Saturday, 05 March 2016 04:20

Latinas in the Workforce

NALAC 20150122 MIami Regional 0052 EditAbove: Sonia Hendler, Armando Huipe, Alma Herrera-Pazmino, Adriana Gallego, John Jota Leaños, Casandra Hernandez and Jason Aragon at the NALAC Regional Arts Training Workshops in Miami, FLLatinas in the Workforce

What would it mean to look at Latina participation in the workforce through the lens of equity? Perhaps the first thing we’d want to do is unfold our idea of equality to see what other important themes, topics, and aspects of our labor force it’s connected with. Most likely, these connectors will relate to a range of pretty distinct spheres of activity: from aesthetics to politics, from culture to ethnicity, and from classrooms to class status. The fact that our understanding of work or labor isn’t bound to any one particular experience within our lives is a big giveaway too, suggesting that whatever productivity may be or possibly mean is less of a fixed matter and more of a dynamic result.

So let’s start big. Is gender a property we possess –that is, a quality of our bodies- or is it instead a function that we perform? Is it something we are or something we do? These questions are frequently the result of our interchangeable use of the terms sex and gender, even though they each refer to very distinct things. On the one hand, standardized definitions state that sex refers to biological characteristics through the binary of male and female. On the other hand, oversimplified definitions of gender are a way to describe our behavior within a given society through the binary of feminine or masculine. In short, sex is about physiological appearance and gender is about social activity.

It doesn’t take much for us to see just how different these two concepts are from each other nor to catch the major generalizations they can account for by using an “either/or” method of description: female/male, masculine/feminine. Let us now also state the obvious by underscoring just how deeply flawed such an indication of sex and gender is. By reducing the expansive, thriving realities of sexed and gendered experiences to this archaic and draconian binary, we –all of us- are left with two limited categories that primarily serve to diminish, regulate, and exclude immeasurable areas of our human journey.

To be sure, describing things through the use of binaries (i.e. black/white, us/them) is a great way to reduce any complex matter down to only two camps, which, almost always, end up in an oppositional relationship with each other. And so for example mainstream discussions on sexual difference may revolve around the anatomical or medical features of our bodies and their purposes in reproduction. Conversations about gender, though, might be more varied. To cite merely one example in connection with our topic, the discussion might be about how women perform most of the childrearing and domestic work, which is aside from carrying pregnancies and birthing human beings or, as most people call it, going into “labor.” By the way, isn’t that a curious choice of words? Furthermore, the discussion could be about hard-won voting preferences or the miniscule percentage of female CEOs in the tech field. The point being that our understanding of femaleness or femininity isn’t biologically determined or solely connected to parental roles -as if it was possible to define an entire human group as the source of reproduction- and indeed has more to do with the (re)production of cultural norms and cultural behaviors. In other words, when dealing with any such categorizations, we must always look for the blind spots. After all, we are talking about over half the population.

One of the interesting things to notice anytime we begin to research a topic like workforce equity as it relates to women, for example, is how the vast majority of the material we find has to do with other nations and their corresponding cultures, particularly with cultures that are located in that famous postwar category of ‘third-world’ countries. This merits commenting because not framing specific topics or issues of social justice as immediately part of our American experience does a couple of things. First, it almost naturally sets up a spectrum of ideas and conditions we can automatically recognize as part of our national identity (or consciousness), which are usually curated along the lines of whether these are unresolved social conflicts or not. Any ongoing social tensions will tend to primarily exist elsewhere. Secondly, it also locates that particular theme out there which, again, would make it an uncommon occurrence within our established networks of institutions, communities, and overall live/work environments. The impact of this curious feature will become more evident as we continue on. At any rate, the many inequalities faced by women in ‘third-worlded’ countries are viewed as a form of social injustice by the dominant order, whereas in our country they tend to be deliberated through the lens of property (social identity) or labor (the workforce).

But let’s start by looking at specific population percentages just within our own country. It’s also worth mentioning that our population tends to increase, on average, by just under 10% each decade. Now, according to our last 2010 Census, the population of our country was 308.7 million people and within that “…157.0 million were female (50.8 percent) while 151.8 million were male (49.2 percent).” At this point, and, although it might seem trivial, we might want to consider what purpose this kind of information or statistical breakdown serves for our government. Is the tracking of gender binaries meant for internal governmental use only or is it a public service provided for larger usage, including our vast private sector? The answer is both. Our system of governance utilizes data on gender along with age at multiple levels: 

“…to implement and evaluate programs, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, the Civil Rights Act, the Women’s Educational Equity Act, the Older Americans Act, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, and the Job Training Partnership Act. Age and sex data are used by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, among others, to aid in planning and development of services. Other equally important uses for census age and sex data are in planning adequate schools for the school age population and to determine funding distributions for schools and planning for numerous social services such as highways, hospitals, health services, and services for the older population. Census age data are also an important source of information on population aging, such as measurement of people eligible for Social Security and Medicare benefits. In addition to these public uses of census data, census data can also be used by private organizations. For example, census data can help researchers studying trends related to mortality and population aging or help small business owners in planning where to best locate their businesses to fit the needs of the community.”

