Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Women and Labor

Back in December, in my tribute to Podcasts, I mentioned that my Monday morning ritual is listening to C-SPAN podcasts. This is still true.  I have actually always worked with noise. Perhaps it is due to being from a large family. My first college roommate noticed and was so annoyed by me doing homework while blasting Pink Floyd albums that he decided to hide my Final Cut album for a few weeks. Later, in grad school and while a professional, I worked while listening to NPR and now Podcasts. My wife comments often about how I don't like silence. This is true. Silence is boring. Noise, under controlled conditions, makes me productive.

This week's C-SPAN American History podcast was so interesting that it might have been distracting. It was about women in the work place covering the span from World War II to the 1970's. The most interesting thing I learned was that after WW II, women worked down, not out. I had always heard that women, who were working assembly lines and other war industry during the War, went back to being  housewives after the war. When in actuality, after the war, they didn't return home but simply were demoted to lower paying jobs. The attitude was that they were taking "a man's job and earning a man's pay." I can be sympathetic to both the men and the women in this situation, in that, it must have sucked for the women who lost their jobs but also, the men who made the sacrifice and left their jobs to go overseas, really deserved their job's back.

By 1950, there were as many women in the work-force as during the war. They were just in lower paying jobs after the war.  Their pay during the war wasn't as high as their male counterparts, but they were still higher during the war than after.  About 25% of woman sixteen years or old were in the workforce. We are at about 60% now. They went from riveters and assembly line workers to clerks, secretaries, teachers and nurses.

By end of 19th century, women were dominating teaching. In the late 19th century until the 1960's many states had marriage bars which were laws preventing married women from working in some professions, mostly teaching and clerical work. If a teacher got married, she had to quit her job. The baby boom of the 50's caused these bars to go away. Market demand is king which in this case is a very good thing. A nursing boom also happened in the 50's due to the American healthcare systems shift to a centralization around hospitals.  Secretaries, stenographers and file clerks expanded due to the boom of office work. All those women who were working during the war, who liked it, had plenty of other places to find work but still opportunities were very limited in scope and as well as upward mobility.

By the 1970's woman started breaking into professional jobs like management, doctors and clergy. Blue collar professionals like plumbers and electrician still have few women, but that may be a case of self selection rather than gender bias. This I do not know. By the mid-1980's, I was entering the workforce. In my home state of Rhode Island, I obtained my first professional IS job (Information Systems) at a children's clothing manufacturer, located in the south. Their data processing facility was located in Cumberland, RI. I was working the 3rd shift (7PM to 7AM three days a week) as a computer operator on an AS400 IBM mid-range computer. I was being trained by a young Syrian-American woman about my age named Myra. She had more experience than I did and had a degree while I was still working on mine. She was making much less than what I was making (my memory is not good here). I complained to my manager, Bob, about this and he justified it by stating that men were the head-of-household.  I expressed displeasure about his justification and Bob stated that I can resolved this in a very simple way ... I could take a pay-cut to be equal to Myra's.  Of course, I didn't take the pay cut. I had rent and tuition to pay. I cannot imagine this happening today, thirty years later. I cannot even imagine someone's gender coming up while we interviewed anyone and discussed their pay scale. This is progress.

I will not be so bold here to say that the gender gap does not exist. Not only don't I want to deal with the angry email that I would receive, but mostly because I have one major looming question: What does a workplace without a gender gap look like?  If all the stats are collected and we make all the controls we can think of for other factors like experience, education, hours worked, visibility and age/era one entered the work force (I am sure there are more), will we ever be at 100% equal. Aren't there too many factors to get equality? Isn't there always going to be one side always doing better than another? When you google this subject, you get so much data and so many different opinions. I found President Obama's comment about women making 77% of men. I found Slate Double X's article (their feminists wing) that disputed Obama's number stating it was closer to 91% with men working longer hours. I was going to make a link to the specific article, because it made so many good points, but I cannot find this article anymore. I can find some right wing articles that use Slate's to justify their rants. It is a very contentious subject. It has been a long time since my college statistics classes, but 91% with this many factors, seems an awful lot like equal, considering a margin of error.

Everyone you talk to says that the gender gap is unjust, but if that is so, then who is doing it? In such a competitive economy, why would anyone not pay a good employee what they are worth? Job offers are usually based, somewhat, on the prior job's salary. So if there still is a gender gap, is it just due to the fact that we still have people in the economy who were hired when there was one? So again, I won't be so bold to say that the gender gap no longer exists, but that in the last 20 + years, I just have not seen it and have difficulty even imagining it in our current culture. Perhaps I just lack imagination.


Olga said...

Your title was kind of false advertising.

Thank-you and Beth for coming on Saturday.

Mark Peloquin said...

Olga, Beth caught some major typos. I fixed them.

Did the title make you think that it was going to be about childbirth?

It was a beautiful service. Sorry I didn't stay for food. I had to go. Mark