Women in the Workforce

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The United States needs to focus on the advantages women bring to the workforce for it to remain globally competitive. Research has found that women in the workplace raise business profitability and lessen conflict within organizations. First, this paper will discuss the history of women in the workplace. Second, this paper will explore the advantages of having women in the workforce and disadvantages women face. Last, this paper will argue that although women face disadvantages, their inclusion is advantageous to the national economy.

History of Women in the Workforce

As American society moved from agrarian to industrial, the family structure changed. In agrarian societies, “multigenerational extended families provided [the] labor--with grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews working together in a single household” (O’Connor-Felman, 2004, p.1279). In agrarian societies, there was a reliance on children to supply labor. Each family member was responsible for contributing to the production of food, clothing, and other necessities of life. Despite this share in labor amongst family members, men were still the heads of their families and women had no reproductive control.

The transfer from an agrarian to an industrial economy cemented this separation of roles between men and women. “[W]ork and family became distinct spheres segregated by gender: fathers labored in factories and mothers reared children to grow up to work in factories.” (O'Connor-Felman, 2004, p. 1281-82). The distinction in gender roles became further delineated with men as the primary wage earner and women as caretakers.

This notion carried into the second decade of the twentieth century. Despite women working during World War I, the demand for women to return to their homemaker roles became a national public issue. The public held the view that working women were “stealing jobs from able bodied-men” (Oyoung, 2013, p. 519). Working women became the scapegoat for the nation’s economic problems. According to Oyoung (2013), “many public employers nationwide began to fire and refuse to hire married women” (Oyoung, 2013, p.520-521). Notwithstanding this negative view of working women during the Great Depression, women were called back to the factories during World War II.

During World War II, there were not enough laborers, so women went to work in industries previously dominated by men. “[Women] filled jobs such as driving cabs, pumping gas, building planes, and manufacturing “(“Online guide to," 2013). The post-war terminations did not deter women from getting jobs even if the terms under which they worked were not equal to their male counterparts.

Women’s participation in the workforce steadily increased. “[B]etween 1980 – 2009, the global rate had climbed to 51.8%” (Pomoni, 2012). However, the notion of men as the primary breadwinner and women as the homemaker changed at the beginning of the 21st Century. “On February 5, 2010… for the first time in our history, women became the majority on the nation's payrolls” (Savitsky, 2010, p. 172). This relegation of men to the minority shows the role women play in the workforce shifted.

This shift in workforce demographics has also brought changes to the traditional family structure. According to Savitsky (2010), “In thirty-three years, the number of families headed by unmarried women has nearly doubled to one in five; today, around four out of every ten families depend on women's earnings as primary support” (p.175). Given the increase in women on American payrolls and the shift in the family unit, it is imperative that the advantages of having women in the workforce are highlighted in order to ensure that women continue to participate and get recognized for their achievements as part of the workforce.

Advantages to Having Women in the Workforce

Higher Profitability. Statistical research shows that the workforce has benefited from the inclusion of women. “Data…reveals that between 2004 and 2008 the top quartile of companies with the highest percentage of women directors outperformed companies in the quartile with the lowest percentage by 26% (measured by return on invested capital)” (Taylor, 2013). This quantifiably supports the advantage of having women in leadership roles, especially in executive roles, such as a place on the board of directors.

Businesses that had women in executive roles benefited across all performance markers. A Catalyst (2007) study found that Fortune 500 companies that have at least three women serve on their board have stronger-than-average results. For example, companies that had women on their board saw a 53% return on equity over boards with no women represented, a 42% return on sales, and 66% return on investments over those with no women on their boards (Carter). This quantitative factor provides a concrete rationale for the representation of women in the workforce.

Diversity. Researchers found the link between women on company boards and business profitability corresponds to the benefits achieved by a diverse workplace. Here, the term diversity is used to describe the inclusion of women. In a 2013 report, researchers found the representation of women in the workforce: (a) increased satisfaction and engagement; (b) decreased employee turnover rate; and (c) decreased instances of unethical behavior (Troiano).

