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African American women in the workplace

Jazmin Dantzler | 9/1/2010, 5 p.m.

From burning bras and fighting for women's right to vote, to the most successful and lucrative Fortune 500 companies now being run by female executives, women reap the benefits of a history of struggle and sexism that today seems unconceivable.

According to a 2009 news report, women are on the verge of outnumbering men in the workforce for the first time--a historic reversal caused by long-term changes in women's roles and massive job losses for men during this recession. Women held 49.83 percent of the nation's 132 million jobs in June, and are gaining the vast majority of jobs in the few sectors of the economy that are growing, according to the most recent numbers available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

On one hand, the statistics above can be seen as a good thing. There is an abundance of women in the workforce now who are opening doors to all who qualify regardless of sex. This influx of women heralds a growing trend of more acceptance and equality amongs men and women in corporate settings. Yet, there is still more work that needs to be done. Although women of color now comprise 14.5 percent of the American workforce, as stated in a new study from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, they do not always experience the accomplishments mentioned above.

Of all women of color, African Americans continue to represent the highest rate of employment at 7.6 percent of the total work force. However, according to a study published in U.S. Today during the past decade, they have made the smallest gains with regard to total employment and higher-level positions-far below the growth rates of Hispanic and Asian women.

It is somewhat hard to understand why there isn't much research available that concentrates specifically on this racial group. Of the research that is available, rarely do they specifically tackle the life of African American mothers in today's workforce, or narrow it down to specific issues such as the struggle for African American mothers to manage work and home-life.

According to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, research like this is important, for today's workforce and companies because as the 7.6 percent of African American women in the workforce rises, understanding workers and the culturally specific problems they face is important if a company is to fully thrive and succeed.

By recognizing that different races handle work and life conflicts differently (either because of culture, experience, family background, education, etc.), companies could benefit tremendously if they can make their workers feel important, and understood.

This lack of extensive race-specific research raises several questions that concern me as an African American woman and soon-to-be college graduate, who plans to enter this workforce. Is there really a difference between the races, when it comes to work-life management? Do African American women face unique problems when balancing work and life, or is simply a perception issue that African American women perceive they have it harder than other women in the workforce?

Does the work-life conflict African American women feel stem from lack of ability or is it a greater, much deeper problem?

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