The Barack Obama Administration Should Hire More Women

Women are underrepresented in construction and energy, but it doesn't have to stay that way.

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By Bonnie Erbe, Thomas Jefferson Street blog.

Linda Hirshman makes several excellent points in her op-ed today in the New York Times. As the incoming Obama administration prepares to create millions of government jobs, officials should make sure women are hired in numbers proportional to their numbers in the workforce.

But I differ from Hirshman in her solution to the problem. She suggests the Obama administration create jobs in female-dominated sectors of the economy such as social work and teaching. I think women should be trained and hired in equal numbers to participate in fields where they are now underrepresented, such as construction and energy:

The bulk of the stimulus program will provide jobs for men, because building projects generate jobs in construction, where women make up only 9 percent of the workforce.

It turns out that green jobs are almost entirely male as well, especially in the alternative energy area. A broad study by the United States Conference of Mayors found that half the projected new jobs in any green area are in engineering, a field that is only 12 percent female, or in the heavily male professions of law and consulting; the rest are in such traditional male areas as manufacturing, agriculture, and forestry. And like companies that build roads, alternative energy firms also employ construction workers and engineers.

Instead of asking the Obama administration to treat women like less capable men, the Obama administration should make sure women have entree to higher-paying fields where men now dominate. Construction work, as is the case with the military, is now more high tech than brute force. If you can drive a crane or a tractor or use a jackhammer, you're just as important a member of the construction crew as anyone else. And few jobs in construction these days require brute force.

Certainly in the clean-energy business, which is made up of scientists, engineers, mathematicians, business managers, etc. there is no reason why women can't compete for those jobs and government contracts. In science and engineering, or S&E, for example, the National Science Foundation has reported ad nauseam about women and persons of color leaving the field because of overt sexism and racism. The number of master's degrees earned by women rose more rapidly than for men.

  • The number of S&E master's degrees awarded annually to women rose almost 10-fold from 5,469 in 1966 to 53,051 in 2005.
  • In 2005, women earned 44% of S&E master's degrees and 64% of non-S&E master's degrees.
  • The number of S&E master's degrees awarded to men rose from 35,580 in 1966 to 66,974 in 2005.

So, women need no longer be treated like victims or softies. And the longer women treat themselves as if they are somehow less powerful and less career-oriented than men, the more they hurt themselves.