Gender Discrimination in Employee Assistance? Although EAPs Often Help Employers and Employees Address Gender Discrimination Issues, It Is Debatable Whether the Industry Is Better Than Many Other Professions in Opening Doors for Women Leaders

Article excerpt

A woman in the United States can take advantage of an astounding array of vocational opportunities. She may seek employment as a television producer, frantically organizing stories for the evening news. She can progress through the ranks of a law firm or medical practice. She may work as a traveling land surveyor, on the road for weeks at a time and coming home once every two or three months.

With this vast array of choices available, it would seem that gender discrimination would be nearly absent from the workplace. Yet evidence suggests the opposite--that gender discrimination in the workplace is alive and flourishing. The facts are familiar and compelling. On average, women make $0.72 for every $1.00 earned by men in equal positions with similar experience. (1) Women remain concentrated in "pink collar" jobs such as health care support, personal care, and administrative support, (2) and head only two of the 500 largest businesses in the United States. (3)

Perhaps as a means of avoiding possible gender discrimination, some women are choosing to become entrepreneurs rather than work for others. From 1997 to 2002, the number of women-owned businesses in the United States grew by 14.3 percent. (4) Evidence indicates, however, that ownership opportunities are not immune to the impact of gender discrimination, nor is the recent growth in women's businesses as significant as it may appear. Women may lack invaluable business networks and the necessary capital to finance their businesses. Further, many of these women-owned businesses are established as sole proprietorships and thus have no paid employees. (5)

EAPs often help individual or corporate clients confront gender discrimination, so the EA field should recognize the importance of eliminating gender discrimination. Thus, an examination of how women are faring within the field is relevant. To determine the degree of gender discrimination present within the field, this article will explore the topics of female entrepreneurship and female leadership. Interviews with women who are leaders in the industry will provide insight and nuance into these topics.


Opportunities for entrepreneurial women exist in the EAP industry, as the six interviewees made clear by describing the ways they established their own EA enterprises. Mary Vasquez, president and chief executive of VMC Behavioral Healthcare Services, started her company after she was awarded federal funding to encourage the growth of EAPs in her area. The funds proved to be instrumental in developing her initial contracts. When Dale Masi, president and chief executive of Masi Research Consultants, began working with IBM, the company provided some upfront funding and requested that she start her own business. Lucy Lopez-Roig, president and CEO of Lucy Lopez-Roig and Associates, was contacted by the secretary of health in Puerto Rico when the country's government was seeking individuals to establish EAPs.

But what about leadership opportunities for women? Research by Smith suggests that women are more likely to have job authority in industries composed mostly of females. (6) The EAP field would seem to fit this description. Although the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) does not specifically track the gender of its members, the organization acknowledges that the majority of its members are women. While EAPA membership is not necessarily indicative of the exact percentage of women and men in the industry, for the purposes of discussion it may be assumed that the EA profession is divided in a similar manner.

Thus, one might imagine that women would hold some job authority within EAP firms. Magellan Health Services, ComPsych Corporation, ValueOptions, United Behavioral Health, Cigna Behavioral Health, MHN, Inc. and APS Healthcare are giants in the EA industry. Yet not one of these seven companies is led by a woman.

In a profession populated mainly by women, why do men hold the majority of leadership positions? …