In other words, gender data (along with age data in this case) serves to guide the more common or public operations that are endemic to our nation-state –the “for the people, by the people” portions- and they also help our government meet its responsibilities as functionary in aiding the development and stabilization of our private industries.


With this in mind, let’s consider such dynamics within the labor market, where 57% percent of our female population along with 69% of our male population participate in the labor force. And, again, these numbers may come across a bit tricky given that the vast majority of domestic work and childrearing, for example, are not considered part of our labor market. That is, women are not paid for raising and taking care of their children which makes this a form of labor that exists outside the market (although some women may have the choice and ability to “go into labor” and contribute to our ever-expanding labor force). But, within the official markets out there, this is the most current ratio of active workers out there. Nonetheless, 70% of women with children under 18 participate in the labor force. Of the most common occupations for employed women, secretaries and administrative assistants, elementary and middle school teachers, and registered nurses rank as the top three.


From the latest research in 2014, around 10.7 million Latinas formed part of our civilian labor force, making them 1 in 7 women in that labor force. Furthermore, according to the Department of Labor: “As a group, Hispanic women tend to have less favorable outcomes than Hispanic men and nonHispanics, outcomes that could be improved by raising the minimum wage, closing the wage gap, ensuring adequate working conditions and expanding opportunities for higher wage occupations.”


The data also shows that Latina’s share of the labor force has also pretty much doubled in the last twenty years (going from 7.9% in 1994 to 14.7% in 2014) and, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Latinas are projected to be 17.3 of the entire female labor force by 2022. Yet even within such a promising scenario, there are many questions that come to mind, many of them revolving around wage gaps, our participation in certain fields of work, and the role that education plays for our communities as well. Let’s go with education next.

Just recently, our E-Boletin highlighted Fulfilling America’s Future: Latinas in the U.S., a recent report by Patricia Gándara, Professor of Education at UCLA and Co-Director of The Civil Rights Project and The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. The 2015 report indicates how “One in five women in the U.S. is a Latina. One in four female students in public schools across the nation is a Latina. Projections are that by 2060, Latinas will form nearly a third of the female population of the nation. Thus, the future of the nation is very much tied to the future of these women and girls.” This premise alone is enough to garner our collective attention and support, yet there are some interesting conditions brought to light that fall outside of gender identity and speak to more systemic flaws. These include the fact that “One-fourth of Latinas live below the poverty line and more than half are living in near-poverty,” which means that academic goals (or consequent professional aspirations) are jeopardized by the direct effects of economic asymmetries. Another revealing aspect of Latina lived-experience is that their access to healthcare is lowest for any group of women –“In 2011, 37% of Latinas were uninsured compared to just 14% of white women …the situation is even more severe for immigrant women.”

If education is the modern world’s vehicle for sustained forms of economic and cultural impact, then its relation to the work women do is of key concern for us all when it comes to social justice. For example, the minimum requirement for entering our civil labor force is a high school diploma, which one in five Latinas between 25 and 29 years old does not have –for all other ethnic groups it’s one in twelve. To further comment on high school completion, a 2010 study by the National Conference on State Legislatures “found that 36 percent of Latinas who dropped out of high school claimed they did so as a result of a pregnancy… this was 6 percent higher than all other female dropouts.” One can’t help but wonder what the dropout ratio for soon-to-be fathers is? Graduate studies are another academic area where Latinas hold the lowest amount of degrees than women in other ethnic/racial groups, despite the statistical increase between 2002-13, which went from under 2% to 4%. Because graduate degrees are most widely understood as the key necessary requirement for entering into a professional practice –professions being credited as “positions that require specialized knowledge and long and extensive educational preparation” (i.e. business administration, medicine, law, teaching) - then making this terminal facet of education a realistic choice for Latinas rather than a distant dream is one way that we can move towards a more just society.

