February 10, 2009 / Uncategorized

Promises Unkept in the Enduring Pink Ghetto


Cross-posted at Advancing Women

Today there is an ongoing flap about the consideration of Kim Gandy, President of the National Organization for Women (NOW), for Directorship of the Women’s Bureau in the U.S. Department of Labor. If you recall, NOW endorsed the all-male ticket of Obama and Biden in the general election. Some question her motives and believe it was a type of “pay for play”.

All the talk and back and forth in the blogosphere, with many women’s groups protesting Gandy as a choice, has set me to thinking about the the Women’s Bureau itself. Specifically, what has it accomplished and is it, in itself, another form of a pink ghetto?

What is a pink ghetto?

Women's work, circa 1940

Women's work, circa 1940

Elana Centor, in Can You Ever Escape The Pink Ghetto? explains,

Time was, the Pink Collar Ghetto was a term to describe traditional women’s jobs — those jobs with low pay and little job advancement opportunities: teachers, nurses and secretaries.

It is also used to describe certain spots for women in corporations such as HR and Marketing, or the role of CMO (Chief Marketing Officer). In just about every field there is a corner reserved for women where the pay and prestige are lower even though the work is equally demanding.

Think about it.

As Imdiversity.com points out,

….the medical profession provides a case study in the opportunities and problems for women in general. Most women doctors are in the so-called nurturing fields — pediatrics, family doctors, obstetrics and gynecology. Few are in the more prestigious and highly compensated fields such as neurosurgery or heart surgery. Women remain a distinct minority on medical-school faculties, and there are precious few female deans.

In fact, when women begin to be the majority in a field, the pay goes down.

Melanie Perry reports

[I] was wondering during a recent salary survey of Design professionals that I did that Training, Marketing, Landscape Architecture, and Interior Design were among some of the lower-paying fields when they obviously require such skills… then it occurs to me… those are the fields with some of the highest percentages of women in them.

So, my question is, What is it that the Women’s Bureau is doing for us? They’ve had a long time to do it, so why are women still only earning 78 cents on the dollar for men? Why is it that Federal law requires that certified women-owned businesses receive at least 5% of all Federal contracts, but less than 3.2% of all contracts are awarded to women.

Yes, Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act, but are individual women going to have to sue huge, rich conglomerates to get fair pay?

Pink Collar

Pink Collar

I have to wonder if the Women’s Bureau itself is a Pink Ghetto? Is it like the Bureau of Indian Affairs, there to babysit us and hold our hand and see that we don’t get off the reservation? Or, if we do, we don’t get into too much trouble?

If women are going to be marginalized, couldn’t they at least give us our own plot of land so we could build a casino and make some real money? ( I’m kidding.)

Long ago many women decided the only way to get a fair break was to start their own business, which women have increasingly done and are making almost $2 trillion doing it.

But we shouldn’t have to jump out of the labor market to make equal pay. And that, it seems, should be the base line expectation for the Women’s Bureau.

Whoever is appointed to lead the Women’s Bureau, we should hold her feet to the fire until she accomplishs that one goal.

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  • Cynthia Ruccia

    eye opening Gretchen. I couldn’t agree more with your conclusions!!

  • Thia, GA

    Fantastic article Gretchen! I wish they would tackle the .78 argument and really push that in a public way. Every time a woman brings that up, it is immediately followed by arguments that it is either not true, or that there are good “explanations” for it. Why haven’t they done an educational media push to get accurate information out?

  • Anna

    Gretchen – This is a really interesting piece! Do you, or does anyone know, just what the Women’s Bureau is slated to do? What it is responsible for? Again, your piece offers a truly engrossing if not also concerning perspective. Thank you for it. I hope it gets a wide audience and is posted on many sites…..While we’re all busy worrying about who Obama appoints, perhaps we need to step back and assess what in the world this piece of government bureaucracy has even done. And, more importantly, if it hasn’t done much, why? Because of leadership, or lack thereof. Or because the leader’s hands wind up tied if many cases. Or because it’s primarily like a figurehead role and has no real authority?

  • Thought provoking article. My question is: what concrete steps could the Women’s Bureau take to equalize pay? After all, the government can’t legislate that pay for nurses and pay for oil-rig workers be equal. So what are the alternatives?

  • Thia, GA

    Where’s The Line-

    I think education about the disparities would be a huge step for the Women’s Bureau to take. They could also help raise awareness of the issue in general, and if they did nothing else it would be a huge help to keep track of the data and publish it.

  • Lili



    The Women’s Bureau was created by law in 1920 to formulate standards and policies to promote the welfare of wage-earning women, improve their working conditions, increase their efficiency, and advance their opportunities for profitable employment.

  • Lili

    Women’s Bureau currently looks pretty dead – defunct? No current director – no calendar of events – no press releases… go check it out

    Shinae Chun
    (served as director 2001 -2009)

  • Thia, GA

    I’m sure they wiped it for the new administration. I noticed that on a lot of government sites post inaguration.

  • Lili

    Thanks, Thia, did not think of that!

  • Anna

    Lilii and Thia,

    I also wonder if The Women’s Bureau may also have gotten locked in a bit of a time warp, addressing issues that were indeed pertinent to women back in the day, but perhaps they haven’t kept up with how to update their mission and/or adapt to how the workplace has changed, women’s needs have changed (i.e. the need for childcare in the workplace, etc).