Women in the Workforce: You are Your Own Leader

Recent Statistical History of Women at Work

Women in the workforce have come a long way since the 1960s. Statistics presented by the U.S. Department of Labor (2012) show women’s labor participation is up by 53 percent since 1963. There have been several initiatives put into place by lawmakers in order to promote equality for working women. These include the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, and the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 (U.S. Dept. Labor, 2012).

Despite the fact that there are more women in the American workforce than ever before, and despite all of the legislation passed to help women succeed regardless of discrimination, females still face difficulties and adversity.

Present Day Statistics

Currently, women in the U.S. take home less income than men. The median weekly earnings of women workers, ages 16 and over in 2013, was $706 dollars. The median weekly earnings of men, ages 16 and over was $860 dollars. In other words, on average, women make $0.82 for every $1.00 that men make. This might not seem like a huge difference, but over the course of a year it means that women take home roughly $36,712 while men take home $44,720 for doing the same job (U.S. Dept. Labor, 2015).

Another recent statistic shows that the majority of students who are attending college today are women. Forbes (2012) reports that universities are made up of 43.6 percent men and 56.4 percent women. Female domination of higher education prevails across all schools whether it be public, private, or not-for-profit institutions. This is interesting if you compare the ratio of males to females who are of eligible college age. There are more males than females in the age range of 18 to 24 who are of college age, at 51 percent vs. 49 percent (Borzelleca, 2012).

This could possibly be explained by the fact that there is more of a demand in leading occupations that do not require a college degree in fields that women typically don’t enter. For example, the U.S. Department of Labor (2015) reported that the in-demand, higher-paying occupations for 2010 to 2020 include; accountants and auditors, brick masons, cargo and freight agents, carpenters, cement masons, cost estimators, and database administrators. The percentage of women actually employed in these fields? Aside from the field of accounting a very low percentage of women actually work in these occupations, approximately zero to 39 percent, which are dominated by men and require only a high school diploma (U.S. Dept. Labor, 2015).

Women in Male Dominated Roles

So, what if women decided to become cement masons or decided to work in a male dominated field? Take the case of Lilly Ledbetter, as reported by the National Women’s Law Center (2015). She was one of the few female supervisors at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. in Gadsden, Alabama.   She worked there for close to two decades. After overcoming sexual harassment and being told by her male counterparts that they didn’t think a woman should be working there, she found out through an anonymous tip that the salaries of the three male managers with whom she worked were grossly higher than her own. Ledbetter then filed a complaint and her case went to trial. She was awarded $3.3 million and new legislation was signed into action by President Obama on January 29, 2009, restoring the Protection Against Pay Discrimination Act, which some would claim “had been stripped away” by the Supreme Court in its earlier ruling in the Ledbetter vs. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. case (National Women’s Law Center, 2015).

Ledbetter did not give up and she took an active role in making things better for women: financially, legislatively, mentally, and socially. This is also not ruling out the fact that women have a lot of adversity to face and overcome.

Progress Toward Equal Pay

What is being done about inequality in the workforce? Aside from legislative acts and amendments, the White House under President Obama reported that raising the minimum wage will greatly impact women.

Obama said in a speech at Central Connecticut State University on March 5, 2014 that, “Most people who would get a raise if we raise the minimum wage are not teenagers on their first job- their average age is 35. Women hold a majority of lower-wage jobs. These Americans are working full-time, often supporting families, and if the minimum wage had kept pace with our economy’s productivity, they’d already be earning well over 10$ an hour today. Instead, it’s stuck at $7.25. Every time Congress refuses to raise it, it loses value because the cost of living goes higher, minimum wage stays the same (The White House, 2015, p.1).”

Congress is 18 percent women and 82 percent men. One argument regarding women’s lower income on a national level, is the idea that if you were to remove all of the male CEO’s earnings, maybe women would actually be making wages comparable to men’s wages. However, this only opens up another question; why are there so many more male CEO’s than female CEO’s and are their wages the same or are they being paid more? Catalyst (2015) did a statistical overview of women in Fortune 500 Companies and found that only 14.6 percent of executive officer positions were held by women and Fortune 500 board seats actually occupied by women were 16.9 percent (Knowledge Center, 2015).

Leadership and Mentorship

Women are reportedly often-times viewed as ‘risky’ investments to employ in typically male dominated roles. For example, the Harvard Business Review (2015) states that women are twice as likely to be hired from outside of a company as opposed to being promoted internally. They went on to claim that, “This finding might suggest that women are very likely not emerging as winners in their firms’ own CEO tournaments (Ibarra, Carter, & Silva, 2015, p. 6).” Aside from that, they cited a study conducted in 2008 of more than 4,000 full-time employed men and women. These were individuals who were considered high potentials and had graduated from top MBA programs worldwide. The study revealed that the women were paid $4,600 less in their first post-MBA jobs. They also occupied lower-level management positions and reportedly had less career satisfaction as compared to their male cohorts (Ibarra et al., 2015).

Another factor to consider is mentorship. According to one study, more women actually have more mentors than men do. However, the same 2008 study suggested that women’s mentors have “less organizational clout (Ibarra et al., 2015, p. 4),” and a follow up survey conducted in 2010 shows that men received 15 percent more promotions than women did. Something that could be considered quite interesting, is that 67 percent of the people involved in the study found their mentors on their own (Ibarra et al., 2015). So, does this mean that women aren’t picking mentors that can help them advance? Are women actively sabotaging themselves? Or are there vast differences in how women are mentored vs. men?

There is of course the dilemma of the double standard. Men who are mentoring or working with other men can go out for a drink together and no one thinks twice about it, whereas if a male co-worker, mentor, or boss goes out for a drink with a female co-worker, things are often viewed differently by society and sometimes by the individuals involved. Aside from that, real or perceived interests may be the responsible underlying motivation rather than professionalism.

Conclusion

These are all things that women should consider keeping in mind. Overall, there is a lot of work to be done as far as women’s equality in the workplace is concerned, but as individuals we are also responsible for our own reality. There are a few exceptions to this rule as our world is dominated by freewill, however, if we remain diligent our goals and ambitions can be reached. This is being clearly demonstrated as the steady increase in percentages of women CEO’s and females in the job market, in general, rises.

Women should not be discouraged, angry, or become indignant but rather, be as pro-active in their own lives as possible. In the end, you are your own leader. Rather than putting yourself down, raise yourself up, and even more importantly, raise up those around you, and you will succeed.

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