Women don’t simply “participate” in the U.S. workforce. The contributions of women to industries and professions of all types now rival — and in some fields surpass — those of their male counterparts. Consider these statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor:
- 74.6 million women are in the U.S. workforce, representing almost 47% of all workers.
- Three out of four women with children under the age of 18 are in the workforce.
- Nearly four times as many women with children under the age of 18 are the sole earners for their households (40%) than their counterparts in 1960 (11%).
Women’s contributions to the labor market are significant: More women are earning degrees and advancing into executive roles in a growing number of industries. The BLS estimates that 56.8% of women in the U.S. were in the workforce in 2016.
Despite their contributions to the workplace, women face many occupational challenges. In 2017, women’s median earnings were 80% of men’s, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. The earnings gap is wider for Hispanic women, African American women, Native American women, and women who are Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander.
The challenges facing women in the workforce are real and complex. The resources described in this guide can help women overcome conflicts while pursuing their careers. The tips and tools are intended to promote equal access to success for women at all stages of their careers.
Facts and Statistics About Women in Business
Women’s increasing importance in the workplace and the conflicts they face in modern work environments are evident in these statistics, which relate to the many ways women are changing the dynamic in work culture.
Challenges Facing Women in Business in the U.S.
MarketWatch writer Maria LaMagna cites research conducted in 2017 by Visier, a data-analytics company, that found “women were 21% more likely to achieve ‘top performer’ status than men, up from 12% in 2015.” Yet the research indicated that “women under 40 were less likely than men [of the same age] to receive a promotion.” A 2013 survey by Pew Research Center showed that 42% of mothers who were employed in the past worked fewer hours because they needed to spend more time caring for family, while only 28% of fathers reported working less for the same reason.
Forbes contributor Marguerita Cheng lists some of the challenges women face in business, as employees and entrepreneurs. Topping the list of obstacles are lack of funding, fear of failure, balancing responsibilities and dealing with gender inequality.
Cheng notes that laws and policies have changed, but “actual changes have not yet been implemented.” Getting the support required to reach the upper echelons of the business world, whether as a corporate officer or an entrepreneur, is challenging for women because they haven’t established connections. Cheng writes that attaining the necessary support system requires more time and effort for women than it does for men.
On the blog of credit bureau Experian, Gary Stockton cites research that identifies a lack of role models and mentors as a primary reason why women are at a disadvantage in the workforce. Mentorship is crucial because “small business owners who have access to mentoring report higher revenues and growth rates,” according to a U.S. Small Business Administration report quoted by Stockton.
In Entrepreneur, Rose Leadem focuses on the challenges women face in securing the funding they need to start and grow a business. Leadem reports on a survey conducted by 99designs that found 28% of men are able to raise $100,000 or more in funding, while only 15% of women are able to do so. The lack of funding makes it more difficult for women to hire employees and rent office space, among other uses. Leadem explains that one result of the inability to raise funds is that women are unable to set reasonable work hours, making them more likely to work extra shifts, often at night. Women are also more likely to run a home-based business.
Controversies Surrounding Women in Business
One of the greatest disparities regarding women in business is the gender pay gap. In 2019, women earn 79 cents for every dollar men make, according to a gender pay gap report compiled by PayScale, an employment resource site. This represents what PayScale calls the “uncontrolled” gender pay gap, which is based on the median salary for all women and men.
For the “controlled” gender pay gap, which considers the median salary for men and women with the same jobs and qualifications, women earn 98 cents for every dollar that men make. However, while the uncontrolled pay gap fell by 5 cents per dollar between 2015 and 2019, the controlled gender pay gap decreased by only four-fifths of a cent in the same period.
Another controversy regarding women in business is the lack of progress in giving women an equal opportunity to compete for managerial and executive positions. According to the gender pay gap report, 74% of men and 75% of women age 20 to 29 (typically just beginning their careers) are employed in “individual contributor roles,” which means they don’t manage people.
However, when women reach the middle of their careers, generally from ages 30 to 44, they are less likely than men in the same age group to have reached manager level or higher: 40% for women versus 47% for men. The achievement gap widens when people reach the end of their careers, age 45 and up: Only 3% of women reach the C-suite executive level, according to Payscale, while 8% of men in this age group have attained executive officer status.
