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The Missing Conversation About Work and Family
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The Missing Conversation, About Work and Family, Unique Challenges Facing Women of Color. By Jocelyn Frye October 2016, Contents 1 Introduction and summary. 3 Understanding the work family challenges, facing women of color. 13 Refining the work family narrative to include, the diverse experiences of women of color. 16 Policy recommendations, 22 Conclusion, 23 About the author.
24 Endnotes, Introduction and summary, When legendary abolitionist and women s rights activist Sojourner Truth. reportedly asked the question Ar n t I a woman at the 1851 Women s Rights. Convention in Akron Ohio she gave voice to the precarious position that many. women of color1 of that era occupied in U S society 2 Although the exact words of. her speech have been debated the central thesis of her remarks has resonated with. piercing clarity for generations Her landmark speech laid bare the stark reality. that notwithstanding the convention s focus on advancing women s rights women. of color often were treated as afterthoughts distinct from white women because of. race and distinct from men because of gender Truth s words put front and center. her doubly marginalized status as an African American woman constrained by law. and society to live within the racial and gender hierarchy of her era a hierarchy. that determined whether she was expected to work whether she could make deci. sions about her family and whether she had control over her own destiny. One hundred and sixty five years later in a vastly different national landscape. these words still resonate in the public conversation about women work and fam. ily The mere utterance of words such as work family balance in today s story. by soundbite environment swiftly evokes deeply entrenched assumptions and. attitudes about which women are being discussed which women are valued and. deserve attention and which roles are appropriate for women in the workplace in. their families and even in society, Not unlike Sojourner Truth s critique of the debate of her era today s work. family narrative too often communicates a limited vision of who women are. what work is and what families need Buzzwords such as opting out are used to. frame palatable stories about work family challenges as issues of personal choice. rather than as examples of economic insecurity inadequate workplace standards. employment barriers racial and sex discrimination or the lack of concrete public. policy solutions 3 The resulting discussion is at times oversimplistic and underin. clusive lacking a deeper understanding of the diverse experiences of women. particularly women of color and how work family issues play themselves out. differently in different communities every day, 1 Center for American Progress The Missing Conversation About Work and Family. This report examines the unique challenges that many women of color face at. work and at home in order to better understand their daily work family issues. It begins with a historical perspective about the evolution of work family issues. followed by a discussion of the current challenges facing women of color It con. cludes by identifying workable solutions with the goal of building on individual. experiences to help reframe the public narrative more broadly so that policy solu. tions are responsive to all women and their many diverse needs Resolving work. family conflicts is an important priority that women of color and indeed all. women consistently favor 4 It is critical that policymakers take action to pursue. effective strategies that can improve the lives of all working families. 2 Center for American Progress The Missing Conversation About Work and Family. Understanding the work family, challenges facing women of color. Developing a clear picture of women s day to day realities and the work family. implications for women of color in particular first requires a close examination. of the underlying attitudes that have helped shape the national conversation. about women work and family in the United States It is important to under. stand both how these attitudes have evolved over time and how they have varied. for different groups of women, From silos to superwomen Women work and family.
Views about women work and family are deeply ingrained in the culture of the. United States Many of these attitudes are rooted in the earliest days of the 19th. century when prevailing cultural norms were used to justify socially defined. boundaries for women and men and stepping outside these norms risked. provoking controversy or backlash Many of the mostly male thought leaders and. political elites categorized work and family as distinct disconnected spheres or. silos Within these silos gender was used as the perceived fault line in order to. reinforce stereotypical boundaries that decreed women s purview as the home and. men s purview as the workplace 5, The inherent sexism that fueled this conception of male and female roles helped. provide a rationale to deny women both white women and women of color. economic educational and employment opportunities 6 But women of color expe. rienced particular complications Because of biases based not only on their gender. but also on their race or ethnicity many women of color were relegated to second. class status in comparison to their white counterparts 7 This meant that women of. color as women as workers and as caregivers for their families often did not fit. neatly into society s work and family silos or perceptions of women s roles resulting. in fundamentally different experiences expectations and opportunities. 3 Center for American Progress The Missing Conversation About Work and Family. Narrow views about who women are, The public narrative about women that often dominates the public debate has. been criticized as either consciously or unconsciously relying on the experi. ences of white women as the de facto measure of what women need and want 8. Persistent racial and ethnic bias which has presented itself in myriad different. ways over the course of this nation s history has fueled pernicious stereotypes. about women of color that have often led them to be devalued and viewed as not. measuring up to the perceived white female ideal 9 For example prevailing views. of the 1800s and early 1900s placed white women on a paternalistic pedestal and. marginalized women of color 10 Arguing that women needed special protection. and care to be shielded from perceived rigors outside the home states limited the. work and social roles that women could play by passing laws prohibiting women. from working long hours or engaging in legal matters or other types of business 11. Left unspoken was the implicit understanding that white women were the only. women who should be elevated or protected while women of color were deemed. unworthy of the same