Panel on Occupational Segregation: Introduction

Documenting Desegregation

Over the last few months, in various parts of the country, several scholars have been invited to critique and discuss fellow OOW members Kevin Stainback and Don Tomaskovic-Devey’s new book, Documenting Desegregation: Racial and Gender Segregation in Private-Sector Employment Since the Civil Rights Act. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2012. 

This panel brings together a few of these scholars’ voices in an attempt to kick start a conversation about occupational sex and race segregation and, in many cases to move forward with more research. 

You will want to read OOW member and Work in Progress blog editorial board member Steve Vallas’ summary below.

The book is the first major study use EEO-1 data to examine the nature and consequences of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (CRA) over time. The book is painstaking in its use of data, but also careful and creative in its application of theory (largely, social closure theory). Major findings emerge in the book, some of which confirm existing assumptions about corporate policy, and others that are highly counter-intuitive. The book has generated much debate in the few months since its publication, and seems destined to provide a touchstone in this field now and for the foreseeable future.

The book’s first half identifies the broad historical process that unfolded during the decades following the CRA, documenting shifts in the levels of occupational segregation that separated white men, black men, white women and black women at work. The contribution here is in the book’s ability to link social movement mobilization, organizational environments, and political processes with trends in the level of job segregation over time. The overall pattern the authors find is one of rapid desegregation by race during the immediate aftermath of the Act, owing to corporate uncertainty and legitimacy concerns. During the 1970s, regulatory institutions began to limit corporate uncertainty, and racial desegregation began to level off, while efforts to reduce gender segregation made real gains. Finally, during the decades begun with the Reagan revolution, desegregation generally halted and has even been reversed. This part of the book insists upon linking organizational processes with shifts in the political landscape, and this is a major contribution.

The second half of the book provides a more nuanced analysis of the factors enabling and constraining desegregation, again broken down by racial and gender groups. A number of important findings emerge here that warrant careful consideration and further study. First, high paying industries and occupations exhibit seem especially to desegregate by either race or gender, much as closure theory would predict. Second, occupational fields with educational credentials as entry requirements (i.e., many professional occupations) seem especially open to the entry of women and, to some extent, racial minorities. This point stands at odds with closure theory, for it suggests that educational achievements can have a meritocratic rather than a gate-keeping effect. Third, in fields where women and blacks have made significant gains, white men have actually benefited even more profoundly (by securing senior management positions at especially high rates). This last point powerfully refutes the “reverse discrimination” argument, and broader claims that speak of a zero sum situation disadvantaging white men. Fourth, some industries and fields have exhibited especially poor records of protecting equal rights –a fact that the EEOC  might conceivably publicize, but for a variety of political and organizational reasons has refrained from doing. That task falls to academic scholars, who can play a progressive role in this respect.

In broad-brush outlines, Documenting Desegregation tells us two things. First, that the relatively uniform inequality regime that existed before the CRA has now been effectively dismantled, leaving a far more complex and variegated ensemble of inequality regimes in its wake. Second, it points out that while this shift has been broadly positive, its gains have dramatically eroded in recent decades, and even (in some industries and occupations) been reversed. The employment rights of historically excluded groups are, it seems, a function of social movements, political struggle and organizational wrangling. And in the contests to come, scholars can play a vital role, bearing witness to the gains that have been made –and those that have been squandered as well.

Please join the conversation started by Irene Padavic, Nancy DiTomaso, Elizabeth Gorman, Steve Vallas, and Beth Rubin.

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