Job Discrimination and What Women Can Do About It

"I had the experience last year of seeing a job I had filled for two years upgraded when it was filled by a man, at double the salary I was paid for the same work. College trained women are lumped with the secretarial and clerical staff, while college trained men are seen as potential executives. A few years of this and everybody is behaving according to what is expected of them, not what they are capable of."
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One of the most pressing needs for legal change at the moment is to amend Section 702 of Title VII to exclude the current exemption of discrimination in the employment of teachers and administrative personnel of educational institutions. Teaching, from preschool through graduate and professional schools, is the single largest occupation college-trained American women enter, yet there is no federal legislation to protect women teachers against discrimination based on their sex. Teaching is also the career field in which women have been losing ground during the past several decades: the proportion of 'women secondary-school teachers has declined from 68 percent of the total in the 1920S to 46 percent in 1966; the proportion of college and university women teachers has declined from 28 percent in 1940 to 22 percent in 1966; at the administrative level, women had been 55 percent of the elementary-school principals in the early 1920s but were only 22 percent by 1966. It is imperative that women's employment rights in the teaching profession be protected and expanded by amending Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to cover educational personnel.

A second urgently needed amendment to Title VII is the inclusion of a prohibition against discrimination based on marital status. Whether an individual is single, married, divorced, or widowed is no proper concern of an employer, nor is it relevant to job performance if a spouse, a parent, or a sibling is already an employee. Rules against the hiring of married women whose husbands work in the same school or department of a college or university are among the greatest barriers to career opportunity and advancement among women teachers It is a fact of social life that women marry men who live and study in their immediate environment. Propinquity sets the range within which mates are chosen at all levels of society. For the better-educated segments of the population, this fact of mate selection means an increased probability that women headed for academic teaching and research careers meet and marry men headed for the same careers. No other single topic is the subject of as much concern among graduate students and young faculty women as this question of whether and where a husband and wife can find and keep jobs when their training is in the same general field.

Some gains have been made in this respect, for there are now some outstanding couples who have joint appointments in the same department at the same university. The fact that it takes an "'outstanding" pair is, however, an index of how far from solved the general problem is. So long as the women or the couples must be "exceptional" to qualify for the treatment that is automatically accorded to "average" men in the teaching profession, the problem is essentially unsolved.

It is still a rare occurrence for women to assert themselves and protest their exclusion from consideration for teaching and research positions on the grounds of marital status. It is a hopeful sign that the Equal Rights Division of the Department of Industry, Labor, and Human Relations in Wisconsin recently informed the University of Wisconsin (in response to complaints filed by married women) that "the imposition of a rule barring husband and wife from the same department will be regarded as sex discrimination when the marital relationship is unrelated to the job and the ability of the woman to perform." But more women will have to become much more aggressive than they are at present if equal opportunity in employment is to be achieved.

One of the things they could and must do during 1970 is to mount a concerted campaign to make sure that the bills currently pending in Congress to amend Title VII are supplemented with sections that assure coverage of educational institutions under the terms of the Civil Rights Act barring sex discrimination, and that prohibit discrimination based on marital status. Neither of these two extensions is among the proposed amendments pending in Congress.

Women have a precarious hold on positions in the labor market. Like the blacks and the very young, they have traditionally been the expendable portion of the labor force which employers have been free to woo or reject in accordance with fluctuations in production, sales, patient; client, or student load. Only 40 percent of employed women work full time all year; 32 percent work full time part of the year, and 20 percent work part time for part of the year. As a result, most employed women do not build up seniority in their jobs, and it is far easier for employers simply not to hire additional workers than to fire long-standing employees. Clues to future instability of women's hold on jobs are already apparent in recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data on unemployment rates: that the rate declined between the summer of 1969 and late fall 1969 has been found to be attributable not to increased success in finding jobs but to withdrawal of unemployed women and young people from the attempt to find new jobs. When it is further realized that the supply of trained teachers, for the first time in twenty-five years, is beginning to exceed the demand for such teachers, it becomes all the more urgent that legislation be enacted that protects the rights of women to find and hold the jobs for which they are trained.

Should these protections against discrimination on the basis of sex not be enacted, we can predict increased militancy by American women. Such militancy among women, as among blacks, will not be evidence of psychological instability but a response to the frustration of rising expectations. Militant women in the 1970s may be spurned and spat upon as the suffragists were during the decade before the vote was won for women in 1920. But it must be recognized that such militant women will win legal, economic, and political rights for the daughters of today's traditionalist Aunt Bettys, just as our grandmothers won the vote that women can exercise today.

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