The Women of Ellensburg: Issues of Women in Washington State
Working Women: The Controversy and The Reality
- More than half of all women 18 to 64 years of age are workers.
- Nine out of 10 girls will work at some time in their lives. The more education a woman has, the greater the likelihood she will seek paid employment. Seven out of 10 women 45 to 54 years of age with four or more years of college are in the labor force.
- The number of working mothers (women with children under 18) has increased ninefold since 1940. They now number 13.6 million, an increase of 4.1 million in the last decade.
- Women do not rob men of jobs. In 1973, when there were 2.5 million unemployed males, married American women held 19.8 million jobs, a great number of which were secretarial, teaching, or nursing jobs few men are trained to fill. If all those women had stayed home, more than 17 million jobs would have been unfilled.
- Women workers are concentrated in low-paying, dead end jobs. About half work in jobs like secretaries, typists, cashiers, waitresses, bookkeepers, reta i I saleswoman, etc, As a result, the average woman worker earns less than three-fifths of a man's salary, even when both work full time year round.
- Fully employed women high school graduates (with no college) have less income on the average than fully employed men who have not completed elementary school.
- A majority of women work because of economic need.
- About three-fifths of all women workers are single, divorced, widowed, or separated, or have husbands whose earnings are less than $7,000 per year.
- It is frequently the wife's earnings that raise a family out of poverty. In husband-wife families, 15% have incomes below $5,000 if the wife does not work, and only 4% when she does work.
Improving the financial rewards of jobs held by women workers is currently focused in two directions: moving women into jobs traditionally held by men, and further developing the concept of comparable worth (that people receive equal pay not just for identical jobs but for jobs of equal worth).
The Washington State Study
Comparable worth is a concept which implies that traditional women's jobs are low-paying, not because they are worth little, but because they have been devalued. A survey conducted for the State of Washington strongly supports comparable worth and disputes assumptions that women's jobs are paid less than men's jobs because they are worth less. By evaluating the jobs of 800 state employees in components (knowledge and skills, mental demands and accountability, and working conditions), a consultant rated 121 classified staff positions in the Higher Education Personnel System and the State Department of Personnel System. This audit showed clearly that people in "women's jobs" (70% of the people holding these positions were female) had to work harder and take on more responsibility to make wages equal to those paid in jobs held predominantly by men. According to the points assigned by the study, the average pay for women's jobs was about 70% of the pay for men's jobs of comparable worth. Clearly, two separate pay systems were operating. Because state salaries are based on current marketplace value determined by surveys of community salaries, it can safely be assumed that the situation is probably the same elsewhere.
The Cost of Comparable Worth
Though comparable worth has been supported by both the past and present governors of the state, implementation of the comparable worth system of pay is sure to be expensive and controversial. It goes against the traditional practice of devaluing work done by women, and implementing the findings of the state study may require freezing the salaries of some men's jobs while raising salaries for many women's jobs until the salaries are comparable.
Nontraditional Employment for Women
Another Route to Better-Paying Jobs
Women may move into higher income jobs by seeking employment in fields like professional, managerial, technical, trades, and skilled crafts - fields traditionally dominated by men. (Professional trends of today's college women are discussed in the Higher Education Section of this report; this section will emphasize the latter categories.)
Why Women Hold Few Nontraditional Jobs
The reasons women still hold only a small percentage of nontraditional jobs result both from the subtleties of women's training in American society and from very obvious problems women who want these jobs face each day. Schoolage girls are generally not exposed to fields like trades and crafts; they're not encouraged to become competent in such fields; some are ridiculed for attempting to learn these skills. Few women, therefore, make the decision to enter such non-traditional fields until after leaving high school and, as a result, miss a valuable chance to educate themselves in these fields.
While this conditioning does not lead a high percentage of women to choose nontraditional jobs, Mechanica, a Seattle group which helps place women in the trades, reports that they have 10 clients wanting to get into a trade for every one they place. The fact that only 2.6% of enrollees in apprenticeship programs are female further suggests that barriers exist for women in these programs. This situation may change since, in January, 1977, a group of women's organizations successfully petitioned the Washington State Apprenticeship Council to include women in their state affirmative action plans. Washington thus became the second state to have such a plan.
Although federal laws prohibit discrimination against women in employment, federal contractors frequently have not complied with these laws, and studies have found both the U.S. Departments of Housing, Education, and Welfare and Labor to be lax in enforcing anti-d iscri m i nation laws.
Unions control access to jobs In construction and manufacturing, especially in Washington, the third most unionized state in the country. According to Mechanica, women who have tried to join unions have met with negative reactions ranging from passive resistance to active attempts to block their entry. Women who have managed to get on the job have frequently needed support to overcome the loneliness of being the only woman in sight or to withstand the harrassment that sometimes comes from those men who do not believe it is normal for women to work in the trades or do not welcome female coworkers for other reasons.
