Tag Archives: labor

Family Breadwinner Finds Her Place: With The Men

My mom tells me stories like this a lot, about when she was trying to get a job in the warehouse of Procter and Gamble in the late seventies I believe.  She went in, hair long, sharply dressed, and was told that this wasn’t the place for her.

After waiting the probationary few months to reapply, she cut her hair short, wore all flannel and boots, and got the job.  Needless to say, the men in her department didn’t make it easy for her.  This was a “man’s world” and she would need to adapt, i.e. tolerate their sexually objectifying and sexist jokes.

Dee Dickson’s interview with NPR doesn’t sound a bad as my mother’s, and far better than Josey Aimes’ life in North Country.  It makes me wonder what newly-hired women experience at the shipyards today.


Don’t feel like reading?  Listen to Dickson’s story here.

StoryCorps At StoryCorps in Biloxi, Miss., Dee Dickson, 59, told the story of how she got her first job at the shipyards.

In 1974, Dee Dickson was separated from her husband and raising two children by herself in Biloxi, Miss. Needing a job, she set her sights on becoming an electrician at a nearby shipyard. But she soon found out that it wasn’t an easy job to land.

“The guy that was interviewing told me I was too little; that I wouldn’t get along with the guys; that they would make life hard for me,” Dickson says.

“He didn’t think I needed to be doing it.”

Eventually, Dickson’s father stepped in to offer his help. His uncle Alf was a superintendent at the docks.

“Finally, at the end of that week, I let my dad take me to see Uncle Alf,” Dickson says.

They talked — and on the next Monday, Dickson reported to work at Ingalls Shipbuilding.

“The guy said, ‘Look, I got the word from the top. I don’t like it, but you’re hired.’ ”

When she went to work on her first ship, Dickson hit another obstacle. As an apprentice, she needed to learn on the job. And to do that, she needed to be paired with a “buddy.”

“But none of the guys would work with me,” Dickson says.

She recalls them telling her, “These are men’s jobs. You’re taking jobs away from men who have families.”

Her answer was simple: “I said, ‘I have a family and no man — and I need money.’ ”

Ingalls had employed women as shipbuilders before — but that was during World War II, when many male workers were serving in the military.

In Dickson’s case, “It took about two weeks before I started proving myself. And the guys were doing better with it. They would work with me.

“I had several guys who told me, ‘You need to slow down — you’re making us look bad,’ ” she says with a laugh. “You know? And I’m like, ‘I’m here to work!’ ”

And her hard work paid off.

“We had to go to school two nights a week. And I was the first apprentice who had ever become supervisor before graduation. And they were mad, because I got a raise. And I got a position they thought was theirs.

“I had a knack for getting stuff done on time, and getting it done right.”

Dickson had that knack, despite not being able to do everything most of her male co-workers could — or, at least, not in the same way.

For instance, she says, “I couldn’t lift an 80-pound transformer. But I found a way to do the same things they were doing. And it kind of made me better than I probably would’ve been if I was a guy.”

Dickson went on to work at the shipyard for a total of five years — her first stint lasted three years, and then she returned for another two after working at a nuclear power plant.

Now retired, Dickson is in the process of becoming a Methodist preacher.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jasmyn Belcher.


High-tech Rosies! From Sociological Images

by Lisa Wade

Many of us are familiar with the female blue-collar workers that took jobs in factories during World War II. It turns out, however, that women were also employed as mathematicians and computers (that’s “compute-ers”). In this photo, Jean Jennings Bartik and Frances Bilas Spence get ready to present an early computer to military officials in 1946:

Yes, these high-tech Rosie positions were off-limits to non-white women and most likely non-white men.  But, imagine these groups of white female mathematicians who become stay-at-home mothers shortly after the war, teaching their daughters to go to school for home economics or an MRS degree so as to not offend a potential suitor with her intellect. No wonder they were disgruntled and rejected American conformity in the postwar era.

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How Women Are Faring in the Workplace

Click here to read Catherine Traywick’s article explaining the chart at Ms. Magazine.

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People in jobs traditionally held by the other sex are judged more harshly for mistakes

Keri Chiodo, Association for Psychological Science

In these modern times, people can have jobs that weren’t traditionally associated with their genders. Men are nurses; women are CEOs. A new study examines perceptions of people in high-powered jobs and finds that they’re likely to be judged more harshly for mistakes if they’re in a job that’s not normally associated with their gender.

“The reason I got interested is, there was so much talk about race and gender barriers being broken,” says Victoria Brescoll, a psychological scientist at Yale University and first author of the study. In the 2008 presidential election, a woman came close to getting a nomination, and an African-American man ended up president of the United States—a job formerly reserved for white men.

But just getting a job with high status isn’t enough, Brescoll says; you have to keep it. She suspected that people who have a job not normally associated with their gender would be under closer scrutiny and more likely to get in trouble for mistakes. “Any mistakes that they make, even very minor ones, could be magnified and seen as even greater mistakes,” she says.

Brescoll and her colleagues, Erica Dawson and Eric Luis Uhlmann, came up with a list of high-status jobs that are normally held by one gender or the other. This was easy for men, but actually quite difficult for women; the one they came up with was the president of a woman’s college. For this study, they compared that to a police chief, a traditionally male role. They pre-tested the jobs to make sure people perceived them as having similar status and also being associated with one gender or the other.

About 200 volunteers read a scenario in which either a police chief or a women’s college president made a mistake, sending not enough police officers (or campus security officers) to respond to a protest. The gender of the police chief or college president varied; different people read different texts. Then they were asked how they judged the person who made the mistake.

