Joblessness and the “Care Chasm”: Why Women Drop Out of the Workforce

There was a lot of focus on a dearth of middle-class jobs for men in the United States during the recent presidential election. This discussion centered on the loss of good-paying manufacturing and mining jobs for men, which have been in decline since the 1960s due to automation and globalization. Not much attention has been paid, however, to the declining number of women in the US workforce. This trend is the opposite of trends in women’s employment in other industrialized countries. What explains this difference for women in the United States? While the decline in workforce participation for working-class men began in the 1960s, the slide for women’s participation did not begin until the early 2000s. Patricia Cohen of the New York Times explains that the drop in women’s workforce participation occurred for different reasons than it did for men. During this period, women have been earning college degrees in greater numbers; also, service sector jobs, where women are traditionally concentrated, have been growing. So why have women been dropping out of the workforce? Cohen notes that we do not have the family support policies in the United States that other industrialized countries have. In fact, here “women are still the primary caregivers—for children, aging parents, and ailing relatives.” Women often cite caregiving responsibility as the reason they are unable to hold on to unstable and inflexible jobs. Cohen cites economist Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute, who reports, “Hardly any men who have dropped out say it is because they are helping with children or other family members.” Eberstadt goes on to note that a “care chasm” explains the stark contrast between women’s workforce participation in the United States and their participation rate in Europe. He explains that European countries with comprehensive family support policies have seen women’s labor force participation go up since 2000, while ours has plummeted. We need to demand that our legislators support policies for affordable child care, paid family leave, elder care support, and a living wage in the United States. Family support policies are good for all of us and for our economy.   Photo courtesy of Univ. of Salford. CC by 2.0    ]]>

The Cost of Being a Successful Woman: New Research from Sweden

Joan C. Williams, writing for the Harvard Business Review about why white working-class men and women voted for Donald J. Trump in the 2016 presidential election, describes the strong feelings about traditional gender roles that still exist in segments of our society. She explains, “Trump promises a world free of political correctness and a return to an earlier era, when men were men and women knew their place.” She goes on to explain that manly dignity is a big deal for most working-class men. So is breadwinner status: Many still measure masculinity by the size of a paycheck,” and the paychecks of working-class men have been decreasing since the 1970s. During this same time period in the United States, women, especially educated women, have gained greater access to opportunities, increasing the resentment of working-class men and women. While the 2016 election of Donald J. Trump reflects, at least in part, that traditional attitudes about gender roles are still deeply embedded in large segments of society in the United States, a recent study finds that, surprisingly, these attitudes also still exist in Sweden. Why is this a surprise? Ray Fisman, writing for, explains that while Sweden is known to be a progressive country with legal protections for women, generous family leave, and free day care for all, societal gender norms still play a big role. Fisman cites research by Olle Folke and Johanna Rickne showing that female career success is harmful to marriages in Sweden. They followed the marriages of aspiring female politicians and found that while winners’ and losers’ divorce rates are identical before an election, the divorce rate for winners doubles relative to that of losers right after an election. They find a similar impact from becoming a female CEO in Sweden. Fisman notes, “The authors argue that the women’s sudden success puts extra strain on marriages in which men are accustomed to playing a more dominant role in the workforce.” According to the researchers, the effect is larger when “the promotion results in the woman becoming the household’s dominant earner.” The costs of these attitudes about successful women are high. Neither the United States nor Sweden has ever had a female head of state—at least in part a reflection of discomfort with ambitious women. Other costs include

  • women having to work twice as hard to be considered for promotions
  • women receiving harsher performance feedback often with a focus on personal characteristics rather than results
  • higher divorce rates
I agree with Fisman’s closing statement: “We still have a long way to go.” Photo courtesy of BusinessForward CC by 2.0  ]]>

