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Women of Struggle: The Role of Women in the American Labor Movement

Wednesday April 19, 12-1 pm
Women of Struggle: The Role of Women in the American Labor Movement
Caroline Coly (Bocconi University)

Labor unions have traditionally been the advocates of workers' equality, but women have been under-represented among their ranks for a long time. How do unions fare in terms of gender equality? Have they been precursors or followers in the empowerment of women? Using a novel digitized dataset on the composition of American unions' workers between 1959 and 2016, we analyze the evolution of gender inequalities within these organizations, and compare them with the evolution of inequalities in the general society using the CPS. We find that the share of women among union workers rose quickly in the 1970s as women labor force participation increased. In 2016, around 20% of union top executives were women, almost 4 times the value in listed corporations. Moreover, as women's enrollment in unions' key positions has increased, the officers' gender wage gap in headquarters has decreased and is now very close to zero, even at the very top. Albeit imperfectly, we thus find that unions hold a more progressive view of women in society. Large heterogeneities however exist even within the union movement, pointing towards the fact that gender gaps are strongly influenced by corporate culture.

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