Working Women Progress

Working Women Progress

But many still juggle career, family, says sociologist Hesse-Biber

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

In the 15 years since she co-authored the book Women at Work , says Prof. Sharlene Hesse-Biber (Sociology), the landscape has improved significantly for the American woman on the job.

Yet much more remains to be done to accommodate working parents of both sexes, adds Hesse-Biber, who revisits the world of women's work in the newly released Working Women in America: Split Dreams , written with Gregg Carter of Bryant College.

"We need to savor all of the success that women have made over the past three-and-a-half decades," Hesse-Biber said. "Women have gained greater equality in all of society's major institutions. We need to continue to break the glass ceiling. While women have made gains in salary, they still lag behind in wages. We've achieved greater equality in the family and are bringing men along.

"We subtitled out book ' Split Dreams ' to highlight the fact that most women who work are constantly juggling their work and family dreams - feeling torn in many different directions."

She said much needs to be done to make the workplace not only more equitable, but more amenable to women - and men - who have families.

"Work-and-family issues are not just women's issues, they pertain to the family, employers and wider society as a whole," she said. "I think work and family have been treated as women's issues. But how does a man feel about having to sneak home to the family only after leaving a light on in the office, lest the boss think he's not committed to the job?"

Hesse-Biber: "Work-and-family issues are not just women's issues, they pertain to the family, employers and wider society as a whole."

The new book presents an overview of research done on women's work experiences from the Colonial era to the present day. The material is placed in a sociological and historical context, and includes vignettes on individual working women. "In this volume, we examine the diversity of women's experiences, taking into account how women's lives differ by factors such as race, class and ethnicity ," Hesse-Biber said.

"What this book really does is look at the work and family issues of women from all walks of life, in all sorts of jobs," she added . "We look not only at women in top jobs, but at the women who color your hair and sell you food at McDonalds. We also look at housework as work.

"The reality is, women have always worked, both inside and outside the home," Hesse-Biber said. "In order to understand how women fare in the workforce today, it is important to get the historical context - to understand the past in order to understand the future."

The 15 years that have passed since the release of Women at Work have been marked by striking changes in social views on women in the workplace, she said.

"The women's movement has made a difference, especially regarding men's roles as fathers," she said. "Most young women now expect to have careers and in many ways they expect their husbands to share roles at home."

But the corporate world has been slow to adjust to the needs of working parents, Hesse-Biber.

"We've really stretched the fiber of the family too thin," she said. "While both parents are working full-time, many corporations are not making accommodations by offering flexible work hours, on-site day care, or job sharing. Most part-time jobs carry no benefits, so if both husband and wife decide to work part time to spend time with the children, they can't get the benefits they need.

"We need to bring employers along," she said. "Corporations need to provide more choices for families in the way of flexible work-schedules and real part-time jobs with benefits. Would it be so difficult to put families at the center of the corporate mentality rather than money?"

Return to Nov. 24 menu

Return to Chronicle home page