Efforts to Help Women Enter Trades
Despite such resistance by employers and unions, more women are becoming interested in entering skilled trades and crafts - not only because many of these jobs pay well, but also because they like the work. Feminist groups are working to assist women who do want to enter trades. Mechanica suggests that women create informational and advocacy services; form citizen's action groups to pressure employers, unions, and apprenticeship committees to let women into the trades; expose boys and girls to the idea that women can work in the trades, and encourage girls to take shop courses; and require that community colleges and vocational-technical schools actively recruit women. Work Options for Women (VVOVV), which operates out of the Olympia YVVCA, works to help low-income, under-employed, and unemployed women get started in nontraditional jobs. VVOVV offers information, vocational counseling, and other support. They also work with employers and the community to develop nontraditional job openings and strongly advocate changes that will incorporate more women into apprenticeship training in unions.
Women who are already members of unions are, in increasing numbers, addressing themselves to issues like child care, pregnancy benef its, extending protective legislation to men, supporting both affirmative action and seniority gains, etc.
Other Washington State groups providing support and assistance to women working in nontraditional jobs include Women in Trades (Seattle), Nontraditional Job Opportunities (Longview), the Bellingham Y\NCA, and others.
Another nontraditional area opening to women is military service. Most legal barriers have been overcome. Female service members now receive all allowances in their own right, even when married to another service member. They are also entitled to full pay and allowances during maternity leave, even as a single parent.
Training is available in almost all military career fields, as 98% of job specialties in the Air Force and 92% of job specialties in the Army are open to women. The only jobs denied females at this time are those directly related to combat. In the Navy and Air Force, this denial is based upon laws which are currently being challenged in the courts. According to First Lieutenant Kathleen D. Paini, of the U.S. Air Force (McChord), females have successfully completed pilot training and are being utilized in all but combat-oriented aircraft.
The attitude toward women in a predominantly male environment has been identified as a problem. According to First Lieutenant Lynda Joyce, U.S. Army (Ft. Lewis), the women have discovered the best way to overcome an attitude problem is to be as competent and proficient as possible.
Problems in logistics have also been identified, because items such as field gear have been designed solely for men. In response to this situation, women are contributing significantly to the design and testing of new items such as load-wearing equipment and flight suits,
Lt. Joyce indicates the Army recently conducted a test to determine the maximum number of women that could be assigned to a unit without impairing that unit's proficiency. The results of the test have yet to be published.
Women's Views Concerning Employment
Conservative women have expressed concern that women may expose themselves to possible dangers when they take on jobs they are physically unsuited to perform. Conservative women have also stated that a working women who is not a primary bread winner should not replace a working man with a family to support. In addition, they want to encourage a society that is favorable to mothers who wish to be homemakers at the same time women who are the primary support of a family are also assisted in finding employment.
"Affirmative Action" refers to the concept that discrimination can be eliminated if employers go beyond providing equal opportunity to women and minorities by taking positive steps to identify and change barriers to equality. "Affirmative Action" also refers to state and federal requirements mandating that government contractors overcome discrimination. This is done in part by setting hiring goals or targets that attempt to estimate what the work force would look like if there had been no illegal discrimination. Goals are not quotas. Quotas are illegal because they exclude people. Affirmative action does not compel hiring or promotion of unqualified people.
Feminists support affirmative action. Conservative women believe it goes too far, involves too much bureaucracy, and is unnecessary to eliminate discrimination.
Agencies that Enforce Nondiscrimination
Washington State Human Rights Commission
The Washington State Human Rights Commission works to eliminate discrimination on many counts from race to age. The commission handles charges of sex discrimination by employers having eight or more employees, except for HEW or the federal government.
Seattle Office of Women's Rights
The Seattle Office of Women's Rights enforces legislation and executive orders such as Seattle's Fair Employment Practices and Open Housing Ordinances. The office is also the affirmative action monitor for city government jobs and reviews city contractors' affirmative action plans and employment rates.
U.S. Department of Labor Women's Bureau
The U.S. Department of Labor Women's Bureau is interested in reducing sex stereotypes which restrict women from applying or being accepted for nontraditional positions while recognizing the need to upgrade the positions of women choosing to hold traditional jobs. The bureau works to make women aware of their rights, as well as reminding employers of their legal responsibilities.
Other Federal Agencies
Laws and executive orders at the federal level cover every aspect of working conditions and prohibit sex discrimination. Jurisdiction for enforcement of laws prohibiting discrimination is divided among 10 federal agencies.