Leadership and Wages Go Hand in Hand for Women
The gender wage gap — currently 21 cents on the dollar — has many causes: gender segregation across job sectors and industries, the science gap for women and girls, explicit wage discrimination, and expectations around parenting and caretaking, among others. But one important factor that contributes to the gender wage gap is the gender leadership gap.
AAUW’s new research report, Barriers and Bias: The Status of Women in Leadership, explores women’s exclusion from the top levels of leadership in politics, the workforce, education, and other sectors. While this exclusion has significant consequences for women’s experiences and contributions to society, the underrepresentation is also important to women and their families because it contributes to the gender wage gap. The highest levels of management and leadership are usually well-compensated, and women rarely make it into those positions.
Women make up just 29 percent of private-sector executives in the United States, and of the U.S. workers who make more than $100,000 per year, only 27 percent are women. Within these executive ranks, the very top levels of leadership (and therefore earnings) are even more male-dominated — for instance, only 5 percent of Standard & Poor’s 500 index CEOs are women. Women are shut out from positions of power. As a result, they are also shut out from a higher income and greater financial stability. Moreover, women of color experience an even larger gender wage gap and are less likely than white women to reach leadership positions.
The gender wage gap may also contribute to the gender leadership gap. One of the factors contributing to the gender leadership gap is that women are much more likely than men to experience time out of the workforce due to parenting or other caretaking responsibilities. For couples who become new parents, a decision presents itself: Can we afford child care? If not, who will leave their job? Couples with similar incomes and job prospects may try to make a fair decision, perhaps by seeing who gets a good job offer first. But for many couples, the selection of primary caretaker is automatic: The person who earns less will quit their job. For most heterosexual, married couples who both work, that person is the woman 70 percent of the time. Male primary caretakers have become more common but are still overwhelmingly the exception to the rule. This situation is likely to continue as long as men earn more than women.
A recent study of young working women found that many who leave their current jobs do so to seek out higher pay and better opportunities to develop skills, suggesting that low pay and limited opportunities for advancement go hand in hand. When women are kept out of leadership positions, they earn less, and when women earn less, they are more likely to leave the workforce entirely. Improving gender equity in the workplace is possible, but a comprehensive plan to end the gender wage gap needs to consider solutions to the gender leadership gap, and vice versa.
There are things individuals, employers, and policy makers can do today to help close the gender leadership gap.
Even people who strongly value gender equity may find that their implicit biases work against their intentions.
According to AAUW’s newest research report, Barriers and Bias, women are still less likely than men are to be seen as leaders.