Study: Workplaces Increasingly Segregated, Dominated By White Men

Mad Men office white men

Nearly 50 years ago the U.S. passed the Civil Rights Act, outlawing segregation and banning gender and race discrimination, and in so doing, it remade the country forever.

But on the score of creating a more equal and integrated workplace, how has the country actually fared? How much has really changed?

Not nearly as much as you might think, according to a meticulously-researched new book by sociology professors Kevin Stainback of Purdue University, and Donald Tomaskovic-Deveym of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Their book, Documenting Desegregation: Racial and Gender Segregation in Private-Sector Employment Since the Civil Rights Act, analyzes data from 5 million private-sector workplaces from 1966 to 2005, and it finds that while upper management has become more diverse (with the number of white men in its ranks going from 93 percent to 54 percent), in many ways the workplace is still stuck in the "Mad Men" era.

Two major findings:
  • In spite of much hand-wringing in the media about the "decline of men," the truth is that white men still dominate the management ranks.
  • Workplace segregation, of both men and women and whites and blacks, is actually increasing in many sectors.

Employers "still expect [white] men to be in the managerial jobs," says Tomaskovic-Devey.

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Who Is Most Likely To Be The Boss

Race and gender still can work against you. White men are most likely to be in management positions, followed by white women. Black women are least likely. The data tell the story:
  • White men are 68 percent more likely to hold leadership positions than to be regular staffers.
  • White women are 28 percent less likely.
  • Black men are 53 percent less likely.
  • Black women are 73 percent less likely to be in leadership positions as compared to being regular staffers in the private sector.

What's the reason for this persistent inequality? Tomaskovic-Devey believes that attitudes are lagging behind the laws. When efforts are made to alter the character of the American workforce, it's seen as a threat to "everyone's sense of roles" and "what is right and proper" regarding race and gender.

Rise In Segregation In Some Workplaces

Surprisingly, some sectors have grown more lily white and all-male from 2001 to 2005, according to Tomaskovic-Devey.

Of 58 industries that he studied:
  • Seven -- including the airlines, railroads and mining sectors -- had a rise in gender segregation from 2001 to 2005.
  • Eighteen -- including transportation, lumber and leather manufacturing industries -- had an increase in racial segregation during that same period.

The rise of resegregation is most evident in higher management. "These are the jobs that are subconsciously worth holding onto, apparently," says Tomaskovic-Devey. And again, he says, the mechanism often has little to do with overt or even conscious bigotry. "We see this in studies of biases. People aren't aware of their own biases. And they get heightened when the stakes go up."

Most Progress Was Made Pre-1980, Now It's Slowed To A Crawl

The authors studied the "segregation index," which is the number of workers who would need to change jobs in order for blacks and whites and men and women to achieve parity. While this may sound wonky, this metric is actually critically important. What it shows is that from 1966 until 1980, there was steady progress, with the index declining 1 percent a year. But from 1980 on, progress has slowed to a crawl, with the index dropping at a miniscule rate of .01 percent.

The index now stands at 59. A score of zero would represent complete equality among the races that mirrors statistics of the general population, according to Tomaskovic-Devey.

To be sure, there are critics who would argue over whether an increase in the number of black workers is a reliable indicator of true social progress. But what is undeniable is that blacks were excluded outright from participating in the workforce before the civil rights era, and movement away from that America was fast at first, but has since dissipated.

Why? According to Tomaskovic-Devey, there's been a lack of presidential leadership. The push to increase hiring of blacks "lost steam" since Ronald Reagan's presidency, Tomaskovic-Devey said. The courts also raised the standard for proving that employers' discriminated; no longer was the perception of discrimination enough. Now, plaintiffs need to prove that employers intended to discriminate. There's also been less political pressure to advance women.

What Is Working?

Tomaskovic-Devey says workplaces that emphasize merit-based hiring -- focusing on educational credentials -- tend to have the least segregated workplaces. Do you see workplaces becoming more segregated, and what do you think is the reason?

Share your experiences in the comments section below.

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