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.
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.
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