Tell us your first work experience and let’s see how jobs differ by gender

This week in North Philly Notes, Ryan Mulligan, the acquiring editor of Yasemin Besen-Cassino’s The Cost of Being a Girlpresents his survey findings about gender and first jobs. 

One of the most exciting parts of my job as an acquisitions editor at a university press is going to academic conferences. Stop laughing; I’m serious!

Conferences give editors a chance to meet potential authors in the fields in which we publish, who are also our readers. We learn what exciting work is being done, what the next frontiers of the field are, and what issues are on the minds of the discipline. They also give us a chance to show off our own work. Each conference features an exhibit hall where academic publishers set up a booth and show off their recent books. We want the scholars in attendance to discover the arguments and scholarship we’ve put out into the marketplace of ideas. We want them to buy our books and assign them in their classes. And we want them to understand what sort of book project we’re excited about and see us as a potential home for their own book projects in the future.

I wanted to try something new in Temple University Press’s booth this year at the American Sociological Society meeting, held in Philadelphia this year from August 11-14. One of our books, The Cost of Being a Girl, by Yasemin Besen-Cassino, received considerable media attention over the past year, from CNN, the Washington Post, MTV, and elsewhere.

In the book, Besen-Cassino looks at the gender wage gap among teen workers, thoroughly investigating what leads working teen girls to earn less than working teen boys. This is especially important because the factors that are usually cited to explain the wage gap among adults – work experience, obligations at home, reasons for working – do not apply to teens who are all in the same entry-level, student-worker boat. She finds that girls are sorted by gender towards care-work like babysitting, where their responsibilities and hours grow over-time but where asking for a raise is considered a betrayal of the values needed for the job, unlike, say, the freelance landscaping jobs preferred by teen boys.

In employment, this sorting of labor by gender continues as managers tend to track male laborers towards back-of-house jobs that have the potential for promotion, whereas girls are placed in customer service under the assumption that they are better suited to accommodate customers. The unique pressures of the aesthetic labor, hospitality, and care work in which employers place teen girl workers detract from these workers’ wellness throughout their lives, Besen-Cassino finds, to the point where girls who do not work at all as teens show a better quality of life years later. Besen-Cassino’s natural story-telling, compelling accounts, and engaging prose, coupled with the relatability of the subject matter makes this book a great candidate for use in sociology courses on work, gender, and youth and I wanted to find a way to get sociologists thinking about the book and the issues it raised.

CostPosterBoothMy colleagues and I set up a poster board in our booth at ASA, featuring the book’s cover and asking passers-by “What was your first job? Tell us your first work experience and let’s see how jobs differ by gender.” We provided blue, pink, and yellow post-it notes, labeled male, female, and non-binary (respectively) so that participants could see at a glance what sorts of jobs each gender identity worked. My colleagues started us off so that folks in the booth wouldn’t be intimidated about “breaking the ice.” Throughout the conference, lots of booth attendants came through and filled out a post-it note. 37 women and 22 men participated. I have to say that I am not a social scientist and while the study that inspired this exercise was extremely rigorous, my own analysis of the responses we received at ASA is not backed up by much in the way of statistical rigor or methods theory. Even if I had those tools at my disposal, I have doubts about the statistical significance of my sample with regards to conference attendees, not to mention to sociologists generally, to working teens in the US, or to living human beings globally. This is not a scientific study; I’m just an English major who reads sociology for a living. But the fun and the point of the exercise is to get us thinking about the principles Professor Besen-Cassino introduces in her book and if we can see them playing out in our sample. Let’s see what we found.

Jobs that appeared multiple times in each gender

Among our men, we have a couple bus boys, a couple paper boys (one woman also delivered newspapers), two journalists, and two young men who cleaned. There were also two research assistants, indicating that these men did not work before they started the careers they presumably hold now as academics.

Among women, we had 11 babysitters, three women offering cleaning services, three laborers, four working at eateries, and two working for clothing/accessory retailers.

Freelance vs. employed positions

Men: One out of 23 worked freelance

Women: 13 out of 37 worked freelance

It’s possible that some of the jobs I assumed were employed were not, of course.

This result lines up with Professor Besen-Cassino’s research, which tells us that men tend to more readily start their working lives for employers, whereas more women start freelance and transition to an employed job. This means that men tend to have more experience at a given age, and are more likely to have been given a raise or been promoted. Women working freelance in The Cost of Being a Girl describe difficulty raising their rates, as their clients read this action as mercenary and out-of-step with the work being provided, usually care work. Which brings us to my next point.

Babysitter, tutor, instructor, human care work

Men: One out of 23 performed this sort of work

Women 15 out of 37 performed this sort of work

Women were most likely to be taking care of somebody. Professor Besen-Cassino shows that expertise in carework is often interpreted as natural rather than a cultivated skill meriting recompense. Moreover, the work tends to grow the longer someone is in the position, but workers who ask for raises are chided for putting themselves over person being cared for.

Among retail/service industries, Customer/Client facing vs back of shop

Men: Of nine respondents working retail/service jobs, one specified a customer-facing job, five specified jobs that did not primarily interact with customers, and three did not specify.

Women: Of seven respondents working retail/service jobs, four specified a customer-facing job, none specified jobs that did not primarily interact with customers, and four did not specify.

