Texas Tech Management Expert Explores Women's Place in the Workforce

Women’s History Month brings up questions of women’s progress in business.

The well-known phrase "You’ve come a long way, baby" was a 1968 advertising slogan for Virginia Slims cigarettes. Now four decades later, one Texas Tech University expert considers where women were in the world of work in 1968 and whether they really have come a long way.

Linda Krefting, associate professor of management in Texas Tech’s Rawls College of Business, says women have made progress, however slow, but that patterns of gender segregation still exist in certain industries.

"In the 1960s more than 90 percent of women workers were clustered in a limited number of occupations, a "women’s ghetto" where most workers were women – light manufacturing, retail sales, clerical work, and health and education," said Krefting.

Employment ads in newspapers had separate listings for "help wanted—male" and "help wanted—female." According to Krefting, Catalyst formed in 1962 as an organization to help women enter the labor force. She also found a quote from a 1968 supervisor’s handbook advising that "Women as a rule don’t seek job promotion – their emotions are secure in a limited job."

Krefting’s research found that, in the 1960s, about 43 percent of women of working age were in the labor force, either working or actively seeking work. Men were more likely than women to have had a least some college (28 percent vs. 22 percent). Working women’s earnings were about 60 percent of men’s earnings. Women’s unemployment rates were about 30 percent higher than men’s.

"Second-wave feminism was part of social change in the 1960s," said Krefting. "First-wave feminists in the last half of the 19th century and first decades of the 20th century focused on women’s suffrage – gaining the right to vote. The second wave of feminism in the 1960s objected to exclusion of women or their invisibility in many areas of public life."

Krefting found that across the years, issues of gender and work have expanded and the focus has changed from "fixing women" toward "fixing organizations," a notion advanced by Catalyst. In the 1980s, work and family balance and the glass ceiling became subjects of interest. Catalyst began tracking and reporting women’s representation on boards of directors in 1993, when women held 8.3 percent of board seats for Fortune 1000 companies.

The latest data (from 2005-2007 depending on the statistic) shows that much has changed for women, but that they have not achieved parity. The percentage of women in the labor force has grown to about 60 percent (up from 43 percent). Women now are more likely than men to have had some college education (64 percent vs. 48 percent). Women’s unemployment rates are no longer higher than those of men. Catalyst reports that women now hold 14.7 percent of the board seats at Fortune 500 companies.

Women’s earnings have increased relative to men’s, although the progress has been a slow half-penny per year. Median earnings for working women are now about 81% of men’s median earnings. The wage gap is even less for younger workers; for those under 25, women’s earnings are about 92% of men’s. The dollar wage gap increases with education level, and the pay-off for education is greater for men. With a high school education, women make $26,000 per year whereas men make $36,000. With a four-year college degree, women make $42,000 but men make $57,000.

Today, many occupations continue patterns of gender segregation. Women hold more than 90 percent of positions in such jobs as bookkeeping clerks, childcare workers, preschool and kindergarten teachers, registered nurses, receptionists, secretaries and teacher assistants.

The emergence of gendered patterns in the computer industry has been of particular interest, according to Krefting. "The industry was in its infancy in the 1960s and has grown remarkably during the period when women’s role in the workforce expanded substantially. While it might be expected that an industry which evolved after passage of the Equal Pay and Civil Rights Acts should demonstrate gender parity, such is not the case. Many computer industry jobs are typically male-dominated," she said.

CONTACT: Linda Krefting, associate professor, Rawls College of Business,
(806) 742-2157, or linda.krefting@ttu.edu.