A National Study of Gender-Based Occupational Segregation in Municipal Bureaucracies: Persistence of Glass Walls?

Article excerpt

Affirmative action policies and voluntary hiring decisions have increased the presence of women at all levels of government (Eribes, et al., 1989; Kelly, et al., 1991; Bullard and Wright, 1993; Stivers, 1993; Crum and Naff, 1997). Still, strong evidence exists that women continue to find it difficult to break into male-dominated fields despite nearly three decades of affirmative action policies (Leonard, 1989; Lewis and Nice, 1994; Newman, 1994; Tomoskavic-Devey, Kalleberg, and Cook, 1996). A preponderance of studies in the literature on the employment distribution of women and men and the integration of women into governmental managerial ranks provide evidence that women face both glass walls and glass ceilings at the federal and state levels (Lewis and Emmert, 1986; Pfeffer and Davis-Blake, 1987; Baron and Newman, 1989; Kellough, 1990; Bullard and Wright, 1993; Guy, 1993; Cornwell and Kellough, 1994; Lewis and Nice, 1994; Naff, 1994; Newman, 1994; Ruccucci and Saidel, 1997). Though some discussion of ceiling issues is necessary to provide a context for our analysis, this article will primarily concern itself with the wall phenomenon. The glass wall metaphor describes occupational segregation attributed to employment barriers that restrict the access of women to certain types of jobs (or agencies) or that trap them within certain types of jobs (or agencies). Glass walls are likely to persist when: (1) organizational cultures create impediments to change; and/or (2) skills necessary to perform jobs in a given agency are not highly valued elsewhere.

The potential for female employment opportunities at the municipal level is considerable. Not only is there a large number of jobs in city governments, but many jobs are close to home and educational opportunities. Even when these employment opportunities contribute to the hiring of large numbers of women by municipal governments, the advancement of women into the more prestigious municipal policymaking positions is a different matter (Slack, 1987; Ballard and Lawn-Day, 1992).

Although employment opportunities for women are more numerous at the local level than either the state or federal level, systematic or large-scale studies at this level of government have been scarce. The lack of access to comparative data on cities has resulted in a dearth of empirical studies on gender-based occupational segregation and salary disparities at the municipal level. Greater attention needs to be devoted to evaluating the extent and nature of glass walls in municipal governments (Radin, 1980; Rinehart, 1991).

Research which tends to focus on what Frederickson (1990) calls block equality paints the most optimistic picture of female or minority employment patterns (Furchtgott-Roth and Stolba, 1996). The findings in this body of research are derived using highly aggregated data. Aggregation can obscure the fact that females are underrepresented in the best paying or most influential positions in an agency and can hide gender segregation that may exist among government agencies. Segmented equality shifts the focus of analysis to gender representation in various types of jobs (or at different organizational levels) and within functional (or policy) areas in municipal governments (Frederickson, 1990). This latter approach is more likely to identify gender-based differences in employment and salary patterns. We use the latter approach, segmented equality/inequality, to study municipal employment. We examine gender distributions in administrative and professional jobs.(1) Administrative and professional positions are the most desirable ones in city governments; they confer status and authority, are relatively well-paying, and in many cases, allow bureaucrats to significantly influence policymaking and its implementation. We also examine gender-based employment patterns in discrete functional policy areas or tasks within municipal bureaucracies to determine if policy outputs are associated with the extent and nature of glass walls. …