Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Women in the Workforce

The economic empowerment of women over the past 50 years is an unparalleled revolution. It is a social change unlike any other in the number of people who have become independent and the lack of social friction that it has caused. Literally, millions of people who were once dependent on men have taken control of their financial situation without any major wars or violent confrontations. This massive transformation has modernized our economy and overhauled our social structure.

This progress varies across the globe. Women make up just about half the workforce in the United States (49.9% to be exact). Globally, the female unemployment rate is slightly higher for females (6.4% for females, 6.1% for males.) In Italy and Japan, employment rates for women are still around 20% lower for women than men. Women earn substantially less than men and are severaly under-represented in top management positions. Interestingly, throughout Africa unemployment rates for women are lower than those for men, but they also make up a larger percentage of the informal workforce through small entrepreneurial enterprises. These figures leave 77.8 million women who are actively seeking work. Does the increasing proportion of women in the labor force really mean that the gap between male and female participation is closing? And are the women looking for work finding it? In transition economies 91 women are economically active per 100 men, but in Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa that number drops to about 50 women per 100 men. Nonetheless, the growing proportion of of women in the labor force is one of the most striking labor market trends of our day.

At the end of her campaign to become America’s first female president in 2008, Hillary Clinton remarked that her 18m votes in the Democratic Party’s primaries represented 18m cracks in the glass ceiling. In the market for jobs rather than votes the ceiling is being cracked every day. Worldwide, women run some of the world’s best companies, such as PepsiCo, Archer Daniels Midland and W.L. Gore. They earn almost 60% of university degrees in America and Europe. Despite progressive politics and opportunities at the top, women still have a smaller likelihood of being in regular wage and salaried employment than men, even though the female share of contributing family workers exceeds the male rate in almost all economies where data is available.

Although the gender gap has not fully closed in any region, we are moving in the right direction. Women are economically independent and able to support their families better than ever before. As attitudes continue to open, women are rising to the challenge, educating themselves and taking advantage of resources available to them. Get it girls!!!

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