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Is single parenthood the reason so many black women work in clerical positions?

A 2001 Women Enews story claimed that

African American Women Predominate in Support Jobs

Cindia Cameron, national organizing director for 9 to 5, had a few theories as to why that was the case then:

“I think very likely it’s a combination of both racial and gender discrimination that makes it harder for African American women to move out of traditional jobs that organizations and companies sort of “see” them in,” she says. “It’s not so much that there is something wrong with so many women, African American and otherwise, in clerical positions, but are these positions ones with a career ladder?”

Cameron says that if one were to think about a comparable, traditionally male job, a mechanic, for instance, one would find that the job tends to have career advancement opportunities. Women in clerical positions, no matter their color, will probably remain in their same positions for the duration of their employment.

When Cameron started with 9 to 5 in the early 1980s, the organization’s African American female clerical workers were first generation.

“Being employed in these positions was a huge step when you compare the jobs that had been open to their mothers,” she says. “In the 1940s and 1950s and into the early 1960s, the single largest dominant category for African American women was housekeeping, both in corporations and as domestic service.”

As a result of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, more jobs in the public sector were open to African Americans. Black women found themselves in clerical positions because this was the bulk of what was available in the local government. These positions, while not viewed as particularly prestigious today, afforded black women greater career and financial opportunities at the time.

Explains Cameron, “One hindrance for many African American women is the unfortunate fact that so many, in larger numbers, tend to be single parents,” she says. “This is often a hindrance to their professional growth. It’s next to impossible for a female single parent to have a professional job because the positions demand such significant amounts of time. Most of the women who have achieved CEO status don’t have children,” she adds.

Keita Wells, an African American executive assistant for a chief operating officer of a mid-sized nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., is one of those whose level of education rivals that of her managerial counterparts. Wells earned a bachelor of science degree in business administration and marketing from LaSalle University in Philadelphia.

Clearly not suffering from a lack of credentials, she said her reason for taking the administrative job was to learn what was involved in running a business so that when she decides to start her own she will have a plethora of first-hand knowledge.

…Within the clerical field, black women and white women often have different jobs. More women of color are employed in back office jobs, doing a lot of data entry. Even in 2001, there is a lot of separation when it comes to the positions in this field.

Wells says she witnesses yet another cause for the prevalence of the trend.

“I think it’s hard for many black women to believe that they can be more than a clerk or administrative assistant. A lot of them don’t believe they fit into the managerial and executive mold. Until more black women recognize their self-worth, I don’t think much is going to change.”

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Do these theories still hold water today, 10 years later? Your thoughts?

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Jeneba “JJ Ghatt”,is editor at, an online hub where she helps social media butterfly who empowers digital entrepreneurs and professionals to create great things online at her online learning platform Digital Publishing Academy.  She is an editor of tech blog and founded the annual 200 Black Women to Follow On Twitter List. Read her bio, then get all of her online & digital biz startup advice and tools in one spot here!

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