According to this year’s report from the United States Department of Labor, 57% of women participate in the labor force, and 70% of women with children under 18 participate in the labor force. These whopping numbers, along with other striking statistics, indicate that women have tremendous employment needs:
The gap between pay for men and women is a huge issue. Kathryn Dill wrote for Forbes on May 29 this year that women on average earn about $.76 for every $1.00 men earn. The best paying job for women is that of Chief Executive, or CEO, “earning median weekly wages of $1,186 or approximately $95,472 per year. However they account for just over 27% of total workers with this job title, leaving men with 73%. While USA Today reported that the highest paid female CEOs made $18.8 million a year—higher than the male average of $12.7 million a year for males—the AFL-CIO stated in 2014 that the highest paid male CEO was paid over $119 million a year. Of course, these astronomical figures are almost incomprehensible to most of the work force, and in particular women.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2015, women’s poverty rates were at a “historically high level, and substantially above the poverty rates for men.” The National Women’s Law Center conducted a study of poverty among women and families in 2014 and found “More than one in seven women – nearly 18.4 million – and more than one in five children – more than 15.5 million – lived in poverty in 2014. More than half of all poor children lived in families headed by women…Nearly 1 in 15 women lived in extreme poverty in 2014.”
Chair of the Federal Reserve system Janet Yellen just stated that while pay raises are on the rise, job growth may have stalled. This is not good news since statistics are high among unemployed women: Further, according to Patricia Cohen in Economy, there’s strong evidence in 2016 that older women face age discrimination: While 17% of women from ages 25-34 are considered long term unemployed the statistic rises to 48% for women age 55-64.
Discrimination is still a major problem for employed women as well as women kept out of jobs because of their sex and/or their age. Harassment is a form of discrimination. According to the Huffington Post in 2015, “One in three women from ages of 18 to 34 has been sexually harassed at work.” This means that about one third of female employees are forced to endure harassment, that is, if they want to keep their jobs. Many of these women, living from paycheck to paycheck, can’t afford to quit and look for another job—they may have children to support, as well. While they can report the harassment to HR, and the perpetrator— who may be her boss—can be reprimanded and told to stop, this can create what’s called a hostile work environment for the female employee. It’s extremely costly to pursue such a case in court. About one third of Americans don’t have any savings.
Working women living in near poverty and extreme poverty level are usually working for minimum wage, which can vary from state to state. According to Forbes, 1.3 million women are working at the current federal minimum of $7.25/hr. PBS reports this percentage to be about 62% of the total workforce.
McKinsey Global Institute’s November 2015 study, “The Power of parity: How advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth,” found that “The U.S. could add $2.1 trillion to the nation’s gross domestic product in less than two decades if states made varying strides to raise women’s rate of labor-force participation, increase the number of hours they work and spread them into more-productive job sectors.” They added, “One thing that weighs heavily on American women’s earning potential is the fact they do almost double the amount of unpaid care work as men, including cooking, cleaning and taking care of children.”
The McKinsey findings and others indicate that not only do women desperately need meaningful work, but that the U.S. economy would be much healthier with more women in leadership roles in the workplace. The process of achieving this has been slower than we’ve hoped for and it’s been influenced by a number of factors including: 1) Women in the U.S. typically experience a very low allowance of time for maternity leave—either paid or unpaid; for example, Tech Republic reported in 2015 that only 5% of low wage earners receive paid maternity leave, and 2) Few companies provide daycare facilities for working moms. Clearly, it’s extremely difficult for working moms to advance with such constraints.
Another reason frequently cited for women’s lack of leadership roles in corporate America is that women are more reticent to apply for raises and advancement than men, who are more aggressive and accustomed to competitive environments. This should change as increasing numbers of women learn skills in negotiation, as well as selling and leveraging themselves with confidence. Communication skills are invaluable in this context. Women won’t be in a position to advance unless both men and other women offer training, mentoring, sponsoring, coaching, and other forms of support in helping women become more promotable.
Increasing numbers of women are leaving the corporate world to become self-employed entrepreneurs, because it offers them more flexibility, especially in allotting their time to business concerns. Another reason is that they prefer to be creative, self-motivated, and able to advance according to their own skills, rather than be under the control of superiors in a corporate setting. Entrepreneurship can be a very viable option for women interested in taking full responsibility for their business success. But they often need support as well, in terms of mentoring, training, coaching, and financial help, including small business or SBA loans. They may also be able to find assistance though grants or investments from groups or individuals who see value in their initiatives.
In terms of equal rights it’s irrefutable that 50% of the work force deserves 50% representation. Another thing is certain: Despite the fact that countless women have been proven to be strong, independent, and brave—in addition to offering valuable skills—we can’t do it alone: in fact, we still need all the help we can get to attain fiscal equality with men—an imperative objective in order for our nation’s economy to survive.
Mary Kathryn “M.K.” Jones
Founder of Women Who Walk the Talk™