People who were the non-stereotypical gender were judged more harshly; the volunteers saw them as less competent and deserving of less status. The same was true in other tests with a female CEO of an aerospace engineering firm and a chief judge. The study is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“There is an effect called the glass cliff,” Brescoll says. Like the glass ceiling that keeps women from rising higher, the glass cliff is what counter-stereotypical individuals (such as female police chiefs) are in danger of falling from. “You don’t really know, when you’re a woman in a high status leadership role, how long you’re going to hang onto it,” she says. “You might just fall off at any point. Our study points to one way that this may happen for women in high-powered male roles.”


The APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology. For a copy of the article “Hard Won and Easily Lost: The Fragile Status of Leaders in Gender-Stereotype-Incongruent Occupations” and access to other Psychological Science research findings, please contact Keri Chiodo at 202-293-9300 or kchiodo@psychologicalscience.org.

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Washington Post – An education doesn’t grow on trees

I recently read Kevin Sieff’s article from The Washington Post about how two daughters of migrant workers struggle to keep good grades in school.  What a thought-provoking story about the nexus of undocumented workers, legal migrant workers, welfare, and education, and how our struggles for defining American citizenship affect children.

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Playboy Bunnies, 1960s and 1970s – NPR

Another really interesting NPR story on women.  This article by Scott Simon on the changing perceptions of Playboy Bunny servers (think waitress, not The Girls Next Door”).  One of the most interesting parts of Simon’s essay is with Ex-Bunny Mary Chipman who began working at first Playboy club in Chicago during the 1970s.

Nancy Downey Caddick as a Playboy Bunny in the 60s. Courtesy of Caddick.

Although in the 1960s the men’s club attracted top entertainers, by the 1970s the club was denigrated by the women’s movement.  Chipman, a self-proclaimed feminist, explains how both the bunny ears and female patrons were degrading:


“Ms. Chipman came in at a more feminist age. She loathed every aspect of the costume. “I really did. It wasn’t the sexiness of it, which was OK, it was the whole idea of the ears and the tail — I just thought it was very degrading.

“Once you make yourself into this Bunny — which isn’t really a woman, it’s kind of just this hybrid creature — people felt entitled to take liberties with you. People would feel entitled to pull your tail or touch you.

“Of course, the management would protect you from all of this, but you know, still, that was the natural impulse,” she says. “The usual social barriers of treating women with a certain amount of respect were somewhat dissolved by the costume, I felt.”

Ms. Downey Caddick found the most difficult customers to be the women, not the men.  “I would have a couple of incidents where a woman would pull my tail,” she says. “Another one would just continue to make all kinds of nasty statements to me as I’m trying to serve them.”


Read/Listen to the NPR story here.

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Foxconn Worker Suicides

I’m finally back from China and now able to write on my blog!  I have some exciting and interesting blog posts to share in the near future.  Hold your horses.

In China I learned about the idea of “saving face.”  This idea of preventing embarrassment and shame governs most actions.  Our guidebooks even instructed us to not publicly embarrass a Chinese person, as it was a grave offense to do so.

Worker conditions in China aren’t so great either and the concept of fair trade is just emerging.  Combined with the Chinese work ethic and their need to save face, many workers, like those at Taiwanese company Foxconn, commit suicide in response to the intense pressure to succeed, poor working conditions, and just plain life struggles.


This Wall Street Journal article elaborates on the current situation at Foxconn, “the world’s largest contract maker of electronic gadgets for brands such as Apple and Hewlett-Packard,” where eleven workers (900,000 total) have committed suicide by jumping to their deaths at work.  2 other workers attempted suicide but were unsuccessful.  In response to this suicide cluster, the company has put up nets around the building to prevent jumpers.

Shen/Bloomberg Workers walk outside Hon Hai Group's Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China, on Wednesday, May 26, 2010. Gou said nine of the 11 company workers who either committed suicide or attempted to had worked at the company less than a year, and six had been employed for less than a half-year.

The opinion piece from Wall Street Journal encourages readers to view the story holistically by examining the cultural factors that influenced the deaths.  I agree with many of the points they listed:

“Foxconn’s factory employees tend to join the company at the age of 18 or 19, and stay for several years. So the atmosphere in its dormitories is akin to that of a large university, with the workers living away from home for the first time and encountering the usual new experiences…

China is in the midst of the largest and most rapid process of urbanization the world has ever seen. The creation of a “mass society” is often accompanied by adjustment difficulties, and the national suicide rate—14 per 100,000—is high by international standards. China’s rural youth often can’t rely on the support of parents, since that generation has little conception of the world their child is entering.

It’s true that Foxconn has done itself no favors with its past conduct. A young manager killed himself last July after an Apple iPhone prototype went missing, and his final messages to friends suggest he had been interrogated and beaten. In a separate incident the following month, the company confirmed its guards beat employees after the incident was caught on video. In 2006, after a Chinese newspaper reported that employees were being abused, a charge that was later shown to be false, Foxconn sued the two reporters personally and sought to have their assets frozen, provoking a public backlash against the company.”


As joked about on Colbert Report (6:42), Foxconn has allegedly required workers to sign a “no-suicide pledge,” according to this NY Daily News article.  “The signed pledge also allows the company to send those displaying “abnormal emotional outbreaks” to psychiatric institutions, according to Taiwan’s CTI cable TV channel,” a 21-year-old employee told the South China Morning Post.

According to China Daily, Foxconn also raised its minimum wage this week from 900 yuan to 1,200 yuan per month (6.7 yuan to 1 US dollar) in all its mainland plants starting in June.

Bloomberg had a really fascinating article which included workers’ comments and a summary of the positive and negative conditions at Foxconn.  Read more here.

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