Did you notice the race of your barista this morning? What about the sex of your mechanic?

I have observed that when I shop, most of the employees look like me. When I go to work, most of my co-workers look different from me.

If my observations about occupational segregation hold across the labor force, women and people of color like myself have yet to break the glass ceiling. So, I sought evidence of continuing barriers to equal employment for members of historically marginalized groups.

My new study, presented at the Midwest Political Science Association Conference on April 5, shows that barriers indeed remain.

Evaluating Equal Employment Opportunity

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. This statute outlaws discrimination, segregation and other employment actions motivated motivated by sex, race, color, religion or national origin.

As part of its regulatory activity, the EEOC requires private employers with more than 100 employees to annually complete the EEO-1 form. This form asks employers to describe the race and sex of all employees, grouped by a number of occupational categories.

I analyzed the high-level occupations of “professionals” – which includes engineers, lawyers, doctors and teachers – and “officials and managers.” I grouped all other occupations, such as “craft workers” and “laborers,” together, because they occupy lower positions on the career ladder, despite spanning industries.

My study plotted demographic trends in these groups from 1996 to 2016. I then compared each demographic group’s representation in the broader labor force.

Women’s increasing access to high-level positions

White men have historically and disproportionately held official, managerial and professional occupations.

But, between 1996 and 2016, the proportion of jobs held by this group declined across all occupations. I believe that some of this is due to the increasing percentage of people of color in the overall U.S. population.

Trends in white women’s employment representation over the last 20 years suggest that Title VII is having an impact among this group.

In 2016, white women made up 32% of the U.S. labor force. Although their representation in official and managerial occupations is a bit lower, at 29.8%, their numbers have been increasing.

White women are overrepresented in professional jobs, occupying 38.2% of positions. However, their share of these jobs is declining, possibly because more white women are being promoted to official and managerial roles.

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