Occupational segregation persists in forming a significant hurdle to women’s equality and economic well-being. For the women who comprise the majority of our nation’s low wage workforce, the disparity between them and their male counterparts is even more pronounced. Women in predominantly female sectors (such as cashiers and childcare workers) earn, on average, approximately $400 per week -- almost $200 less than the most common male-dominated jobs.
The disparities are even further compounded when one takes race into account: nearly 47 percent of Latino/Hispanic and 36 percent of African American women in the workforce are in low wage jobs, compared to 26.2 percent of working White women, and the median annual earnings of white women in low-wage jobs is higher.
Legal Momentum works to expand high-wage job opportunities for women through encouraging enforcement of existing federal regulations, advocating for much-needed updates in federal policies addressing workplace discrimination, and collaborating with apprenticeship programs, unions, tradeswomen, and other grass roots organizations.
Our efforts touch upon the following concerns:
Occupational Segregation and Wages: Gender segregation in the workforce affects women’s economic security. Women disproportionately hold jobs with lower salaries and fewer benefits while traditionally male-dominated occupations offer higher wages and a career ladder. In 2008, over 50% of working women were clustered in 4.9% of the Bureau of Labor statistics occupational categories, which pay less and offer few benefits. Training programs and educational institutions too often reinforce this trend, failing to provide women and girls with the competitive skills needed for a path into non-traditional, well-compensated jobs.
Regulations Addressing Equal Opportunity: Women continue to be almost totally excluded from construction employment and construction apprenticeships. In 1978, Executive Order 11246, which bans employment discrimination by government contractors on federal and federally assisted construction sites, set hiring goals and mandated specific actions to be taken regarding recruitment, hiring procedures, and maintaining work sites free of sexual discrimination and harassment in order to encourage women’s participation in the construction trades. Despite 1978 regulations, in June of 2009, women were only 2.7% of the 7.5 million persons employed in the construction occupations.
Updating and Enforcing Regulations: The Department of Labor must both update equal opportunity regulations, and back up those updates with clear enforcement provisions, penalties and the addition of incentives. The current regulations should be rigorously enforced now while the regulations are being updated, particularly those applicable to the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, the Office of Apprenticeship and the Employment Training Administration. These first steps are critical in order to eliminate the barriers that women face in obtaining higher-wage, non-traditional occupations.
Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP): Women seeking success in the construction industry need immediate enforcement of already existing Department of Labor regulations regarding hiring, discrimination, and on-the-job protections. Likewise, they need updated regulations. The OFCCP is charged with ensuring that contractors or subcontractors receiving federal money do not discriminate against their employees or potential employees. Executive Order 11246 requires that all contractors receiving more than $10,000 in federal funding agree to adhere to an affirmative action plan—which includes a construction workforce participation goal of at least 6.9% for women. Although failure to comply is a breach of contract warranting a range of sanctions including contract termination, construction companies within the scope of 11246 have rarely been investigated by the OFCCP.
Office of Apprenticeship: The Office of Apprenticeship sets the labor standards for apprenticeship programs through the National Apprenticeship Act and the accompanying Equal Opportunity Standards. The current regulations address many of the barriers women face in accessing and staying in nontraditional apprenticeship programs. However, lack of vigorous oversight and enforcement perpetuates the low numbers of women apprentices. Action on the current regulations, including compliance reviews and the imposition of sanctions as required by the current regulations, is needed in addition to the revision of the Equal Opportunity Standards slated for 2011.
Employment and Training Administration (ETA): For the most part, job training programs have only served to reinforce occupational segregation. The Workforce Investment Act (“WIA”) provides training to men and women, yet far fewer women are trained for nontraditional employment: in 2008, about 55% of all men received training through WIA in the category “Installation, repair, production, transportation, material moving,” while about 8% of women received such training and almost 50% of women received training in service, sales and clerical occupations. The average post-training earnings exceeded $13,500 for male exiters from each of the top eight occupations of training for men. By contrast, average post-training earnings were less than $12,000 for female exiters from six of the top eight occupations of training for women.
The ETA administers federal job training programs and has jurisdiction over enforcing statutes with the potential to provide the kind of on-the-job training and support necessary to foster and promote retention of women in nontraditional occupations. With Congress considering the reauthorization of WIA, and the proposal of legislation such as the Women Working in Nontraditional Jobs (WIN), and the Pathways Advancing Career Training (PACT), it is essential for the ETA to devote substantial resources to developing the appropriate technical assistance and enforcement mechanisms for workforce development providers, that will recognize and remedy the occupational training disparities that perpetuate the wage gap.
Coordination: Increased synchronization of equal opportunity regulations and their enforcement is necessary to avoid another thirty years of poor results. Improved coordination between the three offices of the DOL described above, as well as with the General Services Administration’s construction contracts and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, would help to ensure that women gain more than their current toe-hold in the nontraditional occupations on their road to economic security.