Women in the Workforce: Recent Trends

Actress Patricia Arquette, in accepting the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress at the 87th Academy Awards ceremony on February 22, said these impassioned words:

To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.

Where do women in the workplace stand in 2015? It’s an important question given that women make up half of the nation’s technical and professional workforce. Here’s a run-down of the significant trends you should know about:

2015-04-17_1243EDUCATION: Women today are actually starting out in the workplace with more education than men. According to the Pew Research Center, for women in the 25-32 age range, 38% have a four-year college degree, while only 31% of men can say the same. Back in 1970 those numbers were 20% for men and only 12% for women. Here’s another positive educational statistic: 60% of master’s degrees are awarded to women.

LEADERSHIP: Women are working for major corporations throughout the country, but they aren’t leading them. A 2013 article in the New York Times noted that women only hold 16% of the director positions at Fortune 500 companies, and only 4.6% of CEO positions in those companies.

PERCEIVED WAGE GAP: The Pew Research Center also notes that today’s young women are more likely than young men to feel that women are paid less for doing the same job (60% of Millennial women, 48% of Millennial men), and also that men have better access to the top jobs (58% of Millennial women, 46% of Millennial men).

ACTUAL WAGE GAP: According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), throughout 2013 and among full-time, year-round workers, women were paid 78% percent of what men were paid. And that figure hasn’t budged in over a decade. The group also notes that this varies widely by state. The best place to be in this regard is the nation’s capital. Women in Washington, DC, earned 91% of what men earned in 2013. What’s the worst place in the country? Louisiana – where women were paid just 66% of what men were paid that same year. Given the positive trend noted above regarding women being more educated, the AAUW adds this sobering note:

While more education is an effective tool for increasing earnings, it is not an effective tool against the gender pay gap. At every level of academic achievement, women’s median earnings are less than men’s earnings, and in some cases, the gender pay gap is larger at higher levels of education. While education helps everyone, black and Hispanic women earn less than their white and Asian peers do, even when they have the same educational credentials.

OVERALL WORKPLACE GENDER EQUALITY: Women are also much more likely than men to think that more change is needed to achieve gender equality in the workplace. Among Millennial women, 75% say more change is needed, whereas only 57% of Millennial men feel that way, once again according to the Pew Research Center.

CAREER-FAMILY BALANCE: Perhaps not surprisingly, the Pew Research Center also reveals that women are much more likely to say that being a parent makes it more difficult to advance their careers, to the tune of 51% of women and only 16% of men.

While it appears that women are making some gains in the workplace in terms of education, that positive trend doesn’t seem to be closing the wage gap, or getting more women into leadership positions in corporate America. Patricia Arquette was spot on in her impassioned plea for greater gender equality in the workplace. Let’s hope we can figure out how to make it happen.

April 15, 2015   Updated :April 28, 2015   talent management, women, women in the workplace trends   

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