Using date from the US Census and American Community Survey, William Scarborough, a PhD candidate in sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a research assistant at the university’s Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy, investigated how American women’s representation in management changed between 1980 and 2010, as well as gender segregation and gender wage gaps among managerial roles. Writing at the Harvard Business Review, Scarborough explains that he found “progressive change in one measure coupled with backward tendencies in others”:
First, the good news. Women’s representation in management is higher than it’s ever been. Of the nearly 4.5 million new jobs in management created since 1980, women have obtained the majority of them.
Second, the not-so-good news. The rise in women’s representation in management has been accompanied by a large increase in the occupational gender segregation of managers. In 1980 not a single management occupation was majority women. By 2010, however, we find that some occupations are female-dominated while others are male-dominated. Female managers are concentrated in fields that emphasize people-centered caring skills, while men are concentrated in fields dealing with production-centered skills.
Third, the bad news. The occupations where female managers were concentrated by 2010 were also those with the largest gender wage gaps.
Scarborough’s research points in the same direction as other studies on gender parity in corporate leadership, showing that despite the progress women have made at breaking through the glass ceiling, this progress has not gone as far as many men believe it has, with women getting passed up for promotions and, when they do break through, often channeled into staff roles with lower earning potential and without a clear path to the C-suite. These challenges are doubly daunting for women of color.
A recent study of women directors illustrates the challenges women continue to face even after making it into high-level leadership roles. Even as large enterprises have made a conscious effort to add more women to their boards, these women are rarely appointed to positions of influence within the board, such as the chairperson’s role or leadership of key committees such as the executive, compensation, and nominating or governance committees. Women who make it to the very top of the corporate ladder, meanwhile, are more likely than male CEOs to be targeted by activist investors for removal, multiple studies have found.
These findings are bad news not only for women but also for the companies that employ them. More and more evidence is accumulating that greater inclusion, particularly in leadership, is strongly correlated with innovation, value creation, and profitability.