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a different perspective on human capital

Women in the Workforce


It’s Women’s History month, and ladies, there is a lot to celebrate! In the 1950’s, women only participated in 30% of the workforce, but now contribute to 47% of total labor. Further, according to the U.S. Department of Labor – over 57% of women are currently working and are predicted to contribute to 51% of the labor force growth between 2008-2018. Compared to the days when opportunities were confined to “The Good Housewife’s Guide”, the future is bright!

Of course, complete equality between the sexes in the work environment is far from realized. The glass ceiling remains impervious – the jarring 78 cents earned for every dollar a man makes is evidence enough. While women are almost equally represented in the labor force, leadership positions held by women are shockingly sparse. Currently, only 21% of senior level positions are occupied by women, and this year there were only 21 women on Fortune 500’s list of top CEO’s.

Why does this gap occur? A study by Leanin.org and McKinsey & Company offers surprising findings. Here is a summary of a few of their key insights, but be sure to check out their full report here.

Bias in the Workplace

Regardless if it is there or not, women see a workplace skewed in favor of men. These perceptions lead women to believe they are 4 times more likely than men to miss out on opportunities because of their gender. This mindset might explain why women appear to advance at lower rates than males. This is especially true for women in more senior positions. These women are half as likely to say they aren’t consulted on important decisions or recognized for their work. Women at this level are less satisfied with their careers which can lead to lower performance. Seems like a vicious cycle to us!

Stress & Family Life

Both men and women list balancing work and family as a top reason they would decline a senior position. However, women also listed stress as a main factor for passing up a job. Several variables could contribute to disproportionate stress, but one reason could be additional work outside of the office. Women are more likely to report completing more chores and child rearing activities than men. Further, women at an executive level are 85% more likely than men at the same level to have a partner who is employed full-time, implying a spouse might not be able to compensate for the long working hours a female executive puts in at the office.

Identifying Inequality

While gender inequality may be self-evident for the experience of many women, men do not always recognize the signs of bias. In fact, only 1 in 9 men stated that they believe women have fewer opportunities than men, and 13% actually feel programs to promote gender equality harm their own advancement. Without recognition of the problem, very little can be done to make it better.

What Can Be Done?

Flexible work hours, paid paternity and maternity leave, and equal pay are a few of the structures that can be implemented to advance the equality of men and women in the workplace. However, tackling bias and perception are much more subtle and trickier to address. Critical paths to combat bias include identifying accurate metrics to measure performance and ensuring men and women are equally represented at all levels of the job recruitment and advancement process.

Though the current status of women in the workplace can be discouraging, progress overseas demonstrates the attainability of equality. For example, in China, 51% of senior leadership positions are held by women. A change in culture will take time and systematic effort on the part of employers and employees alike, but with diligence and a concerted effort, there is every reason to believe women will reach their full capacity as equally contributing members to a global economy.

Here at the Treehouse Partners we are about girl power! Ladies – we would love to hear your inspiring stories of success in the workplace! Hoping you can share with us!