In the arts, of course, most individuals who pursue a graduate degree do so with the intention of teaching at a college or university level, even though the opportunities for obtaining a tenured position nowadays –in particular for artists of color- are less than dismal. Furthermore, it’s important for us not to blur a beneficial and rewarding creative career with being a teacher, as many artists enjoy highly successful careers altogether outside of academia. The point is, however, that there are many areas in the field of arts and culture that continue to have a direct connection to higher education, such as more intellectual-based jobs in museums, multi-performance arts venues, and cultural centers which continue to display a significant absence of people of color along with an abundance of men in directorial or leadership positions. For example, in a previous E-Boletin we touched upon the specific findings of an Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey from last year by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation which serve to underscore the present status of ethnicity and gender within our dominant museum network. The results of their research indicate how "Non-Hispanic White staff continue to dominate the job categories most closely associated with the intellectual and educational mission of museums, including those of curators, conservators, educators, and leadership. In that subset of positions, 84% is Non-Hispanic White, 6% Asian, 4% Black, 3% Hispanic White, and 3% Two or More Races.  With the exception of the Asian demographic category, which makes up 5% of the United States population today, these proportions do not come close to representing the diversity of the American population." Indeed, at the time of this survey’s release, many of us out in the field found ourselves doing a very simple thought-experiment that consisted of merely asking each other how many Latinas in museum leadership or directorial positions we knew about? Talk about a shortlist.

This survey is a tremendous source for encouraging or prompting the kinds of equitable progress we’d like our institutions to embody, and it’s worth including a further excerpt:

“First, progress is likely to be swifter and easier on gender equality than on minority representation.  As museum staff has become 60% female over the past decade or so, there is now also a preponderance of women in the curatorial, conservation, and educational roles that constitute the pipeline for leadership positions such as museum director, chief curator, and head of conservation or education.  With close attention to equitable promotion and hiring practices for senior positions, art museums should be able to achieve greater gender equality in their leadership cohorts within the foreseeable future.”

A few months later, the Directors Guild of America released an inaugural Feature Film Diversity Report analyzing the gender and ethnicity of feature film directors. The study is based on films released between 2013 -14 and includes some notable findings, key among them is how “women account for only 6.4% of film directors –dropping to just 3% for major box office titles.” The majority of film directors “Caucasian males” at 82.4%, followed in steep decline by “Minority Males” at 11.2%, with “Caucasian females” at 5.1%, and “Minority females” at 1.3%. One is naturally tempted to make connections between these findings that albeit come from a more commercially privatized industry and the findings of a (now less and less) public industry that inevitably lead us to wonder if there isn’t some larger cultural cohesion at work within these two partly distinct enterprises.

And it’s important to keep in mind the kinds of economic blurring taking place between traditionally private and public institutions (or institutions meant for the public good) through means of transitional trends that, in the end, mainly provide our common or shared public sphere with fiscally hybrid organizations. To put it differently, we must ask ourselves: what are the limits of social justice? Or, although the origins of equality are found in our diminishing public sector, does its future as core social value lie in privatization?

It’s one thing to imagine our roles and functions within previous historic eras, let’s say even back when most of us survived as small groupings of nomadic bands, and quite another thing to imagine coexistence in the 21st century where we are all participants of a much vaster social project as members of a diverse populace. In our contemporary situation, the subject of gender asks “what kind of communities are we trying to build?” The answer to that question depends on whether we are building communities of equality.

Because it’s more than just people that get gendered. We have the capacity to gender language, objects, and even processes. For example, do we hashtag Latino/a, Latin@, or Latinx? The key lies in understanding the effect of attributing ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ properties onto ourselves, each other, and what we do. As cultural and artistic practitioners, the ethics or justness of such an effect proves incredibly significant when we are tasked with imagining not only what is in our midst, but what is to come. Curiously, although gender begins at home, the process of gendering (or sexing) travels and operates throughout a much broader bandwidth that deciphers and names cultural facets around the globe. 



The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is a legacy organization investing in the Latino heritage of this nation. For over 25 years, NALAC has built a strong foundation for the promotion of Latino arts and culture and its advocacy efforts have advanced issues of cultural equity and raised the visibility and understanding of Latino artistic and cultural expression. The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is the nation's leading nonprofit organization exclusively dedicated to the promotion, advancement, development, and cultivation of the Latino arts field. In this capacity, NALAC stimulates and facilitates intergenerational dialogues among disciplines, languages, and traditional and contemporary expressions. NALAC serves thousands of Latino artists and hundreds of organizations representing a national and international community of multiple Latinidades; a network that crosses many cultures across the Latino Diaspora. 

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