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- Women's and Gender Studies / Women's Centers and Institutes
New Director of Rutgers' Center for Women and Work Studies Forces that Hold Women Back
Sociologist Dana Britton has studied workplaces as diverse as prison and academia
Dana Britton remembers when her single mother worked four low-paying jobs to support her two children during the 1970s.
Her mother began working as a carhop at age 14, and in that era there was never much chance for advancement or higher pay. In fact, when a less experienced man started working with her on one job, she was the one who trained him, only to watch as he was promoted manager shorty after.
“I can also remember when ads were segregated by sex: ‘Woman wanted for secretary’ or ‘Man wanted for manager’. My mom couldn’t have gotten some jobs because they were obviously for a man,’’ says Britton.
Some things have changed since then (for example, sex-segregated job ads were banned in 1973), but women working full time, year round still earn less than 77 cents for every $1 earned by men.
As the newly appointed director of the Rutgers Center for Women and Work, Britton wants to change the statistics, advancing the Center’s mission for equal pay, equal opportunities and better working conditions for women.
“This is an incredible opportunity to lead a center that’s dedicated to education and career development, work/family policy, workforce development, and women’s leadership and advancement’’ says Britton. “I hope to build collaborations between other centers on campus and academic work at Rutgers and broaden the impact of our research nationally and internationally.’’
“Dana has an impressive record of scholarship in the area of women and work as well as a strong track record as an administrator,’’ says Susan Schurman, Dean of the School of Management and Labor Relations. “We feel very fortunate to have attracted her as director of the country's leading academic Center for Women and Work.”
Britton arrived at Rutgers from Kansas State University, where she was a professor of sociology and executive director of the university’s Office for the Advancement of Women in Science and Engineering.
But her earlier research was on women in the prison system, particularly female prison guards, who were just starting to integrate the male-dominated occupation during the 1980’s.
Many women in Britton’s study had taken jobs in prisons because they lived in small towns where career opportunities were limited, and prisons offered better pay and benefits.
At men’s prisons, they mostly discovered that inmates were much easier to handle than male co-workers and supervisors, Britton found.
“With the inmates, they had the authority to deal with misbehavior – but that wasn’t the case with the men they worked with. If prisons are all about controlling dangerous men inmates, and even a woman can do that job, that can be very threatening to the men they work with,’’ says Britton. Like other men who enter traditionally female professions such as nursing, however, men who worked in women’s prisons were often welcomed by their women coworkers and supervisors.
What Britton found in prisons is basically the case for workers elsewhere; men who enter women’s fields are often welcomed and have an easier time getting promotions and raises, women who enter a traditionally male workplace often encounter hostility.
Britton notes that occupations dominated by women almost always pay less than those dominated by men, and when women begin to outnumber men in formerly male jobs—which has happened in pharmacy, for example—salaries tend to plummet. “When women are restricted to female dominated jobs, that depresses their wages. Women tend to get paid for what employers think they are, not what they do, and the skills they bring to jobs are undervalued,” says Britton.
Her more recent research has focused on the advancement of women in academia, particularly to the rank of full professor. According to her studies, “Men are twice as likely to be full professors as women, while women are overrepresented as instructors and assistant professors,’’ she says.
Because standards for promotion can be subjective and unclear, informal networks are important, and women are often miss out on the knowledge crucial to advancement. This can be particularly true for women in sciences or engineering, says Britton. “When you’re a women in engineering, for example, you’re more likely to be a loner. When you are more isolated, your failures become magnified,” she says.
Family obligations are another obstacle, and often present more difficulties for women than men, says Britton. “Women faculty I interviewed spent a lot of time discussing how they timed their children for particular career stages, or for semester breaks or sabbaticals. Men rarely talked about timing the birth of a child,’’ says Britton. “And women full professors – like women in top management positions in the corporate world - often were either not married, or had husbands with more flexible jobs or they were the primary breadwinners in their families.’’
Media Contact: Carrie Stetler