Women have been plagued with workplace issues for decades now. From employment opportunity issues to wage gaps, women have faced many setbacks in terms of employment. In 2020, less than half of all women participated in the labor force, which is a decrease from the 51% in 1990 and their peak of 60% in 1999. In comparison, nearly 3 in 4 men participated in the labor force (Catalyst.org).
This simple trend highlights only one of the areas in which women are heavily underrepresented within the workplace. So, it is important for people to educate themselves on these issues as this is often the first step in rectifying these serious concerns.
According to a study conducted by catalyst.org, the labor force is extremely unbalanced in terms of gender. Women represent only 38.8% of all participants in the labor force. This is a shocking statistic since the same study has shown that the amount of female degree holders has quadrupled, while that of men has only doubled. Even with this sharp increase in employment, the women’s labor force participation has been a decline, recently reaching a low of 56.7% globally in 2015.
When trying to understand the reasons behind this decline, one factor seems to rise above the rest. There remain numerous industries with barriers for entry for women. These industries or fields are what we would call male-dominated fields. Software developers is one of these fields, with only 19.1% of developers being women (According to Chron). The entry into the field is usually a bachelor’s degree.
The most shocking industry that has a noticeable gender gap though, is architecture. While around half of the Architecture students are female, only 25.5% of the workforce is made up of women (According to Chron). This clearly shows us that there exist some barriers of entry into various fields that have been male-dominated fields in the past.
These fields are also some of the fastest growing and most popular fields in recent times. The two industries with the largest employment of women are health care and retail. While there are a lot of women employed in these industries, they do not make up the higher positions in these jobs. Often, the women in these industries also have very few opportunities for growth.
Speaking about the differences that men and women seem to face when it comes to growth in an industry, women are seriously impacted by the fact that they are extremely underrepresented in C-Suite positions (CEO, COO, etc.). A study conducted by McKinsey, for example, showed that for every 100 men promoted to manager, only about 85 women were promoted. The gap, unfortunately, affects women of color more as only 58 Black women were promoted for every 100 men promoted and only 71 Latinas were promoted for every 100 men.
Due to this, there is a major displacement in women the higher up one observes an industry. “McKinsey’s most recent survey of 60 major corporations shows: in total 325,000 women had entry-level positions; 150,000 had made it to middle management, and only 7,000 had made it to Vice President, Senior Vice President or CEO. On Average, women made up 53% of entry level employees, 40% of managers, 35% of directors, 27% of vice presidents, 24% of senior vice presidents and only 19% of executives in the C-Suite.” (McKinsey report)
This large gap proves that there is a definitive lack of leadership roles available for women. Moreover, it shows us that while women in these major corporations make up over half of the entry level positions, very few are promoted to the next level.
This low mobility rate within industries severely affects women in the workplace. With no mobility, women are more likely to be let go from the entry-level positions and are often given false stigmas. What’s more, due to the recent COVID-19 Pandemic, McKinsey estimates that roughly two million women are considering leaving the workplace. The report states, “If these women are forced to leave the workplace, we’ll end up with far fewer women in leadership - and far fewer women on track to be future leaders.
The wage gap is something that has become a hot issue as of late, with many powerful figures finally speaking out on the unfair wage gap between men and women. According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), “women working full time in the U.S. are paid 82 cents to every dollar earned by men.” Moreover, women are now the dominant gender in terms of receiving a higher education, with more women successfully completing higher education degrees. Consequently, women hold more of the student debt. The AAWU remarks, “because of the gender pay gap, women have a harder time repaying loans.”
The AAWU has conducted several studies to show how the pay gap has affected and will continue to affect women across the United States. They state, “at the current rate of progress, the gender pay gap will not close until 2093.” Moreover, women of color suffer from the pay gap even further. Asian and white women earn the highest as compared to white men, with 87% and 79% of what white men earn. On the other hand, AAWU notes that Black women earn 63%, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander women earn 63%, American Indian or Alaska Native women earn 60% and Hispanic women earn 55% of what white, non-Hispanic men earn.
Due to the wage gaps and employment issues, we are seeing a trend of women moving to more low paying jobs. A total of 78% of women in the workplace work in low-wage jobs.
With this high number of women in low-wage jobs, and the number of women in student debt still high, it is easy to see why women need to continue to fight for equal pay rights. The fact that it would take over 60 years for the gender gap to close is a stark reminder that there is still a long way to go for gender equality in this country.
Future of Women in the Workplace (Automation)
The world is moving towards automation. As more and more jobs become displaced through automation, more opportunities present themselves. According to a study by McKinsey, “Between 40 million and 160 million women globally may need to transition between occupations by 2030, often into higher-skilled roles. If women make these transitions, they could be on the path to more productive, better-paid work. If they cannot, they could face a growing wage gap or be left behind when progress toward gender parity in work is already slow.”
This statistical analysis tells us two things. More women are going to be let go in the next 10 years, mostly due to automation of industry. However, it also tells us that women have the capability of gaining high-skilled jobs due to this transition. In previous sections we have noticed that women are overtaking men in terms of gaining a college degree. This factor may heavily influence the future employment for women.
