Women Make Strides in the Workplace Yet Inequities Persist

by Don Sjoerdsma | Career Advice Expert

Women now make up a majority of the U.S. workforce, but they still face an uphill battle for gender parity.

Women held 50.04 percent of jobs in December 2019, according to Labor Department data. The last (and only) time this happened was a 10-month stretch in 2009–2010 when, in the immediate aftermath of the Great Recession, male-dominated sectors like manufacturing lost jobs at a rapid pace.

This is a far cry from the 1950s, when only 33.9 percent of women aged 16 and older worked outside the home. Yet, in the wake of the #MeToo movement and continued concern about breaking through the glass ceiling, major inequalities persist.

Women make 81 cents on every dollar made by a man. They are not well-represented in leadership roles (despite earning more college degrees than their male counterparts). Meanwhile, women are much more likely to experience sexual harassment at work.

We reviewed the latest stats to get the full picture of women's experience in the workplace, and here's what we found.

Many growth industries, such as healthcare and education, are dominated by women.

The occupations with the highest female representation:

Women are setting themselves up for success in tomorrow's economy.

For example, many of the growth occupations for women will be among the last to get replaced by robots. Women are overrepresented in occupations that are least likely to be replaced by technology (e.g., child care, elder care and education).

Source: Institute for Women's Policy Research

The picture isn't all rosy: Other women are working in occupations that could very quickly be replaced by technology (e.g., administrative assistants, cashiers and receptionists).

Source: Institute for Women's Policy Research

And, more women than men are attaining degrees.

More Women

For the class of 2016–2017, women earned more than half of bachelor's degrees (57 percent), master's degrees (59 percent) and doctorate degrees (53 percent).

Source: National Center for Education Statistics
Degree In Percentage

This was true for black women, who have attained the majority of master's (70 percent) and doctorate degrees (66 percent) compared to black men.

Source : National Center for Education Statistics

Women have earned more bachelor's degrees since 1982, more master's degrees than men since 1987 and more doctorate degrees since 2006.

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Even with advanced degrees, women aren't being equally represented in leadership roles, showing that the glass ceiling is still real.

Bar Association Icon

In law firms, women are 45 percent of associates, only 22.7 percent of partners and 19 percent of equity partners.

Source: American Bar Association
American Council Icon

In academia, women have earned the majority of doctorates, but they only make up 32 percent of full professors and 30 percent of college presidents.

Source: American Council on Education

More than half of all management occupations are held by women, but it becomes less equitable the higher up you go.

Women Positions

In 2018, women held 52 percent of all management, professional and related occupations.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

At the higher levels of S&P 500 companies, however, women are not equally represented.

Source: Catalyst

And, the overwhelming majority of corporate boards are dominated by men.

  • In 2018, men held 76 percent of S&P 500 board seats, while women held 24 percent.
    Source: Spencer Stuart
  • In the top 200 companies in the S&P 500, only 6 percent of board seats were held by women of color.
    Source: Spencer Stuart
  • In 2018, men held 77 percent of Fortune 500 board seats, while women held 23 percent.
    Source: Alliance of Board Diversity
  • Only 5 percent of these seats were held by women of color.
    Source: Alliance of Board Diversity

The wage gap persists.

Wage Gap

Women in the United States earn approximately 82 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts, according to some estimates.

Source: National Women's Law Center

Younger women are doing slightly better. Those 25–34 earned 89 cents for every dollar a man in the same age group earned.

Source: Pew Research Center

Women of color have a larger gender wage gap and experience significant cumulative lifetime wage loss as a result.

Source: National Women's Law Center

However, the gap is narrowing.

Comparing workers with the same job title, employer and location, the gap shrinks to 4.9 percent (or 95.1 cents per dollar), down from 6.5 percent in 2011.

Source: Glassdoor

If trends continue at their current rate, it will take decades to close the gap.

At 2010–2018 rates, the nation's pay gap will fully close in 2070.

Source: Glassdoor
Pay Gap Women

Most women — and more than half of men — agree the pay gap is a problem.

Source: SurveyMonkey

Despite gains, the #MeToo movement shows women still regularly face discrimination in the workplace.

Women are about twice as likely as men (42 percent versus 22 percent) to say they have experienced at least one of the following types of discrimination in the workplace:

Mb Women Discrimination

Source: Pew Research Center

Women with postgraduate degrees are much more likely to have experienced some form of discrimination at work:

Mb Womens Discrimination 2

Source: Pew Research Center

Reports of sexual harassment persist despite #MeToo.

According to a Jobvite survey, 17 percent of women say they were sexually harassed in 2018, up from 9 percent in 2017.

Source: Jobvite

A majority of the workers (57 percent) who were harassed reported it to HR, and stayed in the same role with the company.

Source: Jobvite

When it comes to day-to-day work, men and women say they prioritize different values on the job.

  • Women emphasize:

    • Collaboration
    • Communication
    • Time management
  • Men emphasize:

    • Creativity
    • Leadership
    • Discipline
Source: netQuote
Girl Icon

Women are more likely than men (39 percent versus 29 percent) to consider flexible hours and remote work one of the most important factors in looking for new opportunities.

Source: Jobvite
Boy Icon

Men are more likely than women (66 percent versus 57 percent) to consider growth within the company a key factor.

Source: Jobvite

Upbringing and cultural norms are two (of many) factors explaining such differences.

Eighty-six percent of women recall being taught to be nice to others growing up. Forty-four percent say they were taught to be a good leader, and 34 percent were taught to share their point of view.

Source: KPMG

The following occupations have seen the greatest increase in female workers over the last 20 years. It's a list worth considering as you think about your next career move:

  • Veterinarians
  • Natural sciences managers
  • Pharmacists
  • Public relations and fundraising managers
  • Graders and sorters, agricultural products
  • Animal trainers
  • Bakers
  • First-line supervisors of personal service workers
  • Opticians, dispensing
  • Writers and authors
  • Fabric and apparel patternmakers
  • Nonfarm animal caretakers
  • Compliance officers
  • Lodging managers
  • Technical writers
  • Parking enforcement workers
  • Production, planning and expediting clerks
  • Social and community service managers
  • Office machine operators, except computer
  • Public relations specialists

The above stats are designed to inform job seekers of the unique opportunities and challenges working women face. Understanding these stats can give you the edge in advancing your career.

Here are three important action items:

  • Make sure you're working in an industry that has a bright future. If you aren't, consider making a transition.
  • Identify your transferable skills. It's normal to change careers multiple times in your life. Then add these transferable skills to your resumes and cover letters, giving employers a good idea of where you want to be in your career and what skills you already have in your arsenal.
  • Connect with other female professionals on LinkedIn. As you discover how other women forged their career paths, you may pick up some valuable tips on managing your own.

In the end, understanding how women are positioned in the workplace will help you get ahead. If you're serious about your career, keep reading our 2020 employment and career stats series, including:

About the Author

Don Sjoerdsma

About the Author

Don Sjoerdsma

Career Advice Expert

Don is a writer, researcher and content strategist with a proven track record in building cross-platform content plans in diverse sectors. He has written extensively on topics related to careers and employment, including interviewing, resumes, cover letters and the job search. His work has appeared on Oprah.com, The Huffington Post, Yahoo! and LiveCareer. He holds an M.S. in Journalism from Northwestern University, where he specialized in media innovation.

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