Major D’Andrea L. Price ’90 served as manager for the major crimes section for the City of Atlanta Police Department for thirty years before retiring in 2021. Though she faced some obstacles being a woman in a career dominated by men, she feels that overall women are gaining respect as equals with men in the law enforcement field. “It is getting better. It was better for me than for the women in the 1980s and hopefully women like me who rose through the ranks make it easier for the women who follow. When I joined the force in 1991, I was told by a male officer that I should be home, barefoot, and pregnant; that the streets were not for women. That only made me want it more.” D’Andrea’s motivation-style leadership encouraged and empowered the other women on the force to serve and to lead in this male-dominated field and earned her a steady stream of promotions. When she retired, people addressed her as Major Price.
Looking back through history, the percentage of women working outside the home in 1941 was 25%, mostly in low-level clerical work, or as nurses and teachers. By 1945, near the end of World War II, about one-third of women worked outside the home, many in factories doing “men’s work” for the war effort, but around 1950, the number returned to the pre-war percentage as women began staying home to take care of children and the house. By the 1960s, the ideal of the stay at home mom was beginning to wane, and by 1980, 50% of women were working outside the home, double the figure from the 1950s. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the labor force participation rate of women increased throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, and peaked at 60% in 1999. Over these four decades, the women’s labor force participation rate increased even during several economic downturns.
BLS further states that since the peak in 1999, the women’s labor force participation rate, which historically offset the decline in the men’s participation rate, has been decreasing and is now contributing to a decline in the overall labor force participation rate. Since the midpoint of the Great Recession in 2008, the rate has further declined by 2.8 percentage points to 56.7% in 2015. BLS projects that this rate will continue its decline and fall by 0.9 percentage point to 55.8% in 2024.
During 2020 and 2021, the coronavirus pandemic had a negative impact on the workforce as a whole, but on women especially. According to Lorman Educational Service’s website, statistics show that almost twice as many women as men left the labor force in 2020, many in order to care for their children as schools and day cares closed. However, according to the BLS, 2021 ended with the highest rate of women in labor force since the first month of the pandemic, at 57.8%. Of all the net jobs the economy added in the past year, 3.3 million went to women and 3.1 million went to men. Even so, women continue to be underrepresented, underpaid, and discriminated against in the workforce, particularly in jobs that often are referred to as “male dominated.” Traditionally these jobs include STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), finance, IT and software development, construction, architecture, and law enforcement, among others. According to data, women were less likely to receive a pay increase in the past 12 months – 60% vs. 71% for men. The data shows on average, women who did receive pay increases saw only a 6.5% increase compared to the 12.1% increase men received.
Alexia Barrett-Flake ’15 worked as an industrial engineer at AGY for four years before changing jobs a few months ago. “Historically, engineering is considered a man’s field. I do believe those tides are turning. Part of my job was recruiting and managing interns, and toward the end of my time at the company, we were seeing more young women than men apply for internship positions. Last year all the interns were women. It was really nice to witness. The group of women and men who chose the interns chose them because they were the best candidates for the jobs.”
In the next several pages you’ll read about the work experiences of Wesleyan alumnae who are serving in male-dominated fields. They offer advice to young women who are considering following in their footsteps and outline the ways their alma mater prepared them to take on these demanding roles. D’Andrea’s advice is, “Focus on the career you desire, learn the job, and work hard to achieve the goals that will make you competitive with men and other women.”
At the beginning of 2020, women held 38% of manager-level positions, while men held 62%.
For every 100 men promoted to manager, only 85 women were promoted. And yet, a recent Gallup study found that gender-diverse business units have higher average revenue than less diverse business units and gender-diverse teams have higher sales and profits compared to male-dominated teams.
The 2020 Fortune 500 list revealed a record high number of 37 women CEOs, compared to the 463 CEO positions held by men. Studies show that Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women on boards financially outperform those with the lowest representation of women on boards.
Despite the Equal Pay Act of 1963, women earned 83% of what men earned for full-time, year-round work in 2020, and according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the national earning wage gap was $10,150 in 2019.
This year, Equal Pay Day fell on March 15, a date that symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year - 73 days in 2022.
A survey by Glassdoor found that 32% of women do not try to negotiate pay raises with their employer, mainly due to the fear of being denied or losing their job.
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