inappropriate touching, etc.
Employers have a legal obligation to prevent either type of sexual harassment from occurring in the work place. Businesses usually establish detailed policies to try to prevent sexual harassment situations from arising in the work place.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was amended in 1978 by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which bans discrimination against women in employment because of pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. This act provides that women covered by the law "shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes, including receipt of benefits under fringe benefit programs."
President Lyndon B. Johnson issued Executive Order 11246 in 1965. This order mandates that companies who do business ($10,000 or more annually) with the federal government must take affirmative actions to increase the representation of women and minorities in their employment ranks. If a company in question does more than $50,000 of annual business with the federal government, its affirmative action plan must be in writing.
Enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor, the Family and Medical Leave Act applies to private employers with fifty or more employees and to all governmental employers, and requires employers to provide up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave to employees who have undergone childbirth; adoption; personal illness or injury; or illness or injury of a child, parent or spouse. During the leave period, the employee's health benefits must remain intact. Once the employee returns from the unpaid leave, the employee is entitled to return to the same or comparable position.
Despite the progress women made during the twentieth century, differences remain in the average pay of men and women. Although between 1979 and 2003 the earnings gap between women and men narrowed significantly, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women still earned seventy-nine cents to every dollar earned by men in 2003. Women's earnings tend to rise with the level of education they possess; for example, in 2003 women with a college degree earned approximately $800 per week compared to $320 for those with less than a high school diploma.
In addition, white women earned 15 percent more than African American women and 38.3 percent more than Hispanic women as of 2003. Nevertheless, the gender gap in terms of earnings is not as dramatic among African Americans and Hispanics. Both African American and Hispanic women earned 88 percent of their male counterparts in 2003. Within different occupational categories, there are notable gender differences in terms of pay; for example, in professional specialty occupations have earnings that are about 75 percent of those of men. This difference is due partly to women's concentration in lower-paying professional occupations such as nursing and teaching. In the professional and related occupations, women are much less likely to work in some of the highest paying fields, such as engineering and computer and math related fields.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 99 out of every 100 women will work for pay in the United States at some point in their lives. Further, the number of families in which a woman is the head of the household and no male spouse is present is continuing to rise. In 2003, women were the primary bread-winners in over 22 percent of all families in the United States, and 72 percent of these female heads of households were employed. Furthermore, the proportion of married-couple families in which only the wife worked rose to 6.8 percent in 2003. With so many women in the workforce—both single mothers and married women—many of these women were concerned with balancing work with pregnancy and child-care issues.
Despite the increasing need for child care as more mothers work outside the home, very few companies have policies for dealing with working parents who need outside child care. Although it is still common for women to quit their jobs or delay advancement at work because of child bearing, many women appear to be setting aside motherhood in pursuit of the executive suite. A 2001 nationwide survey of high-earning career women found that 33 percent of them are childless at ages 40–55. However, a survey of 187 of Fortune Magazine's Most Powerful Women in Business found that 72 percent were mothers. In fact, as of 2003 nearly three-quarters of all mothers were in the labor force including more than 60 percent of those women with children under the age of three. Therefore, working women continue to be plagued by the challenge of balancing work and family roles. Historically, women have taken less demanding, lower paying jobs, and it is often the case that the structures, habits, values, and atmospheres of work become organized around the availability of women whose top priority is their children.
In addition to the challenge of finding childcare, some working women are forced to face the issue of pregnancy discrimination. Despite the fact that the courts have banned pregnancy discrimination as a form of sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, working women are still dealing with the problem. In 2004, 4,512 women who claimed that they were discriminated against as a result of pregnancy filed charges with the EEOC. Of the claims that were found to have merit, employers were forced to pay over $11 million in damages (not including litigation).
