WHILE millions of women have a tough time cracking the glass ceiling, a much larger number is trying to step off the "sticky floor."
The "sticky floor" refers to women who occupy low-paying, low-mobility positions such as clerical and administrative assistants, mental health-care and child-care workers, and service and maintenance employees. They keep the wheels of government, higher education, and business turning.
The term was coined last year by Catherine White Berheide, a sociologist. She helped the Center for Women and Government at the Albany campus of the State University of New York conduct research on women in low-paying jobs in state and local governments.
The center, which used 1990 data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in its research, found that more than half of all women in state and local governments occupy the lowest-paying jobs ($20,000 or less), compared with a quarter of all men and one-fifth of white men.
Little or no training opportunities to move upward, as well as the generally accepted attitude that these jobs are considered "women's work," help account for why they are stuck, says Sharon Harlan, director of research at the Center for Women and Government.
"These are jobs that need to be done," Ms. Harlan says. "It's hard work, valuable work, yet the pay is below the average for state workers; and there's been very few attempts to build career ladders for these people."
Although the center's research focused on government workers, Harlan says the "sticky floor" applies to women in all types of employment.
"It's certainly a big problem, and it affects many more women than the glass ceiling," she says.
"I call it the mud floor," says Joyce Miller, the recently appointed executive director of the Glass Ceiling Commission at the United States Department of Labor.
While former Secretary of Labor Lynn Martin brought national focus to the glass ceiling, Ms. Miller says this administration will pay more attention to the sticky floor issue. "Labor Secretary [Robert] Reich and I want to look at those women who are lower down in the economic structure."