We are about to celebrate the 15th Mother’s Day of the 21st century. More than 50 years have passed since feminist Betty Friedan published ‘The Feminine Mystique’, launching an international debate about the role of women in society. Most of the young women who were in college at the time, and were inspired by Ms. Friedan’s views, are now retiring.
How much has changed? The women of the Sixties became the mothers of today’s business leaders. Many of these women maintained demanding careers while raising their family. What impact did that have on changing attitudes toward women and on creating opportunities for their advancement in the marketplace?
Each year, the World Economic Forum evaluates the “global gender gap”. Countries are evaluated by examining the impact that economic factors, education, health issues and political empowerment have on gender equality. Their conclusion: While many countries are making progress, no country in the world has achieved gender equality! In their evaluation of these combined factors, the United States is ranked 23rd. Our ranking has remained stagnant over the past few years.
Let’s look at the statistics in each area.
Academic Opportunity and Educational Achievement
In March 2011, the U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration conducted a study of gender equality in terms of academic achievement:
As indicated, women are outpacing men when pursuing advanced studies. It is estimated that by 2019 women will represent 60% of all undergraduates at U.S. universities. However, there is a wide disparity in the choices of academic fields pursued. Women represent only 25% of science and technology fields, yet account for more than two-thirds of liberal arts degrees.
Women represent half of the country’s potential talent base, and labor force participation is relatively equal, with 46.9% women and 53.1% men. However, further investigations shows that a smaller percentage of women eligible to work are doing so. We also see that women work fewer hours (36 hours vs. 40.9 hours), and twice as many women (26%) are working less than 35 hours per week. Women are more likely to leave the work force than men, yet the median years with the same employer is nearly identical, at 4.5 years for women and 4.7 years for men.
The wage gap is closing, but still exists. In 1979, women earned 62% of what men earned for equivalent work. In 2013, women were earning 82% for the same work.
Opportunities for Rising to Positions of Leadership
Results of the McKinsey Global Survey demonstrate that career ambitions of men and women are equally high. Seventy nine percent (79%) of women and eighty one percent (81%) of men stated that they aspired to a top management position. Two thirds of both groups indicated a willingness to sacrifice part of their personal lives to achieve their goals. Yet when asked whether they expect to achieve their goals, the gap is apparent. Sixty nine percent (69%) of mid-level or senior women stated that they are confident of reaching a top-level position, as compared to 83% of men.
Additional studies also report that, at the start of their career, women are very career–oriented. They are competitive, focused, enthusiastic and ready to give one hundred percent to the job. Eighty nine percent (89%) of them know that they have the abilities and the willingness to aspire to executive level positions. Then, reality sets in. These aspirations drop to 75% as they grow to middle age (35-44) and further down to 58% when they reach 45 -54. As they grow older, this number drops to 22% or lower. For men, 85% aspire to the highest position at the beginning of their careers, and at 45-54, at least 75% of them still keep these plans and hopes alive.
This skepticism is tied to concerns regarding cultural and political factors that could inhibit advancement. When reviewing the statistics regarding women in senior positions, it becomes clear that concerns are well founded as the advancement funnel get very narrow.
One Step Forward, One Step Back, and Two to the Side
As the above data indicates, women have made strides in terms of their qualifications for career advancement, but the increased academic credentials and overall commitment have not yet translated into wide-scale success in terms of advancement or compensation.
In tomorrow’s blog, “Hi Tech: Innovative? Yes. Progressive? No” the experiences of women in the high tech industry will offer insight into the challenges faced by women who pursue careers in professional or technical fields. The high tech industry, driven by innovation, is constantly reinventing itself. The median age of High Tech companies tends to be lower than for other established industries, and talent with specialized technical skills is constantly in demand. One would assume that this would provide a great opportunity for women seeking promising careers with unlimited potential. We will explore the causes for the gap between promise and reality, and consider the implications for women in other fields.
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