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Gender and Jobs

BY many measures, working women in the United States are making progress. Opportunities for advancement continue to increase. Wage gaps between men's and women's salaries are narrowing. And employers' willingness to accommodate family needs is improving.

Yet almost two-thirds of the nation's 58 million working women remain clustered in low-wage jobs with little chance to advance. Women also account for two-thirds of all part-time workers and three-fifths of all temporary employees. Nearly 80 percent of women workers still earn less than $25,000.

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Statistics like these have prompted the Women's Bureau at the US Department of Labor to ask women what they really think about their jobs. Beginning this week, the Women's Bureau will distribute a national questionnaire called ``Working Women Count'' to millions of women.

The bureau hopes its findings, which it will release in the fall, will help define the workplace issues that employers and policymakers must address. The 18-question survey will be distributed by major companies, professional associations, labor unions, and women's groups. It will also appear in the May or June issues of magazines such as Working Woman, Working Mother, Self, New Woman, Ms., and First for Women.

Even without a survey, the bureau offers examples of the indignities female employees can face. One worker in a San Francisco garment sweatshop stated that she earned only 96 cents an hour because the contractor told her she was ``old and slow.''

And an airline reservation clerk explained that every minute of her day is electronically monitored. Although she has given excellent service for 20 years, her supervisor handed her a time sheet with a two-minute time bloc circled with the note, ``These two minutes are unaccounted for, let's see what we can do to correct this.''

The Chinese saying that ``women hold up half the sky'' certainly applies to the American work force, where women fill nearly half of all jobs. If they can get equal pay and equal treatment for holding up their half of the sky, that sky would look sunnier.

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