Minorities, Women Gain Professionally
By D'Vera Cohn and Sarah Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Women and minorities made significant gains in some prestigious
professions during the 1990s, especially as doctors, but their
progress was uneven in other occupations where white males still
dominate, according to Census Bureau figures released on December
Decades after civil rights campaigns opened hiring to women, the
nation's police and fire departments remain overwhelmingly male,
census numbers show. But minorities have made strides in both
fields, helped by lawsuits and a recent push for recruitment of
Spanish-speaking police officers.
Overall, women and minorities make up a growing share of all civilian
workers, although the figures point to varied progress across
occupations, which is reshaping the nation's labor force. Gathered
during the 2000 Census, the statistics will be used by the federal
government to measure progress in equal employment and will be
the basis for litigation and research for the next decade.
In the high-status professions, the figures show, women now hold
a substantial share of jobs.
"There's been quite a lot of diversification by gender in
categories like doctors and lawyers," said Marc Bendick Jr.,
a Washington-based labor economist. "You'll find some progress
but much slower by race and ethnicity."
Bendick said that in the 1990s, blatant discrimination played
less of a role in keeping out women and minorities than in the
past. But, he said, barriers now are more subtle: a professional
culture "that is not a welcoming environment."
In the well-paid professions of law and medicine, women have more
than doubled their representation during the past two decades.
They account for more than a quarter of lawyers and doctors, and
by some predictions will account for 40 percent of physicians
in another decade.
Still, advocates point out that women are concentrated in lower-paid
medical specialties and are not as likely as men to be named partners
in their law firms. They are more likely than men to work part
time or take time off, which often slows their professional gains.
And their progress in entering the high-status professions has
slowed since the 1980s.
"Some people say that has a lot to do with women's choices
to leave the labor market to raise children, but we need to change
jobs to allow for those kinds of temporary exits," said Barbara
Gault, research director at the Institute for Women's Policy Research.
Although the number of minority lawyers has grown, minorities
account for 11 percent of the profession.
Minorities account for one in four doctors. Health policy researcher
Kevin Grumbach pointed out that most of that gain was among Asians,
many of whom were born abroad. The nation's share of black and
Hispanic doctors did not budge over the decade, and their medical
school enrollment has dropped since the mid-1990s as affirmative
action programs have been curtailed.
"What you see in medical schools is a reflection of educational
disparities that begin in kindergarten," said Grumbach, a
professor of family and community medicine at the University of
California at San Francisco. "That's a tough nut to crack."
Some fields have been particularly difficult for women and minorities
to enter. Women, who account for 47 percent of the nation's civilian
workforce, make up 4 percent of airline pilots, a proportion that
did not rise in the 1990s. Minorities, who make up 27 percent
of the workforce, account for 7 percent of pilots.
John Cox, an official of the Air Line Pilots Association, said
he was surprised at those numbers. "I've been in the airline
business for 24 years, and there now is enough ethnic diversity
that you really don't think about it," he said.
Still, he said, an engineering background often is a prerequisite
for pilots, and that is a field where relatively few minorities
or women are enrolled. And the private-school flight training
that most pilots receive can cost $50,000, on top of the cost
of a college degree, he said.
The census figures show that 4 percent of the nation's 242,000
firefighters are women, a tiny gain from the previous decade.
But Bendick said that some cities, such as Minneapolis and San
Francisco, have departments that are more than 10 percent female.
"There seems to be huge variations in the culture at various
workplaces," he said. "There are a bunch of employers
running old-fashioned departments that have not changed at all."
Minorities have fared slightly better among firefighting forces,
some of which Bendick said reflects long-running litigation filed
two decades ago. Census numbers show, however, that the number
of black firefighters stagnated during the decade.
Among police, women held steady at 13 percent of officers in 2000.
But minorities account for one in four officers, a share nearly
equal to their representation in the workforce overall. The biggest
gains were among Hispanics, who account for one in 11 police officers.
"Every department in the country is attempting to hire more
Hispanics, especially bilingual Hispanics, because of the true
need," said Chuck Canterbury, president of the national Fraternal
Order of Police. "But what we are finding a lot of times
are second- and third-generation Hispanics who speak no Spanish."