Race, class, and gender in women’s pathways to occupational gender segregation
Kennelly, Ivy Leigh
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Why do women work as secretaries? In this study I explore new ways to explain occupational gender segregation by focusing on women who work in the gender segregated occupation of secretary and the gender integrated occupation of furniture sales. My focus on these women allows me to isolate factors that have affected their pathways into and out of their occupations and to understand the ways their positions affect how they think about gender. This analysis addresses three primary issues: (1) the overwhelming commonalties along the pathways of women who currently work in either a gender segregated or a gender integrated occupation; (2) the conditions under which women who have done gender segregated work have been able to change occupations; and (3) the processes through which women use their occupations to construct and define their gender. I demonstrate that among the women in my sample, race, class, work histories, and access to networks are more important explanatory factors of occupational gender segregation than socialization, education, family responsibilities and orientation toward service. This is important for understanding how individual women may be able to escape gender segregated occupations and find work in higher-paying occupations with more opportunities for advancement. However, I also show that reducing occupational gender segregation through the integration of occupations is undermined by gender, itself, which necessarily entails inequality. My analysis suggests that while policies such as affirmative action and comparable worth, and strategies to give women time off from paid work, are important short-term steps in eliminating segregation, the integration of occupations will do little to eradicate labor market inequality as long as gender exists.