respect 12 Women of color too often were forced into unsafe. environments where they had little recourse against abuse and even sexual vio. lence 13 Although these notions have long since been rejected by women of color. and white women alike as demeaning and disempowering there still remains. an active robust debate about how well the diverse perspectives of all women. particularly women of color are included in policy conversations about women. and the challenges they face 14 This debate is relevant to the work family discus. sion because it is a reminder that the default assumptions about women that may. be reflected in the public debate tend to leave some women out 15 Developing a. broader more authentic narrative that reflects all women s needs requires inten. tional efforts to incorporate different perspectives. Whose work whose family, Over the course of the 19th and early 20th century the societal narrative about. work aimed at white women dictated that they were expected to focus solely. on home and family to care for their children and forego working outside the. home 16 Women of color however often were constrained by a different set of. expectations Many women of color were expected to fulfill work roles including. jobs as laborers jobs in the service sector such as caregiving or domestic work. and jobs in other low paying industries 17 Many of these expectations were deeply. rooted in the nation s history and laws in slavery for example when African. 4 Center for American Progress The Missing Conversation About Work and Family. Americans were bound legally into servitude as well as during various periods of. migration by racial and ethnic minorities who sought to enter the labor force but. often were confined to the lowest paying jobs 18 Early immigrant women of color. often initially focused on caring for their families but eventually had to find work. outside the home to make ends meet in an environment that often placed legal. limits on the work they could do Domestic service roles in the 19th century for. example were filled by African American women in the South Asian American. women who were primarily Chinese and later Japanese immigrants and. Latinas in the West and Irish immigrant women in the North 19 Chinese women. arriving in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century also worked. in family owned or community based businesses in jobs such as seamstresses. laundry workers and clerical aides having been legally excluded from working. in white owned businesses 20 Latinas during the same time period worked in a. variety of service domestic and farm laborer jobs typically for very low sub. sistence wages 21 American Indian women who experienced enormous upheaval. throughout the 18th and 19th centuries as tribal communities were displaced and. forced to move west also worked in very low wage jobs in agriculture farming. and domestic service in order to support their families 22 While many of these. women of color and immigrant women were tasked with caring for others little. thought was given to addressing their own care needs or to acknowledging their. work family challenges 23 Thus embedded in the work and family silos were dif. ferent expectations of the roles that women of color could play roles that often. required them to work to support the societal infrastructure for little or no remu. neration and without visibility of the family challenges they faced. The shift to superwomen and the role of public policy. This historical perspective offers important context for today because it reveals. how often women of color were overlooked forgotten or positioned outside. the popular mainstream narrative It also shows how the legal and societal infra. structure was used to confine women of color and indeed all women to a narrow. set of roles This posture meant that the unique experiences of women of color. frequently were left on the margins and it has present day ramifications particu. larly as the public conversation shifts from preserving individual work and family. silos to a more nuanced discussion of how work and family issues overlap Today. most women juggle multiple roles at home and at work too often navigating the. pressure to become a modern day superwoman who handles every challenge. with perfect precision and timing 24 What many contemporary women want and. 5 Center for American Progress The Missing Conversation About Work and Family. support are solutions that enable them to address work family concerns without. putting their family or economic stability at risk Workplace policies have not kept. pace with these changing attitudes and needs This lack of movement has meant. that many women both white women and women of color do not have the sup. port they need to successfully juggle multiple roles at home and at work Thus. it is critical to understand how these issues are playing out in women s everyday. lives in order to ensure that any new workplace policies are responsive to women s. diverse needs and inclusive of their experiences, Employment and work family realities of women of color. There is considerable research and data to help illustrate how work family chal. lenges are playing out in the real world for women of color and increasingly. affecting their economic security and stability Too many women of color end. up in jobs with few opportunities for advancement have growing economic. and family caregiving responsibilities and lack key workplace supports such as. paid leave and child care Together these challenges can put added pressures on. families as they try to navigate their obligations at work and at home 25. Playing catch up from the start, Investing in workers by providing good paying quality jobs that offer a meaning.
ful opportunity for advancement is an essential foundation for most workers to. achieve economic security sustainability and eventually prosperity 26 Jobs that. offer a living wage and the ability to move up the ladder are important not only. for workers in high wage professions but also for workers in lower wage occupa. tions who often are on more precarious economic footing 27 Although employ. ment prospects have broadened over the past few decades women of color still. confront obstacles that affect their job mobility and stability particularly when. compared to their white counterparts, For example researchers have found that African American women and Latinas. have less job mobility than their white counterparts An analysis of 1998 2005. data drawn from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics found that African. 2 Center for American Progress The Missing Conversation About Work and Family This report examines the unique challenges that many women of color face at work and at home in order to better understand their daily work family issues It begins with a historical perspective about the evolution of work family issues

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