Business stability relies upon a steady workforce. The 2013 report found “a positive and significant relationship between employees’ overall job satisfaction and engagement with how fairly their company treated diverse employees and consumers” (Troiano). Employer inclusion of women in the workforce affects employees’ perceptions of fairness and contributes to a firm’s diversity. Job satisfaction and perceptions of fairness are indicators of labor turnover rates.

Labor turnover rates measure the rate of employee loss. In a 2013 report, researchers found “decreased turnover intentions were associated with employees’ positive perceptions of an organization’s diversity climate” (Troiano). Less employee turnover aids long term stability and overall profitability as less time is spent training employees and reintroducing them into a business’s culture. The inclusion of women directly impacts diversity statistics, which bears on perceptions of fairness, job satisfaction. These factors affect employee turnover rates and business stability.

Lastly, the research showed that diverse boards had lower instances of fraud. The reason being, “gender-diverse boards have higher levels of boardroom involvement and corporate oversight” (Troiano). Corporate oversight occurs at board meetings; women were the highest attendees at a board meeting and found to be the “toughest” corporate monitors (Troiano). The inclusion of women on boards leads to better corporate oversight and therefore lessened instances of fraud. These are integral components to the longevity and profitability of a business.

The advantages to women in the workforce are the statistically proven effect they have on profitability and performance, as well as findings that the inclusion of women positively affects workplace diversity, job satisfaction, and the labor turnover rate.

Disadvantages for Women in the Workforce

High Cost of Childcare. As women increased their role in the labor market, the use of outside childcare likewise increased. A recent Child Care Aware study found “the cost of child care has increased so dramatically that the average monthly fee for an infant in a child care center is now more expensive than the average cost of food for a family of four” ("Parents and the High Cost of Child Care: 2013 Report", 2013). High childcare costs are an economic disadvantage to women in the workforce. Even if a woman were to exercise her reproductive rights and limit childbearing, she still faces high childcare costs that outweigh the financial benefit of her employment.

This is particularly true for mothers dependent on government aid. In the last few decades, reformists have successfully enacted welfare to work programs. (Roberts, 2004, p.1034). The welfare to work programs usually does not account for the fact that poor mothers will also be required to find alternate childcare. This disadvantage makes it harder for the poor or a single mother to join the workforce as childcare is a necessity.

The cost of childcare is a deterrent to women entering the workforce and is a reason that many choose to leave established careers or not to return after childbirth.

Lesser Pay. The second disadvantage for women in the workforce is lesser pay than men. “In 2012, female full-time workers made only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 23 percent” (Pay Equity & Discrimination, 2012). This pay gap can deter women from joining or remaining in the labor market.

The reasons for the earning gap vary. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (2012) or IWPR cites several subtle reasons for the wage gap such as women making the trade between lower-earning jobs and more flexibility. “Some women have opted to working part-time when their spouse is home to care for the children, or they have found ways to be an independent contractor” (Jacobson, 2012). This opting to work part-time or to exchange lower pay for flexible hours is often not so much a choice as a necessity.

Forbes (Casserly, 2013) interviewed Lisa Maatz from the American Association of University Women, regarding the subtle reason for the gender differences in the wage gap. Maatz states “I don’t think women are ever choosing jobs that they consciously know are paying them unfairly… it’s normal in a family for one partner to choose a career path that’s more flexible or conducive to children—but in most cases, the person who decides to do that is the person who makes less to begin with” (Casserly, 2013). Statistically, the person to make less is the woman in the family unit, thus she is more likely to trade flexibility for fewer wages. This trade is a disadvantage for women in the workforce, but not an insurmountable hurdle.

Despite the issues regarding lesser wages and the gender wage gap, women are integral to the United States economy and the long-term profitability and performance of businesses.

Women in the Workforce are Necessary for Global Competition

Women have become primary wage earners and in 2010 made up most workers on the national payrolls. The United States needs to consider these statistics as it works to remain competitive globally, especially as other countries like Spain, Norway, and Australia have implemented quotas to ensure diversity and female representation at higher corporate levels (“Fulfilling the Promise, 2012). It is imperative that national focus change from the disadvantages women face to the advantages gained by their inclusion. The change in focus will help foster structural business changes and allow firms to adapt to the changing workforce.

