System Still Stereotypes Women, Panel Concludes

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New York--Despite women's much-publicized success in entering professions once closed to them, a majority of young women are not receiving the education and training that will allow them to compete sucessfully in the labor force.

Ninety percent of all school-age girls will work outside the home for part or all of their lives, yet they continue to be "shunted" into traditionally female occupations and "steered away from the educational opportunities offered their brothers," Carol Bellamy, president of the New York City Council, told education and labor leaders meeting here recently.

Ms. Bellamy addressed participants in a "special institute" held to examine barriers to educational and occupational equity for young women in New York State.

Sex stereotyping in vocational education and lax enforcement of the laws barring such bias are major obstacles to preparing girls for "profitable employment," agreed panelists at the invitational meeting at the World Trade Center.

Panelists repeatedly noted the persistent, nationwide "wage gap" in men's and women's earnings--women earn 59 cents for every dollar earned by men. And they warned of serious consequences, not only for young women who will be unable to earn a living, but for the labor force.

Supported in part by funds from the White House Conference on Youth, "Challenges Facing Young Women in the 80's" drew about 75 of the state's elected officials; representatives of federal, state, and local government agencies; and leaders of business, parents', teachers', and citizens' groups, as well as educational-equity and civil-rights advocates.

System Must Be Reshaped

The educational system must be reshaped, Ms. Bellamy told the audience in her keynote address. Nationwide, half of the young women in vocational-education programs take homemaking, 30 percent are being trained for clerical jobs, and "most of the others are being trained for low-paying jobs in the health professions."

Susan Deller Ross, an attorney in the civil-rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice, said that despite the mandate of the Vocational Education Act of 1963 to reduce sex stereotyping, and the existence of other laws barring sex discrimination in education, vocational education has a "serious problem with sex segregation."

Segregation in the job market must be corrected through vocational training programs, "which train people for the most sex-segregated jobs," she said.

In 1980, said Ms. Ross, women occupied 99 percent of the secretarial positions in the country, and the highest earnings they could expect were about $16,000. At the same time, 98 percent of the auto mechanics were men, with possible earnings of more than $22,000. "How much has vocational education done to train women as plumbers or carpenters?," she asked.

In addition to lack of enforcement of the sex-equity provisions of the vocational-education law, she said, too few complaints have been filed by parents because they are unaware both of the laws and of avenues of redress. Because the statistics for vocational-education programs "are really dreadful," she added, complaints could be pressed successfully.

Nearly all school districts in New York state, noted Carol Jabonaski, coordinator of the civil-rights compliance unit for the state education department's office for occupational and continuing education, have failed to "do their public notification"--making public the requirements of laws such as Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bars sex discrimination in federally assisted school programs.

Sex stereotyping, Ms. Bellamy contended, is "particularly acute" in New York City, which maintains the largest vocational-education program in the world, according the state department of education. Of 21 vocational high schools here, 15 have overwhelmingly single-sex enrollments, the City Council president said. The automotive high school, for example, enrolled 1,579 male students and one female student last fall.

Similar statistics compiled by the the Full Access and Rights to Education Coalition, an education-rights group based here, have led to charges that the city's vocational-technical high schools are "overwhelmingly segregated by sex."

(The state education department has notified the city's Board of Education that the state will begin a review of the high schools' compliance with civil-rights requirements next month.)

Inadequate counseling, insufficient preparation for mathematics, science, and technical courses, the rapidly changing needs of the workforce, peer pressures, teen-age pregnancy, and lack of available day care were also cited by panelists as major obstacles to girls' training for jobs.

Federal spending on defense is expected to reach $1.6 trillion over the next five fiscal years, said Helen Heller, executive director of the United Parents Association in New York City, but young women will not be trained to fill the resulting new jobs.

New York City is no longer a center of "manufacturing and muscle power," said George Quarles, the city board of education's chief administrator for occupational and career education, but of "information and high technology." Without training, women in New York will not have "financial power."

Girls' preparation for work is a matter "not just of sex equity, but of survival of the city labor force," said Ted Small, director of the city's Private Industry Council.

Because young women are the most rapidly growing working population in the city, its economy depends on the "assimilation" of young women into the labor force, he added.

The issues of job training and day care are especially critical, panelists agreed, because of the number of teenage pregnancies and the dramatic increase in families headed by women: increases of 49 percent for whites, 79 percent for blacks, and 102 percent for Hispanics in the last ten years.

If women are unable to support their families, more people will require public assistance at the same time the labor force is short of trained workers, panelists said.

Moreover, Ms. Bellamy pointed out, 33,000 teen-agers become pregnant each year, and they have a dropout rate of 80 percent. Ninety percent of the mothers between 17 and 19 years of age are unemployed 19 months after delivery of their child and their median income is half that of women who have children later.

Reducing the risk of unemployment among young mothers, Ms. Bellamy contended, depends on the education and training they receive and on the availability of child care.

The current Administration is not commited to federal laws and regulations barring discrimination on the basis of sex, said Holly Knox, director of the Project on Equal Education Rights in Washington. Despite progress in education, "we are left with the toughest issues--vocational education, math and science scores, and pregnancy."

But, she reminded participants, "the political leverage of women is enormous: the vote."

The state must "pick up the pieces of the New Federalism," said Ms. Jabonaski. "We desperately need a state law" barring sex bias in education.

Leonard Stavisky, chairman of the education committee of the New York State Assembly, advised participants to form broad-based alliances to support such legislation. But he warned them to avoid a proposal so focused on "women's issues that potential support breaks off."

"Remember, my friends, Mr. Reagan did get elected; obviously somebody voted for him. I'm suggesting you look for an obtainable bill."

"If there is legislation that we mutually think is realistic," he concluded, "I will sponsor it."

Vol. 01, Issue 28

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