Women and Management: What 30 Years of Data Say

Since the 1970s, women have been moving into the workforce and achieving more gender parity with men in terms of employment, status, and salary.

But more gender parity is not full gender parity, of course. On average, women still make less than men. In fact, Stanford University professor Paula England terms the gender revolution “uneven and stalled,” because the strides toward equality that began in the 1970s stopped moving forward in the 1990s.

As a recent Harvard Business Review survey points out, there were three reasons for the stall: 1) attitudes stopped moving toward more egalitarianism re gender; 2) occupations integrated, but then stopped; and 3) the wage gap between the genders decreased at slower rates.

The HBR survey undertook to see if a similar stall have happened with women in management positions specifically, analyzing data in the 30-year period between 1980 and 2010.

The results? In some aspects, there was progress in business leadership. In others, there was not.

More Women Are Managers…

The most significant manifestation of progress for women is that many more of them moved into management ranks in the period. The number of managers in the United States overall between 1980 and 2010 climbed an astonishing 90%, or 4.5 million positions. Women were named to 2.6 million of them, more than half. Men were named to 1.9 million of the new management positions.

As a result, while men are still the majority of all managers, at 60%, their majority is less wide than the 75% of all managers in 1980.

Women managers tend to be clustered in more low-paying management jobs.

…But Gender Segregation and Wage Gaps Still Exist

However, the rise of women in management positions has not eliminated either gender segregation by sector or wage gaps.

Broadly speaking, women tended to move into management roles in the caring professions, with people-centered skills, such as human resources, education, finance, community and social services, and medical and health services. In fact, the latter category is 70% women as of 2010. Men, on the other hand, are concentrated in the production of goods, with production-centered skill sets.

This gender split in sectors results in gender splits in income. First, women managers in general are paid less than men managers in general, across all sectors. But second, the areas where women managers tend to cluster are sectors where there are big wage gaps by gender.

The gender wage gaps are widest in these sectors: finance, property and real estate, and medical and health services. All these have seen many more women managers since 1980.

The gender wage gaps are smallest in these sectors: architecture, engineering, and transportation.

So, ultimately, the progress of women toward managerial equality is progressing — but income equality and gender equality across sectors is not keeping pace.