Why Sexual Harassment Is Still Happening in the Workplace

“I am worried about my new boss,” reported my client, Julie, a bright young woman in her thirties. “I had to leave my last job because my boss demanded sexual favors from me in order to keep my job. I had no one to turn to for help because he is so powerful and respected in the small world of our profession. Reporting him would have been career suicide, so I just quit. Now I am worried that my new boss is starting to show signs of the same expectations. I need this job and I don’t know what to do! Can you help me?” Has nothing changed since 1991 when Anita Hill, an obscure law professor, reluctantly described the lewd behavior of her previous boss, Clarence Thomas, during the Senate confirmation hearing for his nomination to the Supreme Court? Unfortunately, the answer is “No, not much has changed.” Professor Hill helped us give a name—sexual harassment—to an ancient practice by powerful people (usually men) over less powerful people (usually women) in the workplace. Since 1991, new laws and organizational policies have been passed to prohibit this behavior, but it has not stopped. In fact, James B. Stewart of the New York Times reports that the problem is still massive and pervasive. Consider the recent sensational cases of Roger Ailes of Fox News and Bill Cosby, the comedian. And consider the experience of my client Julie. Why is this still happening? I believe that sexual harassment continues to be a fact of life for many women because of these factors:

  • Power, unchecked and unchallenged
  • Career damage for women who come forward
  • Employment contracts that require sexual harassment claims to go to arbitration as a condition of employment
  • Isolation of women who are forced to sign nondisclosure agreements when they receive settlements during arbitration of their claim
  • The silence of men and of people in key functions in organizations, such as the HR, legal, and finance leaders at Fox News who helped cover up the misdeeds of Ailes
Sexual harassment happens, for the most part, because it is a power game. Julie’s case is a clear example of an older male boss using his power over a younger female employee to demand sexual favors that she may feel powerless to refuse. Yes, I have seen women with power demand sexual favors from less powerful men, and I have also seen same-sex sexual harassment, but the latter two types are much more rare. Nonetheless, the key to the dynamic is that one person has real power to promote, demote, or fire the lower-power person—to retaliate—if the employee refuses the demand for sexual favors. Fear of retaliation is what makes many women leave good jobs and even walk away from a profession they may have spent years training for. According to Noam Scheiber and Sydney Ember of the New York Times, studies indicate that “the great majority of sexual harassment incidents at work still go unreported” because of fear of retaliation. Carol Costello of CNN, who experienced sexual harassment earlier in her career but did not report it, agrees that women who come forward verbally or file a lawsuit still face consequences. In fact, Scheiber and Ember explain that many plaintiffs’ lawyers argue that the risks to women of coming forward have increased over time as the Internet allows a label of “troublemaker” to follow a woman throughout her life. Jen Agg, writing for the New York Times, describes this challenge for women building careers as chefs. Relatively few top chefs are women, and women know that if they complain about the rampant sexual harassment in the testosterone-fueled environments of most restaurant kitchens, “you get a reputation for not being a ‘team player’ and you will not advance.” Women know they have to stay quiet or leave the industry. Isolation also keeps sexual harassment alive and well. When women go to HR and complain about a high-level boss, they are sometimes offered a settlement to leave and keep quiet—an option that may seem preferable to being fired or demoted—by signing a nondisclosure agreement in exchange for a payment. In this case, no one talks, so each woman thinks that she alone has been subjected to the abuse, and the perpetrator can continue abusing other women for years without consequences, as did Ailes and Cosby. Furthermore, those who know what is going on may collude to protect the powerful man, as happened in the case of both Ailes and Cosby, and women really don’t have anyone they can talk to who will help them. What can be done? We must eliminate nondisclosure agreements and employment contracts with arbitration requirements so that powerful perpetrators can be held accountable, and we need women and men at all levels to break their silence when they know that sexual harassment is going on. It’s time for this to stop. Julie should never have to quit her job or be afraid of her boss again, and neither should anyone else.   The image in this post is courtesy of Sharon Mollerus (CC BY 2.0).]]>

