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Survey Data Show More Women in the Workforce, Though Things

Are Far From Equal. Society has made progress in getting women into the workforce, according to Pew Research. Some findings show the effort may have stalled.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
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Ahead of women's history month, research shows the workplace is a leading arena marking progress on the path to gender equality in the U.S. 

Women now make up nearly half the workforce, dramatically up from the post-World War II era. But women are still a minority presence in higher paying career fields, and when it comes to business leadership, men still dominate. Some people surveyed by Pew Research even think there are too many women leaders. Uh Oh. Perhaps this isn't surprising in an era where anti-DEI efforts are affecting the workforce.

Overall progress toward equality in the workplace

Pew's statistics roundup starts off with the good news: Compared to making up just 30 percent of the workforce in 1950, women now make up 47 percent of the civilian labor force. That's definite progress since the heady days of I Love Lucy, but Pew's data show that growth has stagnated in recent decades. The data are a little better when you look at the college-educated workforce, showing women now make up 51 percent of workers aged 25 and older. This reflects, roughly, the percentage of men to women in the general population, so it sounds like parity is close to being achieved there.

A different story for women in business

But before anyone pops champagne to celebrate progress toward gender equality, Pew also notes that just 35 percent of workers in the country's highest-paying occupations are women. The data do show a rise from the era of yuppies and power suits with padded shoulders: 1980's figure was just 13 percent.

But the figures imply the glass ceiling is still firmly in place for jobs like physicians, pilots, lawyers and other jobs that earn more than $100,000 a year. More concerning still is that data show there's been no meaningful progress on closing the gender pay gap since the new millennium. Pew notes analysis of hourly and full-time worker pay shows that in 2002 women earned 80 cents to the dollar compared to men, and in 2022 that figure rose...to just 82 cents per dollar.

In the white-collar, office realm, where women's power suits may seem as common as traditional suits and ties, women still lag behind men for top leadership positions. In the Fortune 500, only 11 percent of CEOs are women, and though more women are on the board of Fortune 500 companies, that figure only reaches 30 percent.

What's going on? And what can you do about it?

Pew is careful not to dig into politically and ethically complex reasons that drive these data, but it does highlight some points hinting why progress toward worker equality hasn't moved in recent decades. When it comes to the pay gap, more than six in ten women say employers are to blame for treating women differently. Just 37 percent of men agree. While 55 percent of American adults surveyed said there are too few women in business leadership roles, some 6 percent thought that there were too many.

Is all of this because being a woman makes it difficult to get ahead in society? Half of Americans surveyed said yes, Pew notes. But that isn't split evenly between women and men: just 40 percent of men think being a woman is a barrier. An Inc. and Fast Company survey underlined these facts recently, noting that women founders are much more likely to hire female workers over male workers than male founders are.

All of this data is worth bearing in mind when it comes to hiring, paying and promoting your workforce. The pandemic upset many of society's norms, including in the business world: women haven't returned to the workforce as much as men have, so you may need different strategies to attract female workers to apply for job. And if your company is tech-centric, it's worth remembering that one barrier to more women applicants is a lack of tech skills and a deficit of company efforts to train women tech workers. That's something that may be easy to address. ​

Photo Credit: Getty Images.

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