Just 20 years ago, in most states a woman could not sign an apartment lease, get a credit rating, or apply for a loan unless her husband or a male relative agreed to share the responsibility. Similarly, a 1965 study found that fifty one percent of men though women were “temperamentally unfit for management.” There can be no doubt that we have progressed a long way from these ideas in the last three decades. However, it is also unquestionable that women in the work force are still discriminated against, sexually harassed, paid less than men, and suffer from occupational sex segregation and fears of failure as well as fears of success. We will address all of these concerns in this paper, and look at some well-known court cases as illustrations.
Anyone who thinks sex discrimination is a thing of the past only has to ask Muriel Kraszewski or Ann Hopkings to learn differently. Muriel Kraszewski worked for State Farm Insurance Company for twelve years and was the leading candidate for an important promotion. She was denied the promotion because, her employers said, she had no college degree and was too much under the control of her husband. Kraszewski sued the company and won her case, after a nine year battle, in late January 1988. She was given what may be the largest sex-bias award in history: up to two hundreds of millions for 1,113 other female State Farm employees with similar complaints, and $433,000 for Kraszewski her-self.
Ann Hopkings was one of Price Waterhouse’s top young executives. She had the best record for getting and maintaining big accounts, but when she came up for a partnership in 1982, she was denied because several male partners had evaluated her as “too macho.” They advised her to walk, talk, and dress more femininely. In response, Hopkings quit the firm and filed suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which forbids employers to discriminate on the basis of a person’s sex.
In May 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Price Waterhouse had based its decision on unlawful sex stereotyping. The decision shifted the legal burden of proof to the employer, which should make it easier for employees to win future Title VII cases. Experts say that the decision’s main affect may be to force companies to eliminate bias in the people making important personnel decisions for them. The decision was a landmark for anti-discrimination, but we should not overemphasize its power. Even now, after a long and expensive court battle, only twenty eight of Price Waterhouse’s nine hundred partners are women.
One avenue of reform which the U.S. Supreme Court has long supported is the use of affirmative action plans. On March 25, 1987 the court ruled that the public transportation agency of Santa Clara County, California was justified in given a road dispatcher’s job to Diana Joyce rather than a man. Joyce scored two points lower on a test than the man did, but a panel of supervisors found her to be otherwise just as qualified.
The decision was based on the fact that the agency’s affirmative action plan met the court’s three criteria for fairness. The plan was flexible, temporary, and designed to gradually correct the imbalance in the overwhelmingly white male work force. The Reagan administration had taken the position that affirmative action plans were only permissible if they addressed individual victims of actual discrimination. The Supreme Court clearly disagreed, but it was careful to point out that employers did not have to have an affirmative action plan, nor were they precluded from hiring the most qualified candidate for a given position.
Closely linked to sex discrimination in the job market, are sex segregation of occupations and wage inequalities. A recent article in the “Monthly Labor Review” noted that, “sex segregation continues to characterize the american workplace, despite the changes that have occurred in some occupations. Millions of women continue to work in a small number of almost totally female clerical and service occupations, and men continue to make up the majority of workers in the majority of occupations.”
The National Academy of Science published a study in 1986 on the cause, extent, and future direction of sex segregation. The study found that women’s occupational options have increase significantly during the last decade, and that the overall index of occupational segregation had decreased by almost ten percent between 1972 and 1981, which is more than in any other decade in the century. The sharpest gains in the number of women employed were in the following jobs: lawyer, pharmacist, bank manager, typesetter, insurance adjuster, postal clerk, bus driver, and janitor.
The bad news is that even with a ten percent drop, the index of segregation is still about 60, which means that approximately thirty percent of workers would have to move into a job category dominated by the opposite sex to even things out. Furthermore, Barbara R. Reskin, a sociologist at The University of Illinois, says that twelve occupations in which women have made the greatest gains are merely part of an economic pattern in which prestige, career opportunities, and pat fall because of automation or some other factor, causing men to leave and allowing women to move in. A good example of this trend is bank tellers. Before World War II, most tellers were male and made good money. After the war and with the advent of increased automation, salaries fell and men left the occupation. Today, ninety five percent of bank tellers are female and make an average of $7.26 per hour.
Women dominate the clerical, teaching, and service professions, and men still dominant everything else. Some people argue that women limit themselves to these jobs voluntarily, because of sex differences or personality traits. However, the scientific evidence reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences does not support this view. Instead, it suggest that women face discrimination and institutional barriers such that “opportunities that women encounter in the labor market and in pre-market training and education constrain their choices to a narrow set of alternatives.”
Thus, it is apparent that discrimination plays a significant role in maintaining a sex- segregated work force. Encouragingly, the evidence also shows that the mere existence of anti- discrimination laws may help foster change, either because employers fear reprisals for bias or because such laws help reshape their expectations about what it is acceptable for women to do.
Indeed, companies will be force to re-examine their discriminatory hiring practices, not by the law, but by sharp demographics. The fact is that over eighty percent of the growth in the labor force for the rest of the century will be due to women, minorities and immigrants. As the “baby bust” follows the “baby boom,” there will be less young white male workers, and experts say that it will be mostly women who will take up the slack. Therefore, companies had better be prepared to recruit, train and promote them. As journalist Elizabeth Ehrlich puts it, “The years of picky hiring are over.”