Despite growing awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace, women are still prone to experience sexism on the job. Bonnie Marcus writes in Forbes about the many different ways sexism manifests itself in professional environments. For example, if a woman is asked to plan an interoffice party or event, “the request is most likely grounded in the stereotype that women are better at planning and organizing, not leading.” Marcus notes related challenges that women face, such as being given a greater workload after returning from maternity leave, receiving performance reviews that focus only on personality and always seeing the most challenging assignments being awarded to men.
Tips to Help Women Achieve Their Business Goals
Overcoming the numerous challenges facing women in business is no different from reaching any career goal: you can’t get there without a well-thought-out strategy. The following tips are intended to help women discover their own path to career growth and success.
Become an Expert in Your Field
“The success of your career is your business. Whether you are a solo-entrepreneur, run a business or are an employee, you need to market yourself,” writes Avery Blank in Forbes. Whether a woman has been in the workforce for many years or is just starting her professional life, she must learn to market herself and establish her credentials as an expert in her profession.
Blank suggests contributing articles to publications or posting to LinkedIn and other forums. Publishing online helps women build credibility by allowing them to demonstrate expertise, promote their professional accomplishments, and share their thoughts on matters pertaining to their field. In addition to highlighting their business achievements on social media, women can promote their careers to potential employers face to face by participating in conferences and other professional events.
Lolly Daskal, president and CEO of consulting firm Lead from Within, writes on Inc. that women must market themselves by identifying and nurturing a niche based on their interests, abilities, and passions. “Think about the ways you already bring these elements together and explore the possibilities for how you can engage them in innovation and problem solving,” Daskal writes. A woman’s professional niche could be a subcategory within a particular field, such as social media management within a larger media company. The niche could also be a specific type of task or duty, such as being a compliance specialist with a bank or an accounting firm.
Build a Strong Professional Network
In an article on PayScale, Gina Belli notes that for all job categories, when people are asked how they landed their current position, “networking tops every list.” Belli cites a survey published on LinkedIn and compiled by Interview Success Formula that estimates roughly 80% of new jobs are never listed and instead are filled through internal referrals or networking. “Only 7% of job applicants get this kind of referral, yet referrals make up 40% of new hires,” according to Belli. (Read more about the Interview Success Formula survey on Forbes.)
For women, strong networks can be built via LinkedIn and other digital platforms, as well as through professional and alumni organizations. However, the simple, straightforward approach to creating a professional network is by forming strong relationships with your current coworkers and maintaining contacts with former colleagues.
Don’t Be Afraid to Pivot Career Objectives
Recent graduates and women re-entering the workforce sometimes find that their particular skills and experience are not in great demand. In other cases, a woman’s career may have stalled due to a lack of opportunities to advance in the company. These are occasions when a woman should consider switching jobs, finding new challenges in her field and possibly even exploring opportunities in other industries. Pivoting career objectives can be scary, but doing so offers the potential for large rewards.
“It’s important to take time to understand what you want from your career and to consider whether you know what you want to do or if you’re feeling stymied,” Lisa Rabasca Roepe writes on Fast Company. First, determine what you expect from your current job, the work you find unsatisfying and the type of work you find most rewarding. Often, women know instinctively the line of work they want to pursue. In many cases, however, a career coach can help a woman make a successful career transition, according to Roepe.
Resources for Women in Business
These are among the resources that are designed to help women succeed in business and achieve their career goals.
Government and Nonprofit Organizations
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) offers many resources for women who are planning to or currently own a small business. The agency’s Women’s Business Resources page includes links to advocacy organizations; the Association of Women’s Business Centers; and the National Association for Female Executives, which is an organization that offers research on women’s entrepreneurship.
The SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership provides a management training curriculum and information regarding contracting opportunities for women-owned businesses.
The National Women’s Business Council (NWBC) features news, updates, and research on business trends and other matters affecting women in business. The NWBC’s Small Business Roundtable Series discusses the group’s three priorities: rural women’s entrepreneurship, women in STEM, and access to capital and opportunity.
Nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping women advance their careers include the following:
● Women Employed has a mission to “improve the economic status of women and remove barriers to economic equity.” The group advocates for women in the workforce through programs that focus on creating career pathways, combating sexual harassment in the workplace, and helping women secure financial aid and avoid disreputable student loan servicers.
● Dress for Success helps poor women find professional business attire. Being able to wear standard office clothing to job interviews and when starting a new job helps women feel confident.
● The resources offered by the National Association of Women Business Owners include the Institute Virtual Environment that combines the organization’s online education programs with an Exhibit Hall for sponsors and partners and a Resource Lounge that gives women access to videos, white papers, and templates geared to women business owners.
Media Resources for Women in Business
Jonha Richman, a contributor at the Huffington Post, describes several books that provide wisdom and guidance to female professionals:
● “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” a memoir by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg
● “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers,” by Lois P. Frankel, Ph.D.
● “How Remarkable Women Lead: The Breakthrough Model for Work and Life,” by Joanna Barsh, Geoffrey Lewis, and Susie Cranston
There are many magazines and websites tailored to women in business, including ForbesWomen, Diversity Woman, Leaders in Heels and Women 2.0. Insightful women’s business podcasts include The Broad Experience, Goal Digger and Switch, Pivot or Quit.
Educational Resources for Businesswomen
Women who are looking to increase their knowledge and skills in specific business-related fields can benefit from the online learning platform Coursera, which provides access to online learning opportunities at top universities. HubSpot Academy offers courses in such subjects as content marketing, inbound sales, and graphic design. Women who want to gain coding skills will find CodeAcademy helpful in achieving their programming and application development goals.
Female business professionals will benefit from attending educational seminars and other events designed to promote women’s careers. Many of these can be found on the Events Calendar compiled by the National Association of Women Business Owners. One noteworthy annual event sponsored by the National Association of Female Executives is the Women of Excellence Awards.
Women continue to make great strides in a growing range of fields and industries. Yet their potential has only begun to be tapped. Women are gaining access to the education, training, and support they need to reach their full potential — in business and in all other aspects of their lives.
Academy of Women’s Business CentersAmerican Association of University Women, “The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap” The Broad Experience
Diversity WomanDress for SuccessEntrepreneur, “The Top Challenges Faced by Women in Business in 2018 (Infographic)” Experian, “Statistics and Obstacles Facing Women Entrepreneurs” Fast Company, “How to Tell the Difference Between a Career Pivot and a Distraction” Forbes, “7 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Your Job Search”
Forbes, “8 Major Challenges Women Face in Business” Forbes, “The 5 Most Effective Ways to Market Yourself (and They’re All Free)” Forbes, “The Good, Bad and Ugly Ways Benevolent Sexism Plays out in the Workplace” ForbesWomenGoal DiggerHuffington Post, “16 Inspiring Books Women Leaders Need to Be Reading” Inc., “7 of the Most Effective Ways to Market Yourself Successfully” Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “The Impact of Equal Pay on Poverty and the Economy”
Leaders in Heels: Creating Female LeadersLinkedIn, “New Survey Reveals 85% of All Jobs Are Filled via Networking”
MarketWatch, “Why Don’t More Women Get Promoted?”National Association for Female ExecutivesNational Association of Women Business Owners, Events
National Association of Women Business Owners, ResourcesNational Women’s Business CouncilNational Women’s Business Council, Small Business Roundtable Series
PayScale, “How Many Jobs Are Found Through Networking, Really?”PayScale, “The State of the Gender Pay Gap 2019”Pew Research Center, “Women More than Men Adjust Their Careers for Family Life”
Switch, Pivot or Quit
Starting a Business, “Startup Launch Ideas”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Women in the Labor Force: A Databook”
U.S. Department of Labor, “12 Stats About Working Women” U.S. Department of Labor, “Women in the Labor Force in 2010” U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Women’s Business Ownership, Resources
U.S. Small Business Administration, “Impact Study of Entrepreneurial Dynamics: Office of Entrepreneurial Development Resource Partners’ Face-to-Face Counseling”
U.S. Small Business Administration, Women’s Business ResourcesWomen 2.0