The increasing number of women in the work place has generated a demand for alternative work schedules. Since women have traditionally operated as managers of the household and primary caretakers for their children, they have often required greater flexibility in their work schedules to balance work and family obligations. Alternative work schedules have attempted to offer the dual benefit of providing women with flexible schedules to meet their family obligations while enabling employers to benefit from the work women have to offer. Generally, alternative work schedules can take several forms: (1) flexible work schedules, (2) compressed work schedules, and (3) job-sharing. Each of these types of work arrangements represents a departure from the traditional fixed schedule of 8 hours per day, 5 days per week, beginning and ending at the same time each day.
Flexible work schedules allow an employee to determine her own schedule within specified parameters. Employers may allow employees to vary their starting and ending time daily or to adhere to a predetermined fixed starting and ending time. Under a system of compressed work schedules, full-time employees may still work forty-hour weeks; however, they may work four 10-hour days and take one day a week off. Another arrangement may exist when an employee works four 9-hour days and one 4-hour day.
Job sharing is where two employees share the same job; these two employees may alternate days, or one may work mornings and the other works afternoons. Employers are under no obligation to offer alternative work schedules; however, many employers are recognizing that it is in their interest to offer some such arrangement in order to avoid alienating a valuable segment of the workforce. Alternative work schedules allow employers to attract female employees who can make significant contributions to the company while fulfilling their family commitments at the same time.
In 2003, 25 percent of all female salary workers worked fewer than 35 hours per week. In contrast, only 11 percent of employed men worked part time.
Despite legislative and judicial efforts to minimize incidences of sexual harassment at work, it is still a significant problem for women in the work place. In 2004 a total of 13,136 claims of sexual harassment were filed with EEOC and with the state and local Fair Employment Practices agencies around the country that have a work-sharing agreement with the Commission. Of these complaints, women filed 84.9 percent of them. The damages awarded based on many of these claims (not including awards from litigation), totaled approximately $37.1 million.
Employers have clear incentives to prevent sexual harassment from occurring in the work place; the courts have determined that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Employers found guilty of sexual harassment or allowing it to occur can be forced to pay substantial damages. Beyond the legal and monetary penalties, companies can suffer because sexual harassment can lead to lower productivity, absenteeism, employee turnover, poor morale, and devastating publicity for the company.
Despite the growing number of women in the labor force, women are still struggling to completely infiltrate the ranks of managers and executives. In the executive suite, women made up 15.7 percent of corporate officers in the Fortune 500 in 2002. In 2003, they held 13.6 percent of board seats in the same companies. But their actual numbers, compared to the percentage of women in the workforce, are still insignificant.
In a similar fashion, many minorities have topped out at entry or mid-level management positions. In 2003, African Americans hold less than 1 percent of the senior-level corporate positions in America's 1000 largest companies despite equal opportunity and affirmative action programs.
While the numbers of women entering the workforce and rising to management are growing, women still have trouble advancing past middle-level management positions. Even many women who do rise above middle management find it difficult to secure a position at the top of the organizational structure. Many observers describe this as a "glass ceiling" acting as a barrier between women and the top-level positions they are striving for.
For years minorities have faced these same invisible, subtle, yet very real institutional barriers to promotions into higher level executive positions. The belief that minority groups reach organizational plateaus consisting of artificial barriers that derail them from senior management opportunities has been alternately termed "the brick wall." These barriers found in the structure of many organizations have often stymied the advancement of these select employee groups.
It has also been suggested that as a consequence of occupational sex segregation, many women confront "glass elevators" rather than "glass ceilings." Of the executive positions held by women most are in non-manufacturing companies and positions placing emphasis on employee relationships. In addition, recent research suggests that the "glass cliff" may have replaced the "glass ceiling" for some women. It is suggested that women managers in the public sector seem to be more at risk than their male counterparts.
Nonetheless, both women and businesses continue to wrestle with issues related to these "glass" phenomena. While the existence of these barriers has been acknowledged for at least a decade, their persistence indicates that efforts to break them have been largely unsuccessful. Among the advice that women have been given to help break through the glass ceiling are: exceed performance expectations; develop a style with which male managers are comfortable; look for challenging assignments; and find influential mentors. Additionally, removing these gender barriers may make good business sense. The "glass ceiling" may lead to disillusionment and higher turnover among very capable women. Also, if irrelevant factors are used to exclude women from the top management positions, all employees may begin to assume that similar extraneous factors would affect their future progress in an organization.