The question is, will women continue to be willing to earn $0.64 for every dollar a man earns? Employers who pay woman less than men for the same job are less numerous every year, but as long as the sexual division of labor persists, the pay for predominantly female jobs will be less than for predominantly male jobs. This, of course, is the basis of the argument for comparable worth. In 1981, the Supreme Court mandate that women should get equal pay for equal work, but the issue of equal pay for comparable work id still hotly debated. So far, the only way for a woman to earn as much as a man is to enter a traditionally male field. As we have seen, women have made some progress in this direction, and although we are still far from anything approaching equality, many people are hopeful that the growing personnel needs and the shortage of young white males may contribute to a narrowing of the wage gap.
Working in a male-dominated field is not without its dangers, though and chief among these is sexual harassment. Sexual harassment remains a huge problem for many women in predominantly male occupations. A vivid illustration of the problem is the case of Catherine Broderick. Broderick was a lawyer at the Securities Exchange Commission. When she rejected her supervisor’s sexual advances and openly disapproved of the special treatment accorded those who went along with him, she was denied promotion for nine years.
After filing an internal complaint and getting no results, Broderick filed suit in a federal district court in 1987. A year later, judge John H. Pratt announced a verdict which expanded civil rights protection against sexual harassment. Pratt said Broderick was “the victim of a sexually hostile environment,” which he defined as “unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature are so pervasive that they create an offensive workplace environment.” He awarded her $88,000 in back pay and interest, an immediate promotion according with her experience, the choice of two jobs at the agency, her attorney’s fees, and an allowance for counseling, as well as prohibiting the agency from retaliating against her should she choose to remain there.
As if sexual discrimination, sex segregation, and sexual harassment were not enough, many working women also suffer from something called the “imposter phenomenon” which involves both fear of failure and fear of success. The imposter phenomenon occurs when a person feels like a phony, despite outward evidence to the contrary. The fear of failure involves thoughts like “this time I will not be able to do it. I will be found out.,” and is rooted in a lack of self-confidence or poor self- concept, both of which are common among women.
The fear of success is more complex. It is linked to sex stereotypes and traditional belief systems. Psychologist suzanne Imes says, “many women are afraid that they will not be linked by others if they are seen as powerful and as using their power to affect other people’s lives. They have a conflict between their need for power and their need for affiliation. If a person persists in feeling like an imposter, she can imagine that she is not as powerful as she really is and can thus avoid the negative consequences she fears.”
Most women who suffer from the imposter phenomenon do not actually sabotage their careers, but it is certain that some do. It seems especially tragic for women to sabotage themselves when they have the external problems of discrimination, segregation, low pay and sexual harassment to face, but perhaps the external battles cannot be completely win until the internal battles are settled once for all.
1 Madura Christopher, “America’s Women: Meeting the challenges of today” Scholastic Update 119 (May 18, 1987): 5.
3 Andrea Sachs, “A slap at sex stereotypes,” Time 133 (May 15, 1989): 66.
4 Ibid., 66.
6 Ibid., 36.
7 “Sex Segregation,” Monthly Labor Review 109 (February 14, 1986): 2.
8 Ibid., 2.
9 Aaron Bernstein, “So You Think You Have Come A Long Way, Baby?,” Business Week (February 29, 1988): 49.
10 “Sex Segregation,” 2.
11 Dryer, 36.
12 Elizabeth Ehrlich and Susan Garland, “For American Business, a New World of Workers,” Business week (September 19, 1988): 112.
13 Christopher, 7.
15 Ibid., 53.
16 Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose,” Treatment of the Imposter Phenomenon in High- Achieving Women,” Women Therapists Working With Women, ed. Claire M. Brody (New York: Springs Publishing Company, Inc. 1984).
17 Ibid., 84.
Bernstein, Aaron. “So You Think You Have Come A Long Way, Baby?.” Business Week (February 29, 1988): 48-52.
Christopher. Madura. “America’s Women: Meeting the Challenges of today.” Scholastic Update 119 (May 18, 1987): 5-7.
Dryer, Paula. “Affirmative Action: After the Debate, Opportunity.” Business Week (April 13, 1987): 36.
Ehrlich, Elizabeth and Garland, Susan. “For American Business, A New World of Workers.” Business Week (September 19, 1988): 112-118.
Imes, Suzanne and Clance, Pauline Rose. “Treatment of the Imposter Phenomenon in High- Achieving Women.” Women Therapists Working With Women, ed. Claire M. Brody, 69-85. New York: Spring Publishing Company, Inc., 1984.
Romano, Lois. “Winning is the Best Revenge.” Good Housekeeping 208 (April 1989): 46-53.
Sachs, Andrea. “A Slap at Sex Stereotypes.” Time 133 (May 15, 1989): 66.
“Sex Segregation.” Monthly Labor Review 109 (February 1986): 2.
“State Farm is Stuck With a Colossal Claim.” U.S. News & World Report 104 (February 1, 1988): 10.