Gender stereotypes. Unequal family caregiving responsibilities. Limited access to networks and mentors. Gaps in educational attainment and training place women on different career paths. Wealth gaps. Discrimination. Hostile workplace cultures and harassment. These factors all contribute to the overrepresentation or underrepresentation of women in certain jobs—also known as occupational segregation.
Occupational segregation drives patterns of pay inequity for women. For example, the average annual earnings of those employed in the construction and extraction occupations is around $50,570. However, women represent just 4 percent of the skilled construction trades. By contrast, childcare workers—94 percent of whom are women and disproportionately women of color—are making an estimated $28,500. When women enter into an occupation in large numbers and the gender balance shifts, wages go down. The wage penalty in female-dominated industries is fueled by social norms and gender stereotypes about women and work, but it hurts everyone, not just women workers. This is why the Women’s Bureau (WB) is working to attack the problem at its root by fixing occupational segregation.
Disrupting occupational segregation has the potential to lift thousands of women and especially women of color out of poverty by opening up pathways to higher-paying jobs. Reversing the impacts of occupational segregation requires both expanding women’s pathways to high-paying jobs historically held by men while also increasing the value of jobs historically held by women. The good news is the Biden-Harris administration is working to make this a reality. As we invest trillions to rebuild American infrastructure, we have the unique opportunity to make sure the jobs created by those projects are good jobs that are open to all, especially those who have been long underrepresented in those career pathways. It also allows us to ensure while we are making needed investments in our infrastructure projects, we are doing the same to build up our care infrastructure to ensure that workers and their families are supported. At the WB, we are leveraging all our superpowers to advocate for increased job quality and safety for everyone across male- and female-dominated sectors alike.