Three Tips for How to Get More Women on Corporate Boards

The United Kingdom and Australia have significantly increased the number of women on corporate boards in recent years, while representation in the United States has stalled. Nneka Orji of The Glasshammer reports that female representation in the United Kingdom’s FTSE 100 company boardrooms increased from 12.5 percent in 2011 to 26 percent in 2016. Similarly, Alexandra Spring writes in the Guardian that 26 percent of the director positions in Australia’s ASX 200 companies are now held by women, with a target of 30 percent by 2018. In contrast, Linda Colby of Bloomberg News reports that only 19.9 percent of board seats in S&P 500 companies were held by women in 2015, up from 19.2 percent in 2014. At this rate, Colby notes, it will take more than forty years for women in the United States to reach 30 percent representation on corporate boards. How have the United Kingdom and Australia made so much progress? In the United Kingdom, the Davies Review found that setting a clear five-year target in 2011 of achieving 25 percent representation by women, along with a public commitment from senior leaders to proactively address unconscious bias and other obstacles for women, resulted in the increase. In Australia, research from 2005–2011 found that companies with more women on boards showed higher financial performance. This research led to a 2011 report that called for organizations to set numeric targets and report on them. Australia’s implementation of these recommendations also increased the representation of women on corporate boards to 26 percent in 2016. Why does it matter that more women be on boards? A 2016 study by EY and the Peterson Institute of International Economics showed that “companies with at least 30 percent women in leadership may boost profit margins by 15 percent.” In addition, an earlier study by the index provider MCSI found that companies with more women “delivered 35 percent better ROI since 2010 than those groups lacking board diversity.” It just makes business sense to have more women on boards—but talk won’t get us there. Here are three important components of what worked in the United Kingdom and Australia:

  • Setting specific and time-bound goals
  • Being transparent about committing to those goals
  • Building in accountability and linking remuneration to progress against gender diversity targets
These are important lessons for the United States. We have not yet made these commitments. Are there other steps that you think would increase the representation of women on boards? Please share your ideas in the comments section.   The image in this post is in the public domain courtesy of Hillyne Jonkerman]]>

How to Close the Gender Pay Gap: Massachusetts Leads the Way

The Massachusetts legislature just unanimously passed the strongest equal pay law in the country. In spite of a legal prohibition against gender-based pay discrimination passed by the state in 1945, the gender wage gap has persisted. Shirley Leung of the Boston Globe reports that currently

  • Women in Massachusetts, in general, make eighty-two cents for every dollar a man earns
  • Black women fare worse at sixty-one cents for every dollar a man earns
  • Latinas fare even worse at fifty cents per dollar
Clearly, having state and federal laws prohibiting pay discrimination on the books for decades has not worked to close the pay gap. The Massachusetts law, which takes effect in July 2018, addresses the wage gap in the following ways:
  • The new law takes steps to promote salary transparency. While companies are not required to publish salaries, employees in Massachusetts can now openly discuss their salaries and join together to compel employers to monitor and fix wage gaps. Employees are still responsible for demanding that wage monitoring occur, but a group of fifty companies in Boston have volunteered to do wage-gap audits and publish their results, which could influence other organizations to act before their employees pressure them to do so. The state treasurer has also set up a website,, to help women understand how underpaid they might be.
  • The law sets new standards for determining comparable work. These standards did not previously exist, so winning a lawsuit claiming unequal pay for comparable work was almost impossible.
  • The law provides companies with new incentives to monitor and correct wage discrepancies—if they do so, they get legal protection if workers sue for gender-based discrimination. They will be given three years to demonstrate they have corrected the problem if employees sue.
  • The new law also prohibits employers from asking the wage history of applicants until after the employer makes an offer with a salary figure attached. This can help prevent women and minorities from being locked into lower salaries.
This new legislation arose from Boston mayor Tom Menino’s establishment of the Women’s Workforce Council in 2013. This council included representatives of many stakeholder groups and drew upon extensive research reported by Iris Bohnet in her new book, What Works: Gender Equity by Design. Transparency and accountability, two of the most important findings reported by Bohnet, are at the core of the new Massachusetts laws. Focusing only on the gender-wage gap is not enough—we must also address the race-wage gap. New state and federal laws must be passed to provide transparency and accountability for pay equity across race and gender. As Shirley Leung notes, wage gaps are often not intentional. In fact, they are often the result of unconscious bias. But as noted by Katie Donovan, founder of Equal Pay Negotiations, “as long as organizations do not analyze and publish salary data, they have ‘plausible deniability.’” While I believe the Massachusetts law could have gone further, it is a great start, and I hope other states will follow with their own innovations until we finally close the gender- and race-wage gaps.     The image in this post is in the public domain courtesy of Thomas Breher.]]>

