Why Are Our Workplaces So Segregated?

Sociologists say that the progress toward integration made in the 1960s has been eliminated, indicating a fundamental problem with American society.

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Despite conventional wisdom suggesting that all areas of American life have become more integrated and that opportunities have equalized over the past several decades, two scholars writing at The Root DC say that the American workplace tells a different story.

Kevin Stainback and Donald Tomaskovic-Devey say that their new research shows a trend toward racial resegregation and makes clear that much is needed to get back on the path to equal opportunity.

But research we just completed for a new book, "Documenting Desegregation," tells a different story. In many workplaces, the United States has fallen off the path to equal employment opportunity, with racial and gender segregation on the rise in many firms and industries.

The results of our research found in part that there has been a trend toward racial re-segregation among white men and black men since 2000 and increased segregation since 1970 between black women and white women in American workplaces -- so much so that it has eliminated progress made in the late 1960s. This is not simply an academic question, but a fundamental problem with American society. While most of us morally embrace equal opportunity and race and gender equality, we find that America is still a long way from those commitments. Only by confronting our shortcomings as a society can we address them.

To understand current conditions, we need to look at how we got here. Before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal to discriminate in employment, there was near-total segregation in private-sector employment. Black men, black women, and white women almost never held the same job in the same workplace as white men. When they did share workplaces, women and people of color were almost always in low-skill jobs with no authority. In sum, good jobs were reserved for white men.

That changed with the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Employers immediately began hiring more black workers and promoting them to jobs once reserved for whites. In the 1960s, black men made strong gains in skilled blue-collar jobs and black women in clerical work. This trend continued through the 1970s, with black men, black women and white women gaining unprecedented access to white-collar managerial and professional jobs. Between 1964 and 1980, employment segregation between black men and white men dropped by 15 percent.

Read more at The Root DC.

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