The Progress of Women in the Workplace

Throughout history women have come a long way across the globe when it comes to equality.  It’s been almost a century since women gained the right to vote in the United States.  We see more and more women moving into leadership positions traditionally held by males such as Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, and Sheryl Sandberg who is COO Facebook. In Pittsburgh we can point to:
  • Esther L. Bushthe President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh and recipient of the White House’s Champion of Change for African American Education.
  • Laura Shapira Karetthe CEO of Giant Eagle, a Vibrant Pittsburgh member company and HR Leadership Council member company.
  • Karen Peetzthe Vice Chair, Executive Committee member, and CEO of the Financial Markets and Treasury Services group at BNY Mellon, a Vibrant Pittsburgh member company.
  • Audrey Russothe first women president and chief executive officer of the Pittsburgh Technology Council, a trade association for high-tech and entrepreneurial ventures that serves 13 counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
If we just take a “snapshot” of last year’s progress for women globally there are some very positive trends.

In February 2012 the Defense Department opened up 14,500 positions to women that had previously been limited to men and lifted a rule that prohibited women from living with combat units.

Fortune 500 board seats held by women in the US went from 16.1% in 2011 to 16.6% in 2012. Women on corporate boards in the European Union rose from 11.8% in 2010 to 13.7% in 2012.
Women now earn almost 60% of university degrees in the US and Europe.
Women’s reproductive rights issues were debated heavily in the US 2012 Presidential campaign, and by and large, women were victorious in maintaining their right to choose.

When Marissa Mayer was named CEO of Yahoo in July 2012 (making her the 20th female Fortune 500 CEO) and shortly thereafter announced that she was pregnant, the media was all abuzz with questions of her ability to be a CEO and a good mother. This was a defining moment in shifting stereotypes about women CEO’s and paradigms of “right and wrong”. Would anyone ask if a man could be a good father and CEO?

The newly sworn-in 113th US Congress has 20 female senators and 82 female representatives, a record number.

While there is much good news for gender equity around the globe, there are still many inequities that need to continue to be addressed.

Women continue to earn less than men for comparable jobs – 77 cent in 2012 for every dollar a man earns. This gap is even larger for women of color. African-American women earn 64 cents to the dollar and Hispanic women make only 55 cents to every dollar a man earns. Catherine Hill, head of research at the American Association of University Women (AAUW), discovered that among college graduates, the pay gap grew from 20 cents on the dollar one year after graduation to 31 cents by the 10th year out of college.

Women comprise almost half of the workforce in the US, yet according to Catalyst, in 2012 women held only 4.2% of Fortune 500 CEO positions and 4.2% of Fortune 1000 CEO positions, even though the data is compelling and now fairly plentiful that shows companies with women in leadership positions outperform those that do not.

While gender issues have been at the forefront for almost three decades now, the data show that progress is slow and, in some cases, stalled. According to Kathryn Kolbert, director of the Athena Center for Leadership at Barnard College, women’s advancement has flat lined in recent years, “We made great progress in the 1970’s and life has changed significantly, but progress for women has plateaued in rights, in leadership and in the ability to contribute equally in social and cultural affairs.”

In Pittsburgh, many employers have employee resource groups, including women’s networks, which provide support and help advance the careers of their female employees.