Wage Gaps and Work Gaps: Implications for Women’s Lives

Recently, during a women’s leadership program I was facilitating, a participant, Amy, had an insight. She had been complaining about being exhausted and stressed all the time while trying to juggle a full-time job and family life—she loved her demanding job and her family, but she had no time for herself and was tired all the time. What was her insight? She realized that her husband expected her to do almost all the work of maintaining their home and family and did not really do much to share this load. She had never seen so clearly that she was carrying an unfair share of the burden, and she had also taken it for granted that this was her role. She now began to question these assumptions. In a previous blog, I wrote about the costs to relationships and women’s careers when both partners do not share the responsibilities for family and home care equally. I also wrote about the ways that we, as women, collude in keeping this imbalance in place as Amy was doing as well as the ways we can reverse this imbalance. Tyler Cowen of the New York Times writes that in several ways, women are in fact working more while men are working less. He explains that the Great Recession had a major impact on labor supply numbers:

  • In 2014, about 12 percent of American men ages twenty-five to fifty-four neither had jobs nor were looking for them, compared to 8 percent in 1994.
  • Fewer than 20 percent of men over the age of sixty-five are in the workforce.
  • Fewer teenagers have jobs—35 percent, compared to 55 percent several decades ago.
Cowen points out that women’s increased participation in the workforce has supported American economic growth. The unfair part is that women continue to carry a bigger share of the household chores and childrearing while also working full-time. The distribution of stress is uneven, and Cowen notes that while barriers are falling for women in the workplace, the distribution of work in the home is uneven and results in another type of inequality. No wonder Amy is so tired! But while women are working more, the gender wage gap continues, and women are still paid less than men who do the same work. Suzanne Woolley of Bloomberg News reports on new studies showing that one of the implications of the wage gap for women is a sleep gap. The author explains that people tend to lose sleep over things they feel are not in their control. In a poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, the sleep gap for women has increased by 8 percentage points over the past year. The survey found that the biggest cause of sleep loss is fear of not having saved enough for retirement—56 percent of men reported losing sleep over money compared with 70 percent of women, for good reason:
  • Lower earnings from the gender wage gap mean less savings and social security for women.
  • In 2010, women received one-third less than a man’s average benefit for social security.
  • At age sixty-five and older, women are 80 percent more likely than men to be impoverished.
Yes, the wage gap is important, but it is not the only gap that needs attending to. We also need to pay attention to the inequality of work itself. The implications for our health and our security in our later years are serious. If you and your partner have successfully addressed an imbalance in household responsibilities, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section. Tell us what has worked for you!   The image in this post is in the public domain courtesy of Public Domain Pictures. ]]>

Five Things Leaders Can Do to Help Women Get Their Voices Heard

I recently facilitated a leadership development workshop with a mixed-gender, mixed-race group and noticed a familiar pattern—the men, regardless of race, took up much more airtime than the women, and the women, especially the women of color, hardly said anything at all. I felt a familiar sense of annoyance rise up in me as one man after another seemed to go on and on whenever he had the floor, and I had to call on individual women and draw them out to get their voices and ideas into the room. Yes, I know that not all men have the “on and on” disease, and that some women speak a lot in groups, but this difference in gendered communication patterns has been well documented in social science research. Julia Baird recently wrote about this dynamic, which she calls “manologues,” in the New York Times and put words to my experience in the following statement: “Men take, and are allocated, more time to talk in almost every professional setting. Women self-censor, edit (and) apologize for speaking. Men expound.” In her article, Baird summarized the findings from a number of studies that support her statements as follows:

  • A study from Harvard found that the larger the group, the more likely men are to speak.
  • A Brigham Young and Princeton University study found that when women are outnumbered, they speak for between a quarter and a third less time than men.
  • Men talk more directly; women hedge and turn statements into questions.
  • Women are interrupted more by both men and women.
  • The more powerful men become, the more they speak; the same is not true for women. For good reason, women worry about a backlash that can occur when women speak more. A study from Yale found that both male and female listeners were quick to think that women who speak more are talking too much or too aggressively. Men are rewarded for speaking more, and women are punished.
  • A New Zealand study found that in formal contexts, men talk more often and for longer than women. Women use words to explore; men, to explain.
  • A Harvard study found that female students speak more when a female instructor is in the classroom.
Baird concludes that “including women is not the same as hearing women.”  

