Gender Barriers at Work: A Comparison Between Women Train Drivers and Women Garage Mechanics in Spain

From Firenze University Press Journal: Cambio

Maria del Mar Maira-Vidal, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain

Over the last five decades, the Spanish job market has experienced major changes, one of which is the gradual entrance of women. In 1980, the female economic activity rate was 27.1 per cent (Puy 2000). Thirty-five years on, in 2015, this same indicator has doubled (53.7 per cent, INE 2015). Several factors have impacted this change: changes in labour legislation; equality in accessing education (MEC 2016); improvements in job opportunities; and a change in mindset, such as women’s desire for independence through employment and cultural changes involving women’s disposition to hold jobs (Prieto 2007). However, this does not mean that equality has been achieved. Occupational segregation tenaciously endures, particularly in certain niches of employment.

Thus, there are several occupations where either males or females heavily prevail no matter what country is examined (Hegewisch et alii 2010; Ibáñez 2008). In aggregate terms, males continue to reign in the economic spheres whose social and monetary recognition is the highest while occupations that are considered “male” offer the highest salaries due to their “superior” management or technical skills (Fagan 2010).

Occupations where women prevail are those that offer lesser opportunities for promotion (Rosenbaum 1985; England 2010) and more modest remuneration (Levanon et alii 20 09). Understanding why this occupational segregation endures is an important matter for at least two reasons. First, failure to foster equal opportunities, one of the causes of inequality between men and women, is of concern for governments and social institutions because it is associated with labour market rigidity and causes economic inefficiency (Anker 1997).

Secondly, women continue to bear an unfair subordinate status owing jointly to redistribution, i.e. economic policies, and recognition, i.e. cultural androcentrism (Fraser 2007).This article presents a comparative analysis of two extremely masculinised occupations. Railway driving in Spain accounts for a mere 1.5 per cent of female workers1, while female employment of motor vehicle mechanics or machine adjusters stands at 3.7 per cent. Several factors pointed to examining these two occupations jointly.

First, the characteristics of the companies in rail transport and vehicle reparation are very different in terms of both their size and their types of organisation. Yet the occupational segregation effect is similar. It also seemed of interest to examine whether there were any commonalities between the entrance barriers found by women in obtaining and remaining in these jobs. Diverse sources of information consulted by the researchers included specialised literature, labour statistics, company reports, and so forth. Perhaps potentially of greatest value was the production of a set of oral documents generated between 2012 and 2014 through individual in-depth interviews using a similar script.


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