Minorities, Women Gain Professionally
By D'Vera Cohn and Sarah Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, June 18, 2004; Page A01
Women and minorities made significant gains in some prestigious professions during the 1990s, especially as doctors, but their progress was uneven in other occupations where white males still dominate, according to Census Bureau figures released yesterday.
Decades after civil rights campaigns opened hiring to women, the nation's police and fire departments remain overwhelmingly male, census numbers show. But minorities have made strides in both fields, helped by lawsuits and a recent push for recruitment of Spanish-speaking police officers.
Overall, women and minorities make up a growing share of all civilian workers, although the figures point to varied progress across occupations, which is reshaping the nation's labor force. Gathered during the 2000 Census, the statistics will be used by the federal government to measure progress in equal employment and will be the basis for litigation and research for the next decade.
In the high-status professions, the figures show, women now hold a substantial share of jobs.
"There's been quite a lot of diversification by gender in categories like doctors and lawyers," said Marc Bendick Jr., a Washington-based labor economist. "You'll find some progress but much slower by race and ethnicity."
Bendick said that in the 1990s, blatant discrimination played less of a role in keeping out women and minorities than in the past. But, he said, barriers now are more subtle: a professional culture "that is not a welcoming environment."
In the well-paid professions of law and medicine, women have more than doubled their representation during the past two decades. They account for more than a quarter of lawyers and doctors, and by some predictions will account for 40 percent of physicians in another decade.
Still, advocates point out that women are concentrated in lower-paid medical specialties and are not as likely as men to be named partners in their law firms. They are more likely than men to work part time or take time off, which often slows their professional gains. And their progress in entering the high-status professions has slowed since the 1980s.
"Some people say that has a lot to do with women's choices to leave the labor market to raise children, but we need to change jobs to allow for those kinds of temporary exits," said Barbara Gault, research director at the Institute for Women's Policy Research.
Although the number of minority lawyers has grown, minorities account for 11 percent of the profession.
Minorities account for one in four doctors. Health policy researcher Kevin Grumbach pointed out that most of that gain was among Asians, many of whom were born abroad. The nation's share of black and Hispanic doctors did not budge over the decade, and their medical school enrollment has dropped since the mid-1990s as affirmative action programs have been curtailed.
"What you see in medical schools is a reflection of educational disparities that begin in kindergarten," said Grumbach, a professor of family and community medicine at the University of California at San Francisco. "That's a tough nut to crack."
Some fields have been particularly difficult for women and minorities to enter. Women, who account for 47 percent of the nation's civilian workforce, make up 4 percent of airline pilots, a proportion that did not rise in the 1990s. Minorities, who make up 27 percent of the workforce, account for 7 percent of pilots.
John Cox, an official of the Air Line Pilots Association, said he was surprised at those numbers. "I've been in the airline business for 24 years, and there now is enough ethnic diversity that you really don't think about it," he said.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company