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Sex Segregation in the Workplace: Trends, Explanations, Remedies (1984)

Chapter: 14 Commentary: The Need to Study the Transformation of Job Structures

« Previous: 13 Institutional Factors Contributing to Sex Segregation in the Workplace
Suggested Citation:"14 Commentary: The Need to Study the Transformation of Job Structures." National Research Council. 1984. Sex Segregation in the Workplace: Trends, Explanations, Remedies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/58.
Page 261
Suggested Citation:"14 Commentary: The Need to Study the Transformation of Job Structures." National Research Council. 1984. Sex Segregation in the Workplace: Trends, Explanations, Remedies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/58.
Page 262
Suggested Citation:"14 Commentary: The Need to Study the Transformation of Job Structures." National Research Council. 1984. Sex Segregation in the Workplace: Trends, Explanations, Remedies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/58.
Page 263
Suggested Citation:"14 Commentary: The Need to Study the Transformation of Job Structures." National Research Council. 1984. Sex Segregation in the Workplace: Trends, Explanations, Remedies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/58.
Page 264

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Cotrunentary: The Need to Study the 14 T~sfo~don of Job Secures MARYELLEN R. KELLEY Research undertaken within an institu- tional framework attempts to explain labor market outcomes for different race and sex groups (e.g., relative wages, unemployment rates, and occupational status) as a function of the efforts of trade unions, professional associations, and employers to control the employment relationship. The arrange- ments that shape the work situations of dif- ferent groups have been described by John Dunlop (1958) as a "web of rules," both for- mal and informal, that structure employ- ment opportunities and allocate workers to different segments of the labor market. ~ In Chapter 13, Boos and Reskin have shown that the phenomenon of sex-segre- gated work can be analyzed, at least in part, as a function of this reguiatir~g of labor mar- ket operations. They discuss institutional ar- rangements that have been found to restrict women's entry into the higher-paying, more stable jobs typically held by men. In so doing, the authors have focused on only one set of practices that regulate labor market opera- ~ For a recent presentation of segmented labor mar- ket theory, see Gordon et al. (1982~. 261 lions: those that pertain to the allocation of workers to different kinds of employment opportunities. Within that general category, their analysis is further limited to rules that act as artificial barriers to the movement of women out of the so-called female domain of work into male-typed jobs. While their efforts to identify all the exclusionary prac- tices that have been uncovered by research- ers in recent years in the areas of recruit- ment, hiring, initial job assignment, training, promotion, and intrafirm transfer are valu- able, I think this is an insufficient view of the problem. The problem encompasses the whole literature, and therefore my remarks should be taken to be constructive and mainly directed towar~future research both con- ceptual and empirical. First, I discuss some of the limitations of the studies to which Boos and Reskin refer. I then offer a brief criticism of the concep- tual framework they themselves use in dis- cussing the institutional arrangements that promote a sex-divided workplace. It is difficult to draw any general conclu- sions about the relative importance of the many specific practices described by the au- thors in explaining patterns of sex segrega-

