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Results of Working Women Count!

Questionnaires for Los Alamos National Laboratory

by Wendee M. Brunish

January 1996


I. Introduction

The Los Alamos Women in Science, a chapter of the New Mexico Network for Women in Science and Engineering, distributed about 3000 questionnaires to women at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), including both UC employees and contractors. We received a total of 1034 responses. The questionnaires were filled out in late August and early September 1994. The responses to those questionnaires are reported below.

II. Workforce

Job Description (Questions 1 through 3)

About one-third of the LANL respondents are in clerical/support positions, and about one-third are professionals (scientist, engineers, etc.). One-sixth of the respondents described themselves as technical workers (technicians, programmers, etc.), while one in ten of the surveys returned was from a manager. Over 90% said they had only one paid job, although several mentioned other unpaid work, as well as school and other commitments. Two-thirds of the respondents work a 40 hour, but many mentioned that they often work more than 40 hours without additional pay.

Personal and Family Statistics (Questions 10, 14 and 15, 17 and 18)

Approximately a third of the respondents, both locally and nationally, are between 35 and 44, with another third younger than 35 and the remaining third 45 and older. 61% of the LANL respondents are married. 45% of respondents have children under 18 living at home. Of those with children living at home, 85% have one or two children, and over half report that their youngest child is 7 or older. 31% of the LANL respondents identified themselves as Hispanic, while only 2% described themselves as Asian, and 4% as Native Americans. A single questionnaire was returned by a Black woman. A small but vehement fraction (about 5%) refused to provide ethnicity information and questioned why such information was being collected.

Education and Salary (Questions 11 through 13)

Almost sixty percent of LANL respondents have a college or postgraduate degree, compared with 35% in the national sample. 26% of the respondents in the national sample earn between $25,000 and $50,000, compared to 59% at LANL. The percentage of LANL respondents with salaries over $50,000 is three times that in the national sample.

III. Workplace Issues

Job Satisfaction (Questions 4 and 6)

Although 18% of the respondents said that they loved their job, and 54% said that they like it, this compares with a national response of 21% loved their job and 49% liked it. When asked what they liked most about their job, the most frequent response was “good benefits”, followed by “I like what I do”, “I am productive”, I am paid well”, and “My hours are flexible”. In the national survey, “I am productive” was not listed in the top five, instead “I enjoy the company of my coworkers” was in the top five.

Approximately one-third of the respondents in the national sample cited flexible hours, while only 27% of LANL respondents mentioned a flexible schedule. Very few women cited “authority to get job done”, or job security, possibly indicating that most are dissatisfied with these things at LANL.

Problems in the Workplace (Question 5)

When asked what issues were problems for them at work, the most serious problems were not getting paid what the job is worth (46% considered this most serious, very serious or somewhat serious), too much stress (45%), and worried about losing their job (37%). In contrast, in the national survey, the number three concern was getting better benefits. One quarter of the LANL respondents stated that they knew
someone who had lost a job or promotion because of race or gender and considered this a serious problem.

Benefits and Opportunities (Question 7)

When asked to rate various aspects of their job, more than two-thirds said that their vacation and sick leave were excellent or good. Less than 10% said that their vacation and sick leave were poor or non-existent, compared with more than a third of the national sample. Almost two-thirds rated their health care benefits, retirement benefits and schedule flexibility as good or better. More than half said that their pay was at least good, and that their job was challengingand interesting. More than half said that training opportunities support for family responsibilities were good or fair. However, fully 65% of LANL respondents said that their ability to advance was only fair or worse.

Towards a Better Workplace (Question 8)

When asked to choose which improvements would create a better workplace, respondents cited improving pay scales, equal opportunity, and on-the-job training as their top three. Also considered important was health care insurance for all employees. LANL women employees also feel that giving more responsibility to employees for getting their job done would be an important improvement in the workplace. Flexible work hours and paid family leave were less important while student loans were rated significantly less important. Child care rated very low for the employee population as a whole, but for those with child care responsibilities, it rated the in the top six. In comparison with the national survey, LANL respondents gave a lower priority to paid leave and health care insurance, and a slightly higher priority to equal opportunity, on the job training and increased responsibility for getting their jobs done. Both national and LANL respondents rated improving pay scales as very important, regardless of whether they rated their own pay and benefits as excellent, perhaps indicating their concern for women less fortunate than themselves.

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9. If you could tell President Clinton one thing about what it’s like to be a working woman, what would it be?

There were two main messages here. One is that women feel that gender, racial, and age discrimination, as well as sexual harassment, are pervasive and have a negative effect on their careers. They feel that they have little chance for advancement, and that they do not receive equal pay for equal work. The second message is that being a working woman is tough and it is stressful. Juggling the demands of work and family while battling the above mentioned obstacles leads many women to feel tired, discouraged and conflicted.

V. Summary of Responses

As in the national survey, the chief concerns of women at LANL center around being overworked and underpaid. Women feel, and statistics support their perception, that they are not paid what their job is worth, and particularly that they are paid less than men doing equivalent work (U. S. Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports, Series P60-172, Money Income of Households, Family, and Persons in the United States, 1989). Women are under a great deal of stress at work, exacerbated by the demands of family and household responsibilities. At LANL, the stress is compounded by the perceived lack of job security due to politically driven funding uncertainties. Women with minor children are faced with problems in obtaining and paying for quality child care. (Recently published reports on child care nationwide indicate that quality child care is indeed very hard to find.) Nevertheless, most women at LANL like their jobs
and appreciate the excellent benefits they receive, including vacation and sick leave, health care insurance, and retirement plans. It should be noted that the contractor population, in sharp contrast, is very concerned about their lack of or the inadequacy of benefits. Women at LANL are concerned about the lack of advancement opportunities, lack of pay equity, and the persistence of discrimination on the basis of
gender or ethnicity in promotion and hiring.

There are other improvements to the workplace that women would like to see. These include wider availability of health care insurance, more opportunities for on-the-job training to enhance their skills and improve their advancement possibilities, and more responsibility given to employees for how they get their job done.

Wendee Brunish is an astrophysicist and project leader for Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty research at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

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