Black men in women’s work do not get to ride the glass escalator

Mar 06 2010 Published by under Off Topic This post reviews a fairly recent article that examines the experiences of black men in nursing and asks whether they experience the "glass escalator" effect or if the work is racialized as well as gendered.

As requested by some fellow Sciblings, I recently blogged about an older article* that coined the term glass escalator. In my post I was uncertain about how the findings from the study were viewed by experts familiar with that body of work. In the comments, Kris D, who identifies as a sociologist, said that these findings have been upheld by subsequent research. Kris also recommended the article that is the focus of this post.


Wingfield, A. (2009). Racializing the Glass Escalator: Reconsidering Men's Experiences with Women's Work Gender & Society, 23 (1), 5-26 DOI: 10.1177/0891243208323054

As a reminder, white men in professions typically considered women's work such as nursing, social work, elementary school teaching, and librarianship, are often promoted earlier, paid better, and network better with management. The women in these professions are welcoming toward the men and push them up the escalator. The white men often distance themselves from the feminine aspects of the work - less caring more technical (nursing: ER not bedside, librarianship: systems not children's public services).

Wingfield asks whether gendered racism makes black men's experiences different from white men's. Here's what she found:

  • Black men were not welcomed by women, they were isolated and treated like they were not wanted.
  • Black men experienced a great deal of difficulty getting promoted.
  • While white men were mistaken for doctors, black men were mistaken for janitors regardless of how they presented themselves.

I've even given patients their medicines, explained their care to them, and then they'll say to me, "Well, can you send the nurse in?" (p.18)

  • The men in the study did not reject the caring aspects of nursing, but rather embraced it:  "concern for others is connected to fighting the effects of racial inequality" (p.21). They enjoy patient care and they provide services to the community to "challenge racial inequalities."

In her conclusion, she speculates that this might be sexualized as well as gendered and raced. That is, there might be an interaction with sexuality as well as the one between race and gender (i.e., homosexual men may not get to ride the escalator either).

* Williams, C.L. (1992). The Glass Escalator: Hidden Advantages for Men in the "Female" Professions. Social Problems, 39, 253-267.

4 responses so far

  • Krish says:

    What are we supposed to. Kneel down and worship them. Get a life and get with the program.

  • Christina Pikas says:

    What? who? huh?

  • Calli Arcale says:

    That's a fascinating article. It's a bit depressing to realize how far we have to go with respect to race, but it's fascinating to see how these different factors play out in our society, without us being very aware of it. (Which, of course, makes it harder to fix the problems. You can't fix a problem that you don't realize exists.)
    Thank you for posting this.

  • Kimie says:

    Very interesting. I'll look forward to reading the article. Gender is a central category in our everyday (working) life, but it indeed closely intersects with others, including and particularly race.