Job discrimination based on sex and race is still widespread, if more covert, 21 years after passage of the Civil Rights Act--and won't stop until every woman who is underemployed, underpaid or unemployed screams loud and clear.
That was the message from the conference on "Minority Women and Employment." About 250 persons attended the day-long meeting last week at Cal State Los Angeles, where they were admonished to learn their rights and be prepared to fight. Jeannette Orlando, director of the Women's Legal Clinic of Los Angeles, suggested a call to arms: "You can think what you want about me, but when I go home I want my paycheck."
Keynoter Marguerite Archie-Hudson, director of California State Assembly Speaker Willie Brown's Los Angeles regional office and a trustee of the Los Angeles Community College District, said, "No woman needs to work under the terrible conditions of race and sex discrimination."
Remember, Archie-Hudson said, "Our work has great value. We have an an absolute right to work and to be compensated fairly."
Things have and haven't changed since 1962, she noted, when, with a bachelor's degree from Talladega, a small black college in Alabama, and a master's in counseling from Harvard University, she reported to the University of Chicago to interview for a counseling job at the university's academically prestigious laboratory high school.
The secretary's "mouth flew open," Archie-Hudson said, when she walked in. "They wanted somebody from Harvard . . . but they certainly did not expect me." When a follow-up letter from the university explained that hiring her would be "a departure from racial policy," she responded, "I'm afraid that's your loss and not mine."
She got the job and stayed for six years.
Today, she said, there are more "insidious" forms of discrimination against women of color in the workplace--lack of access to good child care, pay inequities, pigeonholing of women into low-paying, female-dominated jobs.
The audience included minority and other women, some men, a range of ages and job experience, some training for a first job, some in entry-level jobs, others preparing to re-enter the marketplace after years off for marriage and children.
Archie-Hudson told them she wanted to explode some "myths" about why women work: "Women in this country work to earn a living," something minority women have been doing for a long time as "an integral part of the support system of their families."
(Whereas in 1950 only a third of all women worked, Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show 52.7% of the 16-and-over female population working today).
But even in times of national economic prosperity, said Archie-Hudson, there is a huge wage gap between working women and working men and "Hispanic females are more often discriminated against in pay than any other group."
(A 1983 report by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission found that 2.8 million women, 13% of those working full-time, earned $7,000 or less, compared with 4.4% of men.)
59 Cents on the Dollar
The median income for men is now $20,000, she noted; $12,000 for women. That's 59 cents on the dollar for women, but for minority women, said Archie-Hudson, it's even less: 54 cents for blacks, only 44 cents for Asian-Pacific women.
She pointed out that one in three working women is a head of household, many of them earning below the poverty level of $7,412; one-fourth of all working women have never been married and 20% are married to men earning less than $15,000 a year. Half of black working women are in clerical and service jobs, Archie-Hudson said, as are 75% of Latino women.
Even so, she said, "Most of the women in the work force are scared about their jobs, do not know where to go" and have no knowledge of networking with other women. "Many of us have to be prepared to sue our employers . . . we owe this to our children but, more importantly, we owe it to ourselves."
"We've always had sexual harassment in the marketplace," she said, but only now are women beginning to understand that they don't have to put up with it, neither "leering and ogling" nor "direct sexual propositions as a condition of employment."
Keep in mind, she said, that "an employer cannot ask you questions about your childbearing plans" or refuse to hire a woman because there is no woman's bathroom or "force you to go on leave early because you're pregnant."
Each participant received a copy of "Women's Rights," a handbook compiled by the state attorney general's office that covers such areas as employment, economic independence, health care and housing.
More Legislation Needed
But further legislation is needed, said Archie-Hudson, for the "eradication of discrimination." Among important new legislation, she said, is a bill by Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), passed last year, that "pulls the cover off the comparable worth issue" by prohibiting an employer from requiring any employee to keep his or her wages secret.