As more women reach the upper levels of management and start their own businesses, the odds increase that women will have increased opportunities at all levels of business. Nonetheless, U.S. corporations still have a tremendous distance to travel before women can say that they enjoy equal opportunity in the workplace.
Patricia A. Lanier
Arfken, D.E., S.L. Bellar, and M.M. Helms. "The Ultimate Glass Ceiling Revisited: The Presence of Women on Corporate Boards." Journal of Business Ethics 50, no. 2 (2004): 177–186.
"Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling: Women in Management." Available from http://www.ilo.org/public/english/dialogue/sector/techmeet/tmwm97/tmwm-com.htm.
"Capturing the Impact: Women-Owned Businesses in the United States." Available from < http://www.nfwbo.org >.
"Catalyst Census of Women Board of Directors of Canada." Available from http://www.catalystwomen.org/bookstore/files/fact/WBD03factsheetfinal.pdf.
"Changes in Women's Labor Force Participation in the 20th Century." Available from http://www.bls.gov/pub/ted/2000/feb/wk3/art03.htm.
"Counting Minorities." Available from < http://www.bls.gov/opub/rtaw/chapter1.htm >.
Dreher, G. F. "Breaking the Glass Ceiling: The Effects of Sex Ratios and Work-Life Programs on Female Leadership at the Top." Human Relations 56, no. 5 (2003): 541–562.
"Employment Characteristics of Families Summary." Available from < http://www.bls.gov/news.release/famee.nr0.htm >.
"Facts on Working Women." Available from < http://permanent.access.gpo.gov/lps5585/millennium52000.htm >.
Fullerton, H.N., Jr., and M. Toosi. "Labor Force Participation: 75 Years of Change, 1950–98 and 1998–2025." Monthly Labor Review 122, no. 12 (2001): 3–12.
Goodman, J.S., D.L. Fields, and T.C. Blum "Cracks in the Glass Ceiling: In What Kinds of Organizations Do Women Make It to the Top?" Group & Organization Management 28, no. 4 (2003): 475–502.
Hewlett, S.A. Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children. New York, NY: Miramax Books, 2002.
"Highlights of Women's Earnings in 2003." Available from < http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpswom2003.pdf >.
Hultin, M. "Some Take the Glass Excalarot, Some Hit the Glass Ceiling: Career Consequence of Occupational Sex Segregation." Work and Occupations 30, no. 1 (2003): 30–62.
Jalilvand, M. "Married Women, Work, and Values." Monthly Labor Review 123, no. 8 (2000): 26–31.
Mitra, A. "Breaking the Glass Ceiling: African American Women in Management Positions." Equal Opportunities International 22, no. 2 (2003): 67–80.
Nutley, S., and J. Mudd. "Has the Glass Cliff Replaced the Glass Ceiling for Women Employed in the Public Sector?" Public Money & Management 25, no. 1 (2005): 3–4.
"Pregnancy." Available from < http://www.eeoc.gov/types/pregnancy.html >.
"Self-Employed Women: 1976–2003." Available from < http://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2004/apr/wk4/art04.htm >.
"Sexual Harassment." Available from < http://www.eeoc.gov/types/sexual_harassment.html >.
Tatum, B.D. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? New York, NY: Basic Books, 2003.
Tischler, L. "Where Are the Women? So What Happened?" Fast Company 79 (2004): 52–61.
"Women in the Labor Force: A Databook." Available from http://www.bls.gov/cps/wlf–databook.htm.
"Women at Work: A Visual Essay." Available from < http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2003/10/ressum3.pdf >.
"Working the Twenty-First Century." Available from < http://www.bls.gov/opub/working/home.htm >.