Approximately 100 years ago women in the United States were allowed to vote for the first time in our nation’s history. Since the women’s liberation movement, female civil rights have developed at a slow, though decisive rate.
Women of the 20th century had more rights than women of the 19th. Women of the 21st century, have more rights than those of the 20th. And yet the battle for gender equality continues.
In this article, we take a look at gender representation across several high-paying industries. We examine where things stand currently, and what can be done to increase representation in the future.
The concept of women in the workforce is surprisingly young. Of course, since the dawn of civilization, females have played an important role in accomplishing community goals. However, it wasn’t until the 1920s-1930s that these contributions involved seeking employment out of the home—at least not at a large scale.
From 1930-1950 the percentage of married women in the workforce shot up from 10% to 25%. Now 70% of married women hold jobs.
Women’s labor naturally has little to do with marital status, except in this way: As recently as several generations ago, the vast majority of women were financially dependent on their spouses. Now, for the first time in modern history, they aren’t.
But while gender representation in the broader job market has increased, it remains stagnant in many high-paying fields. Below, we highlight career paths that could benefit from higher levels of representation.
The tech industry has come under fire in recent years for promoting a generally unhealthy work culture. Specific criticisms have noted that the tech industry fails to foster an environment of gender inclusivity.
Currently, women make up about 33% of tech industry employees—up from approximately 20% dating several years back. The industry forecast is complicated. On the one hand, more women than ever before are entering tech-related educational programs.
On the other hand, women already working within the tech industry are leaving it at significantly higher rates than men.
Women are similarly underrepresented in the field of engineering. While the number of female engineers increased by approximately 5% in the last decade, it still rests at a low 15%. Though female representation in engineering is increasing, advancement has been historically very gradual.
Of the high-paying career paths that are known for a lack of gender diversity, finance has come the closest to reaching parity. Women make up approximately 40% of the people working in the financial industry.
Leading By Example
What does it take to increase gender diversity in the workforce? Opportunity outreach may be one of the most significant forces for increasing female enrollment in fields like tech or engineering. Because these industries have been male-dominated for so long, it is difficult for young women to break into them.
While no engineering program in the country can exclude women deliberately, the mere lack of female enrollment in these programs may discourage school-aged females from considering a degree in tech or engineering.
Having a wealth of examples can help encourage girls with an interest in historically male-dominated industries to consider enrolling in relevant programs.
Is the Goal Gender Parity?
A recent study revealed that countries like Sweden, Iceland, and Scandanavia— broadly lauded as several of the most egalitarian countries on the planet, have comparatively low levels of female enrollment in STEM programs relative to nations that are considered less egalitarian.
Dubbed the “Gender Equality Paradox” by researchers, this study found that while females across the planet equal their male peers in STEM-related academic achievement, they tend to opt for career paths that favor skills relating to the humanities, even in countries that are not known to discourage female participation in tech-related career paths.
The conclusion of this study is not that equal representation across STEM or tech-related industries is unachievable. What does it suggest?
- Change is gradual. The career paths listed above require years of training and experience. A young girl who takes interest in STEM today may be fifteen years removed from entering the field. In other words, current egalitarian career initiatives may turn out to be very effective. We simply won’t know for some time.
- Equality of opportunity is easier to guarantee than equality of outcome. While STEM outreach programs do their good work, a more quantifiable goal for achieving gender, or for that matter, racial equality across high-paying career fields may be equality of opportunity. Are tech, engineering, and other fields fostering an environment conducive to gender equality? In the short term, creating a welcoming environment for women may be the most concrete step STEM-related educational and career programs can offer.
Gender parity is an excellent long-term goal. However, without short-term progress indicators, it can very difficult to monitor if that goal is being met. For now, a combination of female role models, high-quality outreach educational outreach programs, and work culture shifts may be the best ways to bring more women into industries that have been historically dominated by men.