262 MARYELLEN R. KELLEY ~ . tion in employment.This is because the re- search to which they refer is exploratory, its purpose being to identify different practices and to show how they act as barriers to the integration of women into male-typed jobs. For the most part, the research consists of case studies of particular establishments or small sample surveys of individuals from se- lected occupational groups. Some of the practices the authors describe are welI-known and blatant examples of deliberate sex bias. But the more obvious barriers may not be the major impediment to the integration of women into male-typed jobs. There is a need for research that, in a systematic fashion, examines the incidence of certain practices within and across industries, occupational groups, and locales. I recognize that it is extremely difficult to do such research. It requires the coopera- tion of managers and union officials, who may not want to have a researcher look too closely at the inequities in their practices. Even so, such research is needed to dispel whatever misconceptions we may have about the relative importance of one or another kind of arrangement. Making checklists of "source of bias" is not enough certainly not if we ultimately care about formulating an effective policy and strategy for change that will result in the improvement of the economic position of large numbers of women. One problem with lists is that they are static. Organizational rules and the institu- tional arrangements of labor markets change over time including exclusionary prac- tices. Thus, for example, arbitrary and sex- biased entry requirements to union-con- trolled apprenticeship programs in the building trades were once effective barriers to women's employment in the construction industry because the unions acted] as "em- ployment intermediaries between their members ant] contractors" through hiring- hall arrangements (GIover and Marshall, 1977:26~. As a consequence ofthe increasing importance of the nonunion sector in the construction industry during the 1970s, the apprenticeship programs and hiring halls of the building trades are no longer effective methods for controlling entry to construc- tion jobs, for either men or women (MilIs, 19801. Another problem with lists is that they tend to imply that at least some increase in equal treatment would be gained by the re- moval of any one of these barriers, holding the others constant. But in any sort of com- plex work situation, that is unlikely. Rules interact. Let me illustrate by criticizing an aspect of my own recent work (Kelley, 1982~. In the case of complex seniority systems, the absence (or even removal) of rules that penalize mobility across sex-segregated job ladders may not signal (or lead to) a mean- ingful change or improvement in the op- portunities for women to be promoted into male-typed jobs, if the rules governing the selection of eligible workers permit the em- ployer to hire from the outside (rather than strictly promote from within) or if those higher-paid jobs simply are not expanding. This leads me to my major concern with the conceptual framework within which Boos and Reskin have placed their discussion of how the regulation of labor market opera- tions promotes sex segregation. They have focused on those arrangements that inhibit the integration of women into the male do- main of work. Research on racial stratifica- tion tends to do the same thing: "White" jobs are the norm and the object of inquiry; the problem is seen as one of how to reduce the barriers to entry to those jobs for people who are not white. This association of an institutionalist analysis almost exclusively with rules that restrict competition within labor markets reflects an implicit theoretical assumption: that the regulation of labor mar- ket operations is primarily the result of ef- forts offormally organized groups of workers (in trade unions or professional associations) to protect (or "shelter") themselves from competition with each other, from different groups within the membership or from non- members. There are, however, two other areas of regulation that this perspective ne-

COMMENTARY 263 glects. Both entail looking at the active, self- interested roles of personnel managers, in- dustrial engineers, and strategic corporate planners in structuring the employment re- lationship. I have in mind rules that channel women into same-sex employment oppor- tunities in the first place, together with those that govern the creation of new, explicitly "female" jobs.2 There are a number of examples of re- search examining how men are channelled into what are thought to be appropriate ca- reer paths, but little research has been done to investigate that question for women. Os- terman's recent study (1980) of the early work experience of young men is the kind of re- search that needs to be done on young women. In that study, Osterman examines the Unction of certain small-sized establish- ments in the secondary labor market in pro- viding training and experience for entry into large organizations with characteristically primary-sector jobs. Such linkages between young women's early work experiences (by type of employer) and their future career paths within the so-called traditional domain of female-typed work need to be investi- gated to discover if there exist typical "feeder" systems for regulating the flow of young women into labor market segments in which women predominate and to understand in what ways they are similar to or different from those that seem to apply to young men. Roos and Reskin's focus on barriers gives short shrift to those practices that structure the employment opportunities facing wo- men- e.g., job design, wage setting for in- dividual jobs, and location decisions pro- mulgated unilaterally by managers. Instead, 2 There is yet another approach, which Roos and Re- skin ignore altogether: the radical feminist literature that focuses not so much on competition or other proc- esses within markets for wage labor as on the relation- ship of such markets to nonmarket institutions, notably patriarchical relations in the household and the linkages between paid and unpaid work. For examples of each, see Hartmann (1979) and Power (1983~. these structures are taken as given. Like so many writers concerned about the problem of sex-segregated work, these authors treat the problem of the sex-typing of jobs almost as if it were a fact of nature. That is, because the sexual division of labor in some form is evident in all societies, regardless of their social or economic structures, and because sex differences in treatment have a long his- tory in this country, it is assumed that the separation of the sexes in the workplace to- day has been a constant for a long period of time and is ultimately exogenously deter- mined by social and cultural forces outside the employment relationship. To Roos and Reskin, "traditional" sets of jobs are readily identifiable as invariantly male or female. These distinctions are so apparent and thought to be so enduring over time that the authors do not feel that they even need to tell us what they mean by the categori- zation "traditionally male" or "traditionally female." Besides the implication that the compe- tition between men and women is more im- portant than the conflict between workers and the managers who administer employ- ment systems, Roos and Reskin's depiction of rigidly sex-segregated spheres of work ig- nores the great changes in technology and the occupational structure of the U. S. econ- omy that have taken place over the past 80 years and the shifts in the domains of wom- en's work that have occurred at the same time. 3 Because affirmative action policy pre- scriptions motivate their analysis, the au- thors are concerned almost exclusively with the set of practices by which people are processed through a given structure of jobs 3 For an exposition of the relationship between tech- nological change and the growth of employment op- portunities for women in the twentieth century, see Baker (1964~. For a less benign view on how the in- troduction of new work methods and machinery has affected the task structure of jobs and the demand for different kinds of workers, see Braverman (1974) and Edwards (19791. For a study that describes the chang- ing sexual division of labor within new areas of work, see Kraft (1979~.