As more women gain a college degree, more of them become applicable for high-skilled jobs. This allows women to prospectively take a majority of the high-skilled jobs in the future and put a dent in the gender employment disparity that has plagued the country and the world for generations.
Another big reason why automation can greatly affect the gender employment disparity is the type of jobs that are considered highly automatable. These jobs, according to McKinsey, are the ones that require physical tasks and routine cognitive skills, while jobs that rely on complex cognitive skills as well as social and emotional skills are considered not automatable. “Men predominate in physical roles such as machine operators and craftworkers; therefore, nearly 40 percent of jobs held by men that could be displaced by automation in our 2-3- scenario are in these categories.”
This, however, does not mean that women will be exempt from automation troubles. Around 52 percent of potential female job displacements could arise from the automation of routine cognitive work, such as clerical support or service worker roles, according to the McKinsey report.
Yet, McKinsey reports that women would most likely be better off being placed in jobs that arise due to automation due to the current trend of women employment sectors. The report states, “By 2030, women could gain 20 percent more jobs compared with present levels (171 million jobs gained).” This is a huge number considering the difficulty that women today face in employment. Furthermore, the U.S. ranks fifth in mature and emerging countries for women’s jobs at risk of being displaced by automation, at around 19% of male employment in 2017, while leaders China is around 33% of male employment in 2017.
Moving Forward: Making The Workplace More Inclusive
The COVID-19 Pandemic has put 3 million women out of work. This staggering number tells us that women are more susceptible to being pushed out of a job due to societal views on gender roles. In lieu of this massive exodus from the workplace, it is clear that companies need to offer more women-friendly positions and ways for single mothers and women who have been forced to move out of the workplace.
Firstly, by offering more remote work options, companies would be able to hire more women that may need to look after a household while holding a job. Women greatly benefit from remote work because of the unique issues women face in the workplace, like working mom stigmas, and gender pay gaps. A survey by Ultimate Software revealed that remote workers are more likely to be promoted than in-office workers, with women being more likely to advance than men in a similar environment.
Another big factor that women would benefit from remote work is workplace safety. According to the Pew Research Center, 69% of women have been sexually harassed in a professional setting. This greatly affects women, especially since around 72% of workplace sexual harassment victims do not report it. These statistics show us that women could feel safer working from home, and simply giving women the chance to make that choice between remote work or in-office work, can go a long way. Furthermore, implementing a zero-tolerance policy will make retaining female employees easier.
Another big thing that companies must implement is allowing for female-specific benefit programs to be provided to the women in their workplace. This means implementing maternity leave, family planning and prenatal care for all female workers. This is not only extremely attractive when posting up jobs, but it also gives women a peace of mind during their time at a job.
Finally, we have seen that women are severely underrepresented in the higher positions of most companies. By ensuring that current female employees are promoted to positions of power, a company could see a rise in productivity across the board, as well as higher levels of interests from prospective future employees. After all, women now make up a majority of college graduates and degree holders around the country, making them more qualified for jobs. In order to attract these highly qualified women to the workplace, promoting existing female employees is a big step.
The Bright Side
Women have thankfully been making positive strides in the workplace. Over the past year, there has been an increase in the number of female leaders in the workplace. This stems from an increased amount of small businesses being opened by women. According to a report conducted by UENI, women make up 45 % of all small business owners in the U.S. Furthermore, 52% of sole proprietors are women as well. In fact, of the 39,008 businesses surveyed by UENI, around 17,560 are owned by women. That is a large amount, an amount that shows us that the gender gap is slowly decreasing.
Another great statistic that bodes well for women is that they start an average of 1,817 new businesses per day in the country. Out of those businesses, 89% were started by Women of Color. According to the State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, “Black women-owned businesses represented the highest rate of growth of any group in the number of firms between 2014 and 2019 as well as between 2018 and 2019.”
This trend in the increase of black women-owned business has seen a significant growth in the past five years. Side-entrepreneurship has increased by 99% among Black women, a truly staggering figure. Further, they started around 42% of net new women-owned businesses. This second stat is around three times the share of the rest of the female population.
While this is a small step towards gender equality in the workplace, it is a great start. The fact that more and more women-owned businesses are opening up means that there are greater opportunities for women to succeed in the workplace. In this country, they have the structure in place to make a real difference and this can greatly influence other women to start up their own businesses and hopefully end the gender gap all together.
Women have always faced challenges in the workplace. With new trends showing that certain problems will go away, studies tell us that this will take decades, and this slow change is simply unfair and unjust. Women are continually improving their standings in terms of qualifiable qualities for jobs, yet they are often overlooked for jobs and promotions.
These changes must happen immediately. Women are progressing towards greener pastures, with more women gaining higher education, it is becoming clear that they are often over-qualified for the lower-paying and entry-level positions that they dominate. These trends of women in the workplace show us the disparity between how gender rules the workplace and how it is unfair for one gender to completely dominate entire industries.
Thankfully, we are seeing a shift towards equality. We have various success stories of women who have successfully risen to the top of certain companies, such as Rosalind Brewer, who was recently appointed as CEO of Walgreens. She serves as an inspiration and hopefully as the start of an era where women are recognized for the worth they provide to a workplace.