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The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Equal Opportunity and What it Means for Women - Fact Sheet

July 1, 2000

Equal Opportunity and What It Means for Women

Equal opportunity programs have played a critical role in opening up opportunities for women and minorities to begin to take their rightful place in our society. But equal opportunity for women is still a long way off. Eliminating or curtailing equal opportunity programs would not only halt the forward progress that women, as well as minorities, have been able to achieve; it would mark a giant leap backward in this nation's journey toward equal opportunity for all.

Barriers to Advancement for Women Remain Pervasive

Discrimination against women is deeply rooted in our society. Though much progress has been made since the days when classified ads listed job openings for women and men separately and many prestigious universities were completely closed to women, sex discrimination persists today. New examples surface on an almost daily basis. Over 900 past and present women brokers at Merrill Lynch assert that they have experienced gender-based discrimination.(1) Officials at M.I.T. admit long-standing and pervasive discrimination against women on its faculty, reaching all areas of employment -- hiring, awards, promotions, committee appointments, and allocation of research funding.(2) The EEOC settles a class action law suit on behalf of hundreds of women employees at a Mitsubishi plant who had endured sexually explicit verbal harassment and threats of sexual attack.(3) A woman relegated to 21 years behind a grocery store cash register is denied opportunities for training and advancement offered to male employees -- including her own teenaged son.(4) A study reveals that a female musician has a 50% greater chance of advancing in the orchestra selection process if she performs behind a screen; if the judges can see that the player is female, she is much less likely to progress past the preliminary auditions and ultimately land a job.(5) Texaco agrees to give 186 of its female employees more than $3 million in back wages and pay adjustments to settle findings that the company consistently had paid women in professional and executive positions less than their male counterparts.(6)

The persistence of discrimination against women is demonstrated not only by horror stories like these but by abundant data as well. For example:

According to the March 1995 report of the Glass Ceiling Commission, 95 to 97% of the senior managers of Fortune 1000 industrial and Fortune 500 companies are male. In the Fortune 2000 industrial and service companies, only 5% of senior managers are women (and virtually all of these are white).(7) A 1999 report reveals that only 3.3% of the top-earning corporate officers in Fortune 500 companies are women.(8)

An earnings gap exists between women and men across a wide spectrum of occupations. In 1999, for example, full-time women physicians earned 62.5% of the weekly wages of male physicians, and women in sales occupations earned only 59.9% of the wages of men in equivalent positions.(9) A recent study of pediatricians on medical school faculties revealed a discrepancy between salaries of male and female professors at every rank.(10) Women working full-time, full-year still earn, on average, only 73 cents for every dollar earned by men.(11) Minority women fare significantly worse. An African-American woman earns just 63 cents to every dollar earned by white men while a Hispanic woman earns only 53 cents on the dollar.(12)

While women are over half the adult population(13) and nearly half the workforce in this country,(14) they remain disproportionately clustered in traditionally female jobs with lower pay and fewer benefits.(15) For example, in 1999 approximately one in four employed women worked in an administrative support or clerical job, and 78.7% of administrative workers in all industries are women.(16) And while approximately 98% of all secretaries, stenographers and typists are women, women's salaries in these positions are only 90.1% that of their male counterparts.(17)

While the gender gap in higher education has all but disappeared with women now earning 55% of all bachelor's and masters degrees, they still lag behind in many respects. Women earn only 39.9% of doctorate degrees, and remain under-represented in many areas not traditionally studied by women. According to the most recent available data, women receive only about 16% of undergraduate engineering degrees, 13% of doctorate degrees in engineering, and only 20% and 23% of doctorate degrees in mathematics and physical sciences. In the lucrative and growing field of computer sciences, women receive only about 28% of bachelor's degrees and 15% of doctorates. Yet women still account for over 75% of recipients of undergraduate degrees in education, and 86% of those awarded in library sciences.(18)

Women remain severely under represented in most non-traditional professional occupations as well as blue collar trades. For example, women are only 10.6% of all engineers; 3.1% of airplane pilots and navigators; less than 2% of carpenters and auto mechanics; 15.7% of architects; and about one-quarter of doctors and lawyers. Women are 99% of dental hygienists, but are only 16.5% of dentists.(19)

As a result of the wage gap, 47% of women working full-time, full-year earn less than $25,000 per year, compared to only 29% of working men.(20)

Even where women have moved into occupations and professions in significant numbers, they have not moved up to the same degree. Women are 26.6% of lawyers, but only 14.5% of partners in large law firms.(21) Women are 73% of public school teachers, but only 34.5% of principals.(22) In 1994, women comprised 24% of medical school faculties but less than 10% of full professors and only 4% of department chairs.(23)

Women of color have lagged particularly far behind in both employment and education. For example, in 1998, the median weekly salary for Black women was $400 compared to $468 for white women and $615 for white men. Hispanic women earned a median weekly income of only $337.(24) Even in sectors where women have made inroads into management, minority women continue to be underrepresented. In the banking industry, only 2.6% of executive, managerial and administrative jobs were held by Black women, and 5% by Hispanic women, compared to 37.6% by white women.(25) In the hospital industry, Black and Hispanic women each held 4.6% of these jobs, while white women held 50.2%.(26) At the top, women of color represented only 11.2% of all corporate officers in Fortune 500 companies.(27) Women of color also earn fewer college degrees than white women. In 1997, white women made up 39% of college undergraduates and 42% of graduate students; minority women were only 16% of undergraduates and 10% of graduate students.(28)

Although white men constitute a minority of the total work force (46%),(29) they dominate the top jobs in virtually every field.(30) Moreover, white males' median weekly earnings in 1999 were 32% higher than those of any other group in America. A white man earns, on average for full-time work, almost 56% more than a Black woman, and over 83% more than a Hispanic woman.(31)

Although some women choose to devote themselves to family concerns or to jobs with lower pay for a range of reasons, such choices do not fully explain the disparities between men's and women's salaries. One study shows that after about 11 years on medical school faculties, 23% of men but only 5% of women had achieved the rank of full professor - and the gap persisted when researchers held constant the number of hours worked per week.(32) Another study, of graduates of the University of Michigan Law School from 1972 through 1975, revealed significant wage differentials between male and female lawyers after 15 years of practice, even when hours of work, family responsibilities and other variables were held constant.(33) These women have made the same career choices as men, worked the same hours as men, yet stil 

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