Almost fifty years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, where do we stand in the fight for civil rights in the workplace? Sociologists Kevin Stainback and Don Tomaskovic-Devey have prepared a fascinating scorecard. Drawing on an extensive nationwide database that documents workplace racial and gender composition over the last half century, they conclude:
The legal changes prohibiting employment discrimination have certainly had an impact, with the biggest declines in racial segregation coming in the sixties before enforcement of the new civil rights laws but during the period of maximum political struggle and corporate uncertainty over what equal opportunity would mean;
Women made the greatest gains in the seventies as the women’s movement reached its height;
Racial segregation in the South, which was worse than the rest the country at the beginning of the Civil Rights era, now looks much like the rest of the country;
The greatest persistence of white male overrepresentation and black male underrepresentation in managerial jobs, however, still occurs in selected municipalities in the plantation South, such as McAllen, Tex., Greenville, S.C., Bennettsville, S.C. or Houma, La.;
White women, and black men and women have the best chance of getting managerial jobs on the West Coast, and New England, once a leader in racial integration, now lags behind much of the rest of the country in the inclusion of black men and women in managerial positions;
Black women, far from benefiting from their “two-fer” status, have benefited less than black men and white women from more integrated workforces;
As firms hire a lower proportion of white men, white men’s access to the best jobs, such as higher level managerial positions, increases;
The pace of racial desegregation has slowed considerably with lesser enforcement after 1980, and since 1990, considerable resegregation has occurred, particularly in high-wage industries, with a third of all industries showing greater resegregation between white men and black men during the 2001-2005 period;
Progress for white women, however, continued to a greater degree from 1980 to 2000 than progress for African-Americans, and as white women benefited from greater access to managerial positions, progress slowed for black men and women, with greater resegregation between white women and black women occurring after 1980;
In individual companies, white women showed greater long term gains in attaining management positions following class action lawsuits than did African-Americans, and the greatest gains came in publicly traded companies suffering a decline in share prices as a result of the lawsuit. Overall, however, black men and women and white women in companies without a decline in share prices showed losses in managerial positions in the company following high visibility lawsuits;
The strongest continued progress toward equal opportunities has occurred in workplaces with formal requirements, such as educational degrees;
The fastest wage growth occurred in the financial sector. That sector showed a pattern of racial resegregation for both men and women after 2000, but one of the steepest desegregation trajectories between white women and white men during the same period, even though gender based earnings inequality also grew substantially.
The authors amass an extraordinary amount of detail in presenting these conclusions as they examine variations by region, business and decade. They consider some of the background developments comparing expanding industries with contracting ones, and new firms with old ones, showing that such factors vary in importance depending on the industry, the time period, and the impact on racial versus gender segregation. They also provide in depth comparisons of the firms large enough to be covered by federal civil rights laws versus those exempted, and the varying effectiveness of EEOC enforcement against large firms versus oversight of federal contractors. The result provides a wealth of data for anyone interested in either the trajectory of racial and gender equality in the workplace or the effectiveness of enforcement efforts.
Aside from providing a treasure trove of information the book also poses a challenge: the hard won efforts to integrate workplaces are at risk. In era of declining government budgets, a neoliberal economic model, and the removal of civil rights from the national agenda, we risk the continuing resegregation of workplaces along race and gender lines. While the authors conclude that white women have benefited more than blacks overall, they also note that much of white women’s progress into managerial ranks has come in sex-segregated workplaces, and that even with greater gender integration, wage inequality has increased in the highest paid workplaces. The net result in an era of increasing inequality is the greater dominance of white men at the top of the economic ladder.
This poses a series of questions for the book’s authors and readers and for this salon.
First, what should happen next? What should the priorities be for addressing workplace segregation and discrimination?
Second, what lessons should we draw from this data about the effectiveness of legal action in addressing deep-seated societal biases?
Third, what light, if any, do these developments shed on the increasing wage inequality in the workplace, with blue collar male wages stagnating over the last thirty years, and white collar wages outside of the senior executive ranks and the financial industry stagnating over the last decade?
Fourth, does the employment interact with changes in human capital acquisition?
In the eighties, for example, the absolute number of black men in American colleges and universities declined while the number of white and black women continued to increase. Between the late nineties and 2004, the gender gap became a class gap. For high income families of all races, the percentage of male children versus female children who attended college increased and the racial gap in male college attendance largely disappeared. During the same period, however, the gender gap in college attendance increased for both whites and blacks in the middle of the income spectrum. Do these changes have anything to do with the employment patterns? As college education becomes increasingly unaffordable, how will that affect the strategies for addressing segregation in the workplace?
[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]