What Leaders Can Do to Ensure That Women Are Heard

Leaders can take concrete steps to ensure that women’s voices are heard in professional and workplace settings:
  1. Form gender-balanced panels in professional conference settings and encourage moderators to equalize the airtime allotted to women and men.
  2. Institute “no interruptions” rules in meetings.
  3. Ensure equal participation in meetings. Keep track of who is and is not speaking and call on people who are speaking less.
  4. Increase the number of women in leadership and on teams.
  5. Be an ally—draw attention to women’s contributions, and make space for them.
What has worked for you?   The image in this post is in the public domain, courtesy of Hans.  ]]>

The Latina Wage Gap (It’s the Worst!): What Employers May Be Missing

latinaNew research from the University of Massachusetts Boston on workers in Massachusetts finds that while a gender wage gap exists across all occupations for women, the gap becomes a chasm for Hispanic women, especially for low-wage workers. Here are some facts from the research:

  • White women make 83 percent of what white men make in the same occupations.
  • Hispanic women make 56 percent of their male equivalents.
More specifically, here are some numbers for low-wage workers:
  • Latinas who work as cleaners make 54 cents on the dollar compared to all male janitors and 59 cents compared to their Hispanic male counterparts.
Ann Bookman, the study’s author, notes, “the earnings gap for women of color is wider than for women as a whole, and for Latina women it’s egregious.” The wage gap for Latinas is particularly damaging for mothers. Women are the primary breadwinners in slightly more than half of all Hispanic households in Massachusetts with children under eighteen. Of these female breadwinners, 49 percent are single mothers. Many of the research participants complained that they are seldom offered promotions when openings occur because they are not seen as having leadership potential. They also report difficulty in being considered for higher-paying jobs as single mothers because they are assumed to be unreliable. These assumptions reflect misunderstandings about Latina culture. Evangelina Holvino conducted research on Latinas and found eight cultural scripts that can be leveraged as strengths if employers understand them. Holvino defines cultural scripts as commonly held assumptions shared by a cultural group that are learned beliefs about how to be in the world. The eight scripts she discovered for Latinas are
  1. Familismo—valuing close family relations
  2. Simpatía—avoiding conflict and disharmony
  3. Colectivismo—putting the needs of the group before those of individuals
  4. Personalismo—forging meaningful and trusting relationships
  5. El presente—being in the here and now
  6. Respeto—respecting authority, age, and power
  7. Machismo-marianismo—strongly differentiated gender roles
  8. Espiritualismo—trusting in a higher power/being
Holvino’s research offers us a way of understanding Latina cultural scripts as strengths that employers should appreciate and leverage. For example, instead of assuming that a single mother is unreliable, her value of familismo means that she is driven to work hard to support her family. She will do what it takes to perform well and keep her job. The scripts of simpatía, colectivismo, and personalismo give her an important leadership framework and capacity for building and leading teams.

What Employers Can Do to Close the Wage Gap and Value Latinas in Their Workforce

With these new wage-gap statistics and Holvino’s research in mind, here are some suggestions for employers:
  1. To begin with, employers can look closely for pay disparities by occupation in their organizations and make adjustments in pay to close the gaps. Pay disparities are often invisible and unscrutinized and reflect unconscious bias.
  2. Employers should become familiar with the cultural scripts, or cultural assumptions, that guide hiring and promotion decisions in their organizations. For example, the dominant criteria for leadership in Anglo culture, which focuses on valuing individual achievement and a direct communication style, runs counter to strengths in Latina culture.
  3. Employers can become familiar with Latina cultural scripts and develop appreciation for the value they can add.
  4. Employers can expand their definitions of leadership to include strengths in Latina cultural scripts, such as building relationships.
Understanding and including cultural differences can enrich us all and add capacity to our organizations. And it’s past time to close the gender wage gap for everyone. Image credit: Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at  ]]>