264 MARYELLEN R. KELLEY and the reward systems to which they are attached. The importance of job design cri- teria, job evaluation practices, and the lo- cation of work in maintaining sex segrega- tion is hardly considered. But in fact we have evidence that new jobs are often de- signed and valued explicitly in relation to the gender of the work force expected to be recruited to fill those positions. For exam- ple, according to one recent study on work organization and the location decisions of managers, branch offices were located in communities in which large numbers of married women could be expected to be in need of employment (because of high un- employment among male heads of house- holds). Their labor market choices were also constrained by geographic immobility and child care responsibilities (Teegarden, 19831. Barbara Ehrenreich's most recent mono- graph (Fuentes and Ehrenreich, 1983) is one of a growing number of feminist studies of the ways in which electronics firms search the globe for locations where they will be able to continue to organize assembly work around the use of extremely low-paid young women. By limiting the analysis to only those rules that act as barriers to or constraints on wom- en's movement into and out of different types of work, the analyst can account only for differences in the ways in which women ant] men are processed through a given structure of jobs and system of rewards. To explain how jobs become sex-typed or indeed, even resegregated, after having been integrated, we need also to take into account how the structure of work changes, i.e., how man- agers bundle tasks into jobs and how those jobs are then linked to particular reward systems and opportunity structures. REFERENCES Baker, Elizabeth Faulkner 1964 Technology and Women's Work. New York: Columbia University Press. Braverman, Harry 1974 Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degrada- tion of Work in the Twentieth Century. New York: Monthly Review Press. Dunlop, John 1958 Industrial Relations Systems. New York: Holt. Edwards, Richard 1979 Contested Terrain: The Transformation of the Workplace in the Twentieth Century. New York: Basic Books. Fuentes, Annette, and Barbara Ehrenreich 1983 Women in the Global Factory. New York: In- stitute for New Communications. Clover, Robert W., and Ray Marshall 1977 The response of unions in the construction in- dustry to antidiscrimination efforts. In Leon- ard J. Hausman et al., eds., Equal Rights and industrial Relations. Madison, Wis.: Industrial Relations Research Association. Gordon, David M., Richard Edwards, and Michael Reich 1982 Segmented Work, Divided Workers. Cam- bridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press. Hartmann, Heidi I. 1979 Capitalism, patriarchy and job segregation by sex. In Zillah Eisenstein, ea., Capitalist Pa- triarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism. New York: Monthly Review Press. Kelley, Maryellen R. 1982 Discrimination in seniority systems: A case study. Industrial and Labor Relations Review 36~1~:40-55. Kraft, Philip 1979 The industrialization of computer program- ming: From programming to "software pro- duction." Pp. 1-17 in Andrew Zimbalist, ea., Case Studies on the Labor Process. New York: Monthly Review Press. Mills, D. Quinn 1980 Construction. Pp. 49-78 in Gerald D. Somers, ea., CollectiveBargaining:ContemporaryAmer- ican Experience. Madison, Wis.: Industrial Re- lations Research Association. Osterman, Paul 1980 Getting Started: The Youth Labor Market. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. Power, Marilyn 1983 From home production to wage labor: Women as a reserve army of labor. Review of Radical Political Economy 15~1~:71-91. Teegarden, Suzanne 1983 Women's Labor and Changes in the Occupa- tional Structure in the Office Industry: A Case Study of an Insurance Company. Unpublished master's thesis, Department of City and Re- gional Planning, University of California, Berkeley.

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How pervasive is sex segregation in the workplace? Does the concentration of women into a few professions reflect their personal preferences, the "tastes" of employers, or sex-role socialization? Will greater enforcement of federal antidiscrimination laws reduce segregation? What are the prospects for the decade ahead? These are among the important policy and research questions raised in this comprehensive volume, of interest to policymakers, researchers, personnel directors, union leaders—anyone concerned about the economic parity of women.

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