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 30, 2003.

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."



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