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Barbara Reskin Award Statement



Barbara Reskin’s theoretical and empirical writings have reoriented research on gender and racial inequalities, particularly in employment, and serve as a model for sociological scholarship that is theoretically rich and politically relevant. Through her path-breaking publications on gender segregation and affirmative action, her membership on and directorship of influential National Academy of Sciences committees, her service as Vice President and President of the American Sociological Association, and her applied work on issues related to employment inequalities, she has contributed to the advancement of our discipline in the academy and beyond.For these signal achievements, we honor her with the 2008 W.E.B. DuBois Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award.

Reskin’s contributions to analyses of gender and work began early with her dissertation on the careers of chemists. Contrary to prior research, Reskin argued that scientific fields do not follow norms of universalism. Rather, the determinants of achievement differed markedly for men and women. For example, women received less prestigious postdoctoral fellowships than men on average and, although equally predictive of productivity, those fellowships yielded fewer professional dividends for women. She concluded that her data were consistent with the operation of discriminatory practices within scientific fields.

Reskin followed with cutting-edge research and insightful reviews that transformed scholarship on occupational sex segregation by reframing the terms of the debate and asserting the importance of analyzing both distal and proximal causal mechanisms. The books, Sex Segregation in the Workplace and Women’s Work, Men’s Work (with Heidi Hartmann) introduced the crucial distinction between occupational segregation and job segregation; they are widely considered classics in the field. Reskin’s Cheryl Miller Lecture “Bringing the Men Back In” further exemplifies the theoretical reach of her early work.She argued that standard explanations of the wage gap were too narrow:they ignored men’s incentives to preserve their own advantage, their ability to change the rules to do so, and the ways they differentiated themselves from the subordinate group. Following this logic, Reskin expressed skepticism that policies such as comparable worth would create lasting change because vested interests would subvert them. Reskin’s subsequent book, Job Queues, Gender Queues (with Patricia Roos) pushed the field to move beyond questions of whether gender inequalities exist to questions of why and how. Using case studies of occupations that experienced a disproportionate influx of women workers, Job Queues showed that the jobs that become available to women are those that become unattractive to men (because of reduced wages, lowered autonomy, and deskilling); these processes result in gender resegregation. More recently, Reskin has extended her work through analyses of how organizational practices enhance or suppress gender and racial bias in employment, and of the interaction of race and gender in the labor market. Throughout her career, and perhaps most eloquently in her 2002 ASA Presidential Address, Reskin has challenged us to identify the mechanisms, rather than the motives, that foster and sustain ascriptive inequalities as only by understanding those mechanisms can we develop policies that promote equality.

Reskin has brought the same deep insight and empirical rigor to her work on affirmative action, a topic in which she became deeply engaged while President of the ASA. She prepared the final report from a conference on affirmative action which emphasized the distinction between the dramatic rhetoric of affirmative action in public discourse and the mundane realities of the employment policies and recruitment practices that undermine or support it. She wrote the amicus curiae brief for the U.S. Supreme Court hearing in Grutter v. Bollinger which later formed the nucleus of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s opinion.

Reskin’s work has been influential far beyond the confines of sociology. The almost 2,000 citations to her work extend across industrial relations, management studies, social work, psychology, political science, education, and law, among other fields. Reskin also has mentored many young scholars who have gone on to make important contributions of their own. Her current colleagues testify to her continuing involvement in graduate student mentorship through the intensive training she provides her advisees as well as her organization of professional development workshops.

Barbara Reskin received the Distinguished Scholar Award from the ASA’s Section on Sex and Gender in 1995 and the Mentorship Award from the Sociologists for Women in Society in 1998. She became Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2001, S. Frank Miyamoto Professor of Sociology at the University of Washington in 2002, and Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences in 2006. With this, our Association’s most esteemed award, we acknowledge and honor her outstanding commitment to the profession of sociology and her pioneering contributions to research on gender and racial inequalities.