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Closing the Professional Gap – Women Representation in the Workforce

BN360 Spotlight | Author: Emma Phillips (lead image)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was known for many things: a tireless work ethic, trademark collars and the iconic “notorious RBG” nickname. But perhaps the aspect of her work that sets her apart and made her a role model for so many was how hard she fought for women to be in the room where change happens.

As a young woman who has only professionally worked in male-dominated fields, Ruth Bader Ginsburg quickly became a role model to me. She was someone who had the goal of gender equality and made it known through her actions, accomplishments and words of wisdom. Navigating your professional career is hard – navigating it while being a woman is even harder.

Ginsburg’s quote, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made” to many, is quite obvious, but this isn’t always the case. Women, for so long, didn’t belong and weren’t invited to help make those decisions.

In 2018, The Center for American Progress released an updated ongoing report regarding the gendered and racial Leadership Gap within the United States. Not only are women the majority of the United States population, women are also the majority of the United States workforce. In December of 2019, women held 50.4% of American jobs. Even though this number continues to rise each year and women continue to control the spending within American households, many women are still working low-paying jobs that don’t sustain into long-term careers. On top of that, careers typically in the service sector are dominated by women, but often underpaid.

Another sector that is important yet omen are still vastly under represented within our government:

  • Women only represent 24% of members of congress and only 28% of seats in state legislatures
  • Women only represent 18% of governors and 23% of mayoral positions in the 100 largest American cities

To build on this, women of color represent less than 9% of members of congress, 2% of governors and as of August 2018, 10% of mayors in the nation’s 100 largest cities.

What is staggering about this is that these numbers reflect an increase of female representation within local government. The reason? Many women were inspired by presidential candidate, Hilary Clinton in the 2016 election.

Across all sectors within the United States economy, women are only 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs, a downward trend from a record high of 6% in 2017. In 1980, there were zero women in executive ranks for Fortune 100 companies. In 2001, 11% of Fortune 100 leaders were women. Women’s share of S&P 1500 companies’ board seats increased 94% from 1997 to 2009.

Although these numbers seem to show hope, there is still a lack of women of color advancement compared to their representation in the United States population. Women of color make up almost 39% of the female civilian work force and 20% of the United States population. Since 2016, there has not been a woman of color CEO within Fortune 500 companies. On top of this, women of color are only 4.7% of executive or senior level officials or managers of Fortune 500 companies.

These numbers seem bleak. They almost seem impossible when women have outnumbered men on college campuses since the late 1980’s, earned one-third of total law degrees since 1980 and have populated one-third of med-school students since 1990. Women have been advancing and outpacing for decades, their efforts obvious with how many currently hold a degree within the workforce (29.5 million in 2019 compared to 29.3 million men), and earning 57% of bachelor degrees for the 2016-2017 academic year. And yet, women typically earn less than men. Part of this is due to the likelihood of many women taking a break in their careers to care for children or seek a more flexible, low-paying job to help manage their family.

With Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legacy and Kamala Harris, the fourth woman, and first-ever woman of color to be nominated for national office by a major political party, it seems like a time for an obvious shift in closing the professional gap. Gone are the glass ceilings that many say women are shattering. Why should there be glass ceilings at all? For the first time, many women – young girls, college students, women in the thick of their career, or those who have been long-retired – may feel a different type of empowerment than they did before. The type of empowerment that only comes from seeing someone do it first and knowing if they can do it, then you can too.

We have always known women belong in places where decisions are being made – but many times, we believe in things before we actually see it. Now that we can feel and see the lasting impacts of closing the existing gap, it reinforces what we have already known. That there is no limit on what a woman can do.

Written by BN360


BN360 is the region’s premier young professionals program. Through a variety of programs and events, BN360 focuses on the tenets of: connect, develop, and empower—creating an inclusive and collaborative network of resources that can empower talented individuals to achieve their goals for professional growth and success. BN360 is a program of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.

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