Just as the percentage of women on the national payrolls has increased so has the percentage of women earning undergraduate degrees. “By 2019, women are projected to account for nearly 60 percent of total undergraduate enrollment” (“Fulfilling the Promise,” 2012). College-educated women will eventually flood the American workforce. American businesses, their human resource departments, and managers will need to adapt to this changing workforce to stay competitive. The inclusion of women in the workforce increases performance, profitability, and corporate governance, without which the American economy cannot expect to stay competitive or profitable.

Conclusion

The business and economic advantages women bring to the workforce are statistically proven. Women improve business performance and profitability. Representation of women in the workforce helps increase job satisfaction and lessen employee turnover. While it is true that women are faced with high daycare costs and lesser pay, the focus needs to change from harboring on the disadvantages women face and focusing on the advantages they bring. A change in focus is necessary as the growing numbers of college-educated women graduate, the workforce will reflect that change and businesses will need to adapt or they will be left behind. If the advantages women bring are not considered, American businesses risk marginalizing some of their potentially greatest assets—women.

Personal Conclusion

My mother was a stay at home mom, and I saw the choice she made between a career and her children. She felt she made the right choice and I respect her decision. I work and go to school, which means I too have had to strike the balance between choosing career and education over family. Even though I chose differently than my mother, I recognize that if it were not for her choice, I may not be the person I am today.

References

Carter, N., Joy, L., Wagner, H., & Narayanan, S. (2007, October 15). The bottom line: Corporate performance and women's presentation on boards. Catalyst. Retrieved from http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/bottom-line-corporate-performance-and-womens-representation-boards

Casserly, M. (2013, September 19). The geography of the gender pay gap: Women's earnings by state. Forbes. Retrieved March 1, 2014, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/meghancasserly/2013/09/19/the-geography-of-the-gender-pay-gap-womens-earnings-by-state/

Jacobson, M. (2012, April 28). Opting back in: The pros and cons of returning to work after kids. Retrieved from http://www.parentmap.com/article/opting-back-in-returning-to-work-after-kids

O'Connor-Felman, M. (2004). American corporate governance and children: Investing in our future human capital in turbulent times. Southern California Law Review, 77, 1255-1352. Retrieved from the Westlaw database.

Online guide to women in the workforce: Past and present. (2013, May 11). Retrieved from http://www.onlinemba.com/online-guide-to-women-in-the-workforce-past-and-present/

Oyoung, M. (2013). Until men bear children, women must not bear the costs of reproductive capacity: Accommodating pregnancy in the workplace to achieve equal employment opportunities. McGeorge Law Review, 44, 515-545. Retrieved from the Westlaw database.

Parents and the High Cost of Child Care: 2013 Report. (n.d.). Child Care Aware. Retrieved from http://usa.childcareaware.org/sites/default/files/cost_of_care_2013_103113_0.pdf

Pay Equity & Discrimination. (n.d.). Institute for Women's Policy Research. Retrieved from http://www.iwpr.org/initiatives/pay-equity-and-discrimination

Pomoni, C. (2012, November 11). Women in the workforce a look at the pros and cons of today. Retrieved from http://www.insidebusiness360.com/index.php/women-in-the-workforce-a-look-at-the-pros-and-cons-of-today-2-1472/

Roberts, D. E. (2004). Welfare reform and economic freedom: Low-income mothers' decisions about work at home and in the market. Santa Clara Law Review, 44, 1029-1063. Retrieved from the Westlaw database.

Savitsky, Z. (2010). Inertia and change: Findings of the Shriver report and next steps. Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law & Justice, 25, 172-198. Retrieved from the Westlaw database.

Taylor, K. (2012, June 26). The new case for women on corporate boards: New perspectives, increased profits. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/katetaylor/2012/06/26/the-new-case-for-women-on-corporate-boards-new-perspectives-increased-profits/