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How sexism and the glass ceiling hurt the U.S. economy

The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have created an upending snowball effect by revealing the deeply rooted misogyny and sexism that pervades the lives and careers of many women.

And yet, despite how much progress is being made in the march towards equality, when it comes to leadership positions, the glass ceiling seems to be a permanent fixture and women are still underrepresented in the workplace.

A new paper written by Marianne Bertrand, a professor University of Chicago Booth School of Business, offers some explanations as to why discrimination in the workplace continues to limit the potential of women.

For the research, Bertrand reviewed past literature discussing the glass ceiling to help better understand why workplace inequality stubbornly persists in today’s society.

The research also shows how the glass ceiling and keeping women out of top leadership roles is damaging to the economy.

“In a world where talent is distributed equally among women and men, an economy that does not fully tap into the leadership skills offered by women is necessarily inefficient,” said Bertrand. “Talent is left on the table when women are not placed in leadership positions, and the economy suffers.”

In the paper, Bertrand offers three main reasons as to why women have a harder time attaining top leadership positions.

One reason states that even though women entering the workforce are well-educated, even holding more college degrees on average than men in 1985, many women today choose degrees that don’t help get higher paying jobs.

Another reason more women aren’t earning as much their male counterparts has to do with what Bertrand describes as psychological differences between genders.

Research has shown that women are more risk-averse to men and may not be as eager to take risks that could ultimately lead to higher paying work or successfully negotiating a salary.

Future research that delves into what drives women to choose less financially rewarding degrees and take fewer risks, whether it’s learned or ingrained at a young age, could be helpful in working to close the wage gap, according to the paper.

The third key reason that can hinder women from going further up the ladder is that women are often expected to carry the brunt of childcare and housework. Having these duties outside of work limits the flexibility required for many high-paying jobs.

There are strides being made in helping to give working mothers more flexibility and influence in the workplace but according to the paper, these don’t actually address pay.

Instead of depending on policies, Bertrand says that technological advances may be key to closing the wage gap and finally breaking the glass ceiling,

“One of the biggest unknowns when trying to predict how the glass ceiling will evolve in the future is the role of technology,” said Bertrand. “There is no doubt that many trends are moving in the ‘right direction’ for women. How the next wave of technological change in the workplace, such as artificial intelligence, will change the structure of work is anyone’s guess.”

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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