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Pink-collar workers have own barriers to break

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You've heard of the white-collar worker - someone who typically is a professional.

And you've heard of the blue-collar worker - who usually can be found in manufacturing and trade jobs.

But there's also a lesser-known category: the pink-collar worker, who is employed in fields such as teaching, nursing, public relations, human resources, administration, child care and in clerical and secretarial work.

And because pink-collar workers are employed in jobs traditionally dominated by women, there's another name to describe this category:

The pink ghetto.

"The term pink ghetto was coined in 1983 in a study of women, children and poverty in America and was used to describe the limits on women's career advancement in these traditional, often low-paying jobs," said Jonamay Lambert, president and founder of Lambert & Associates Inc., a diversity and consulting firm in East Dundee, Ill.

"It's estimated that today 55 percent of women working outside of the home are trapped in the pink ghetto. There probably are fewer women in that category today than there were 10 years ago - mainly because women themselves have made the effort to make the change."

Lambert's interest in pink-collar workers arises from research she did for a recent presentation she gave on the progress of women over the past 50 years at the annual meeting of the Chicago Council on Urban Affairs.

The consultant, a board member of the council, has an undergraduate degree in education and a master's degree in counseling.

The pink-collar ghetto is characterized not only by low wages, in most cases, but also by a lack of a career path. "The opportunities for advancement are probably less than with some other jobs," observed Lambert, an author and lecturer on diversity issues. "You can move up, but in most pink-collar jobs, it takes a long time to get there, and even when you do get on top they're often not the highest-paying ones."

Women often are relegated to the pink ghetto because of preconceived notions that what they are doing is women's work anyway - and in particular because of men's discomfort in dealing with women on a professional level, fewer role models and mentors available for women and because many managers assume they are not serious about their careers.

"These stereotypes and assumptions and personal beliefs impact negatively on women's opportunities for career advancement," said Lambert.

Despite these barriers, many women are in the pink ghetto by choice, she points out.

"When you choose these jobs, you pay a price for doing so, but women more than men have to make choices between family and career and balancing their lives - and that ultimately is what leads women to choose pink-collar jobs," said Lambert. "The jobs we're talking about usually have a little more flexibility in terms of work hours, especially when compared to such fields as law or accounting, which are very demanding, particularly if you want to be on a partner track."

How do you get out of the ghetto? "You need to understand the choices you're making and what the career path is, if any. You need to stay current with training, especially technology, which is critical. You have to learn to network and to promote yourself. And you have to find mentors, both women and men."

Employers also have a role to play, she added. "Companies have to become aware of gender issues in order to understand the barriers. They need to introduce mentoring programs, coaching and in-house networks."

Lambert, who started out in a pink-collar job in 1978 but became a white-collar professional in 1981 when she started her present firm, says that she "would like to see women having more opportunities where they feel valued and are valued. We shouldn't have to pay such a high price for choices that are so important not only for women, but for society."


(Carol Kleiman is the workplace columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Send e-mail to


(c) 2005, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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