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On Mar 21, 2012 09:50AM ET in Environmental Defense
By Seyi Fayanju
March is National Women’s History Month, and in honor of that event, we decided to use this series to revisit a topic that we first touched upon a year ago: gender balance in the Gulf Coast’s green economy.
In our previous piece in this series, we looked at the relative absence of women from environmental restoration sectors like transportation and engineering. You might have come away wondering why the gender ratios are so skewed in fields such as construction, where there are approximately 32 male Louisianans working for every one female.
As in other parts of the country, the disparities in Louisiana’s labor profile were historically rooted in low levels of educational access for women and traditional social norms about female employment. In a 2004 report, Dr. Beth Willinger, who then served as the Executive Director of the Newcomb College Center for Research on Women at Tulane University, noted that:
“The fact that fewer Louisiana women attain a high school education than women nationally has consequences for employment and earnings. While men with a high school education can obtain relatively high-paying jobs with fringe benefits, for example in construction and transportation; women with a high school education tend to obtain jobs in the service industry, or as sales clerks and receptionists that pay the minimum wage, offer little security and few health or retirement benefits.”
What makes this moment in time different is that the gap in education between males and females in Louisiana has narrowed and, more recently, reversed in favor of women. Mirroring broader trends across the industrialized world, a higher percentage of Louisiana’s women (72.4% in 2006) are now high school graduates than Louisiana’s men (59.3%). Moreover, women in Louisiana earn more than half of all degrees at the post-secondary level.
This present pool of female candidates – the best educated in Louisiana’s history – should be an obvious source of new employees for firms involved in coastal restoration and other fields identified by Louisiana Economic Development in its “Blue ocean” strategy. Yet when we look at the labor statistics, we see that Louisiana women, who represented nearly half of the state’s total workforce (48.6%) in 2009, are still dramatically underrepresented in restoration sector fields that pay proportionately well (see below chart). For example, in 2009, only 11.3% of Louisiana’s architects and engineers were women.
In our last post of this series, we will consider some of the steps that state and federal stakeholders are taking to correct this imbalance.
Could restoration work lead to better wages for Louisiana women? Part I of III [Restoration and Resilience]
Female graduates increase in usually male-dominated fields [The Daily Reveille (Louisiana State University)]
Gender equality and the green economy: Women underrepresented in Louisiana’s construction, engineering sectors [Restoration and Resilience]
Program would require contracts to consider only local for coastal jobs [The Houma Courier]
The wage gap – Unconscious bias in judging the value of predominantly “female” professions [Psychology Today]