Gender Segregation Affects Job Recovery

The “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” mindset isn’t a great one to have when it comes to looking at diversity, but it does apply when seeking out the reason behind differences in job recovery.

A study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research earlier this month found that women have recovered 50 percent more jobs in the economic growth period between June 2009 and June 2013 than they had before the recession. Men are still trying to get back the jobs they lost.

Although the study suggests women have a greater stake in the workplace, IWPR president Heidi Hartmann attributed it to a few reasons that don’t necessarily bode optimistic for women.

First, men have more jobs to recover than women, so naturally it will take longer for them to get to full recovery. Second, women are found more often in health care and private education, two industries where hiring is either booming or never died despite economic troubles.

This split isn’t new. “There’s definitely historical traditions, but it’s sort of a mystery because occupations are changing all the time,” she said, citing how teaching was once an all-male profession but is now mostly female. 

Hartmann said gender segregation extends into occupation and firms, in which case it works against female workers. Women take on administrative roles in industries like construction, where their placement has continued to be down, and tend to work in soft-goods manufacturing (clothes, shoes, etc.), which is an industry where most of the jobs have been outsourced. White-collar women, such as lawyers, tend to work for smaller, less profitable firms where there aren’t as many employees.

There’s also a difference in the types of roles that women take on, said Pat Milligan, president of Mercer’s North America Business and the leader of the organization’s global women’s initiative. Men are more often in specialist roles that are harder to find in a recovering economy, and women take on more collaborative roles that are immediately needed. 

Then again, the ability to be in collaborative roles could prove useful to pushing women up the ranks to the executive level, where they’re still absent compared with men. “When you look at some of the competencies women accelerate at, they’re also very strong competencies of highly successful global leaders,” Milligan said. “We’re excited about tying these competencies to global leadership profiles where you see many more of those traits.”

But as optimistic as Milligan is about women’s long-term leadership situation, there’s also a chance that the slow economic recovery for men could result in a shift in gender segregation — something Hartmann said has happened before.

 “When manufacturing obliterated farming, women went into manufacturing first and the men followed,” Hartmann said. “If health care is the growing industry, the men are eventually going to follow into health care. People are not stupid — they eventually go to where the market is telling them to go.”