The glass ceiling is making our economy ‘inefficient,’ researchers say. Plus, what companies can do to combat it
It’s a sea of men at the top.
Though women earn roughly 60% of both undergraduate and master’s degrees, and hold more than half of all professional-level jobs, once you move up corporate ladders they increasingly disappear. Women make up only 25% of executive- and senior-level officials and managers at S&P 500 companies, and fewer than 1 in 10 CEOs, for example. They also get paid less than men, even in the same positions.
New research from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business — which looked at dozens of past about the glass ceiling and pay inequality — seeks to explain the reasons for this, beyond sexism, which is also at play. “In a world where talent is distributed equally among women and men, an economy that does not fully tap into the leadership skills offered by women is necessarily inefficient,” says Marianne Bertrand, a professor at Chicago Booth who conducted the research. “Talent is left on the table when women are not placed in leadership positions, and the economy suffers.”
The research identified three reasons, besides sexism, that the glass ceiling persists:
1.Women incur more of the burden for child care, housework and other life chores outside of work — which hurts their career options. Moms spend 32 hours a week on housework and childcare, compared to just 18 for dads, according to data from the Pew Research Center. And even in households where both parents work, women take on far more childcare and housework responsibilities.
The extra childcare and housework that women do can create issues at work. “Higher paying occupations are more inflexible and require more time commitment. Women have a harder time with this lack of flexibility because they remain disproportionately responsible for taking care of the home, including raising children. Indeed, childcare is one of the most prominent factors holding back women’s earnings at the executive level,” the researchers write.
How companies can help: Obviously, it would be great if men and women split these responsibilities at home more equally, but in the meantime, companies can help with the current reality. Many employees want flex time — and it’s good for companies too. Flex-time can help retain talent and cut your costs, which is what KPMG found that when it implemented these policies at the company. It can also help attract talent: Potential hires say that it is the second most attractive perk, behind health, vision and dental insurance).
Other perks to attract and retain talented women, according to research published in the Harvard Business Review: Make schedules predictable, even if you can’t offer flexibility (this helps families plan childcare); offer discounted childcare; set regular meeting start and end times (say between 9:30 am and 4:30 pm) so people can ensure they get to daycare pickup in a timely manner.
2. Women tend to be more risk averse than men, which may impact their ability to compete for higher-paying jobs and negotiate salary. The researchers found that psychological differences like this may account for up to 10% of the pay gap. “Whether men and women are born with different attitudes toward risk or the differences are taught, understanding the role of nature versus nurture is key to closing the gap,” they conclude.
How companies can help: Set up an official mentoring program: “It’s important to have mentors that look for qualified women and encourage them to apply for internal opportunities. Or even better, put them on the slate of candidates,” says Deb Muller, the founder and CEO of HR Acuity. “Having the opportunity to say ‘no’ is much better than never being asked or considered.” And Sharon Fenster, the president of the Public Relations Society of America’s New York City Chapter — whose key initiative this year is on increasing diversity and inclusion — notes that mentors can also help show women how to negotiate for more money, tell them about jobs they might want to apply for, and more.
And make sure you always have female and diverse candidates for every job opening, says Josie Sutcliffe, vice president at Visier. “Consider blind screening of resumes — removing names or other gender identifiers from resumes — when selecting applicants,” she says.
3. Women with college degrees are more likely to choose to work in fields that offer lower incomes. Women tend to choose lower-paying majors that feed into lower paying career fields, the researchers found. “The single biggest cause of the gender pay gap is occupation and industry sorting of men and women into jobs that pay differently throughout the economy,” says Glassdoor Chief Economist Andrew Chamberlain. For example, the highest-paying positions like software developer and data scientists are dominated by men (and men get nearly 70% of all STEM degrees), while lower-paying careers like education are dominated by women. This, in total, “explains 54% of the overall pay gap — by far the largest factor,” Chamberlain says.
Of course, it also bears pointing out that even when men and women are in the same job — a high-paying field or not — men tend to get paid more than women.
How companies can help: Companies can do two big things, experts say: First, they can offer cross-departmental training that could help women move into higher-paying sections within the company. And second, they can pay for or subsidize training so that women might gain skills like coding or management that might help them get paid more in the future.
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