I may be prejudicing my results here somewhat by classifying “busboy” as not customer -facing even though I acknowledge that they are seen by and sometimes interact with customers. My logic is that servers take on the interactive responsibility of communicating with customers, taking orders, responding to complaints and requests, and ensuring customer well-being that I’m trying to get at with this data point, so I classified those server jobs as customer-facing and busboys as not.

Clerical/Research/Desk Job

Four women out of 37 had what I would call desk jobs.

Seven out of 23 men had these jobs.

These jobs tended to be higher skilled, which might reasonably be better compensated or put the worker on a career track that tends towards better compensation. Moreover, most don’t call for the performative or aesthetic labor that makes a worker worry about their body, their clothes, or their presentation on a moment-to-moment basis.

Most interesting jobs: Bucker of wood (as an 11 year old boy – note: I had to look up what this meant; it means chopping a tree into logs); Statistician at Disney World (female respondent); tour guide (in our sample, one male and one female each had this job, with the female specifying that she directed a cruise on the Yangtze river), “making pork pies and sausage rolls in a butcher’s bakery” (male), serving raccoon at a wedding (female), corn detassler (female), migrant farm work (female), garment factory worker (female), and “held a sign on a street corner” (female).

And one woman’s first job was as a book reviewer, so I hope she in particular picked up The Cost of Being a Girl.

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What happens when the protests end?

In this blog entry, Harold McDougall, author of Black Baltimore, looks at growing civic infrastructure from family and neighborhood connections to show the “powers that be” that little people matter

Recent events in Baltimore are a reminder of the need to build “civic infrastructure” in inner-city communities like Sandtown, the neighborhood in which Freddie Gray lived, a neighborhood I studied closely when writing Black Baltimore, more than twenty years ago.

Sandtown then was home to many community-based, self-help efforts that provided examples of what participatory democracy, on a small scale, should look like. News reports from Sandtown in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death show they are still there—Rev. A.C. Vaughn’s Sharon Baptist Church, the New Song Community school, the Sandtown-Winchester Improvement Association, ”helicopter” parents and grandparents, trying to guide their kids through the maze.

black baltimoreI celebrated the indigenous social capital of these small-scale efforts in the book, calling them “base communities” because they reminded me of the Christian study circles organized by liberation theologists in Latin America. Groups of no more than twenty, seminar-size, where people could connect, reason together, figure things out and take action.

Friends and colleagues challenged my idea, arguing that while intimate and powerful, these small groups were not scaled to solve the problems they could see. Employment? Education? Police misconduct? Environmental damage? How could a group of twenty people respond to such large-scale issues?

So I went back to the drawing board, trying to figure out how to take base communities to a scale large enough so they could impact the issues people in neighborhoods like Sandtown face without sacrificing the intimacy and trust that made them so powerful, so important, so precious.

It was quite an undertaking, assisted by serendipity and caring people as much as by scholarship and hard study. It’s taken a long time.

The process started at a National Civic League annual meeting I attended, where former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley gave a speech comparing American society to a three-legged stool. There is a government leg, a business leg, and a community leg, he said. Bradley got the audience’s attention by declaring that the government and business legs are very long while the community leg is very short, making the stool—and the society—unstable.

How can community be lengthened, strengthened, so that it can balance business and government? Episodic flare-ups, through demonstrations, protests and other forms of mobilization, are not enough. Once grievances have been addressed, or the protesters silenced or co-opted, activity tends to subside. Civil society needs an ongoing civic infrastructure if it is to impact government beyond periodic elections, and business beyond individual consumer choice.

But how to build that infrastructure, how to knit those base communities together?

Then I met Don Anderson, a lawyer and social activist who was also an African-American descendant of Thomas Jefferson. He had come across some of his ancestor’s writing on “Citizen’s Assemblies.” The assemblies were to be sized to a Congressional district, and would select their Member through a series of caucuses. The Assembly’s most intriguing aspect, however, was its structure, and its potential to do a lot more than elect a Member of Congress.

The building block of Jefferson’s assembly was a neighborhood council of seven families, comprised of one representative from each family. Each council in turn selects its own representative, and these seven people meet as a “conference” representing seven councils (49 families). Finally, each conference sends a representative to an assembly representing all the conferences in the congressional district. The assembly conveys information—and instructions—from the constituent base to the member of Congress. (The model’s democracy was apparently a bit too direct for the Founding Fathers, and it never left the drawing board.)

This was what I was looking for.

Today, Sandtown numbers approximately 9,000 people. A Sandtown Citizen’s Assembly could aggregate families directly, and empower the people of the neighborhood. Such an Assembly could hold local government more closely accountable—schools, the police, elected officials—not from the distance of the voting booth but up close and personal. The Assembly could also perform some functions parallel to government, such as community mediation. (I called this the “politics of parallelism” in Black Baltimore)

The Sandtown Citizen’s Assembly could also check businesses and banks engaging in exploitative or high-handed practices. Past examples include the boycotts and selective buying campaigns of the civil rights movement, and labor’s boycotts and public shaming campaigns. Co-ops such as those Gar Alperovitz has described [http://democracycollaborative.org/] could round out the Assembly portfolio, creating “social” businesses, micro-enterprises, and other “off-the-grid” sources of income.

Protests emerging from the hassles people in neighborhoods like Sandtown face every day have erupted all across the country.  These protests are, at bottom, about a political and economic system that just doesn’t care about little people until, like Lilliputians, they get organized.

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