Gender inequality studies have long focused on identifying the material disparities between men and women in the workforce, including researching the gender wage gap. But gender inequality in the workforce extends beyond differences in earnings and promotional opportunities–women also experience inequality in more subjective forms, such as through task segregation, which ultimately impacts job quality. In their article, “Task Segregation as a Mechanism for Within-Job Inequality: Women and Men of Transportation Security Administration,” published online by Administrative Service Quarterly, Curtis Chan and Michel Anteby explore a case study of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees, which found that female employees were disproportionately assigned the undesirable task of patting-down airline customers. The authors go on to explore the negative impact of task segregation on the female TSA employees.
In this article, we examine a case of task segregation—when a group of workers is disproportionately allocated, relative to other groups, to spend more time on specific tasks in a given job—and argue that such segregation is a potential mechanism for generating within-job inequality in the quality of a job. When performing those tasks is undesirable, this allocation has unfavorable implications for that group’s experienced job quality. We articulate the processes by which task segregation can lead to workplace inequality in job quality through an inductive, interview-based case study of airport security-screening workers in a unit of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at a large urban airport. Female workers were disproportionately allocated to the pat-down task, the manual screening of travelers for prohibited items. Our findings suggest that this segregation led to overall poorer job quality outcomes for women. Task segregation overexposed female workers to processes of physical exertion, emotional labor, and relational strain, giving rise to work intensity, emotional exhaustion, and lack of coping resources. Task segregation also seemed to disproportionately expose female workers to managerial sanctions for taking recuperative time off and a narrowing of their skill set that may have contributed to worse promotion chances, pay, satisfaction, and turnover rates for women. We conclude with a theoretical model of how task segregation can act as a mechanism for generating within-job inequality in job quality.
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