The Issues

There are concrete steps we can take to give all workers the best chance to succeed at work and at home. These strategies must include making full use of the entire talent pool of workers so that our workplaces are fair, effective, and productive for employers and employees alike. In particular, tackling barriers to women’s success in the workplace is critical to achieving economic security for working families.

Women increasingly play a central role as the main or co-breadwinners in their families. Their gains – or losses – can be the difference between whether their family thrives or falls apart. Because of the pivotal role women play in the overall well-being of working families, policies that promote women’s economic security are essential to protecting working families’ economic stability.

Pathways to Quality Employment.

One critical strategy to strengthen the economic well-being of working families is getting all workers into good jobs. This includes improving opportunities for women, who often have been shut out of higher-paying jobs or work in low-wage jobs that are chronically undervalued and have limited mobility.

  • Equal pay: Women make, on average, less than men and are represent a disproportionate share of low-wage workers. Stronger equal pay protections and enforcement measures are essential to ensure that our workplaces treat women fairly and operate free of discrimination.
  • Minimum wage: Raising the minimum wage is critical to improving the economic security of the lowest-wage workers, more than half of whom are women and disproportionately women of color. Because women make up nearly two thirds of minimum-wage workers, raising the minimum wage will help shrink the gender wage gap.
  • Job quality: Many workers—particularly women—are stuck on the low-wage “sticky floor,” working in jobs with stagnant wages, few benefits, no access to paid sick days, and little upward mobility. Pursuing strategies to increase compensation, provide training or skills-building opportunities, and strengthen worker protections can help increase earnings, expand job options, and create better career pathways that can lead to better jobs.
  • Job access to jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, and other nontraditional fields: Many high-paying jobs are in fields that require scientific knowledge or technical skills, where women and minorities often have been underrepresented or excluded. For example, despite accounting for half of the college-educated workforce, in 2010, women constituted 37 percent of employed individuals with a highest degree in a science and engineering field and 28 percent of employed individuals in science and engineering occupations. Furthermore, women in STEM jobs make on average 33 percent more than women in non-STEM jobs, and the gender wage gap in the STEM professions is smaller than the average gender wage gap. Exploring ways to increase the number of women and minorities in these jobs, as well as taking steps to expose all young people to these disciplines at an early age, can open new doors to new jobs in fields that offer more financial stability for working families.

Keeping Workers in Good Jobs.

The availability of workplace policies that provide much-needed flexibility when inevitable work-family conflicts arise can have an enormous impact on the ability of workers—particularly women, who are disproportionately caregivers—to stay in their jobs while responding to the needs of their families. These policies can also benefit businesses by allowing workers to continue making productive contributions while also attending to family and other responsibilities.

  • Paid leave: Many workers are unable to take the time they need to care for their families or themselves because they lack any form of paid time off. Strategies to provide different forms of paid leave—paid family and medical leave or paid sick days—can help both women and men, particularly those in low-wage jobs, take time off when necessary without leaving their jobs and putting their economic stability at risk.
  • Workplace flexibility: Workplace policies that offer greater flexibility—such as the ability to adjust work hours, work from home, or have a predictable shift schedule—can play an important role in enabling workers to handle both their work and family responsibilities. Such policies also can help employers by reducing turnover and absenteeism, increasing worker health, attracting and retaining the best workers, and boosting worker productivity.
  • Child care and preschool: The lack of quality, affordable preschool or child care options has enormous economic implications for families. Without such options, women and men may have limited ability to find and keep jobs. Having greater access to high-quality preschool and child care can help workers stay in their jobs while also helping children achieve in school.
  • Elder care: Millions of Americans need help caring for themselves or family members. As the country ages, the need for comprehensive, quality, and affordable long-term care will become even more urgent. This challenge may be particularly acute for women, who live longer than men but often have fewer financial resources.

Creating Opportunities to Succeed and Advance in the Workplace.

Policies to ensure all workers have a fair chance to advance and succeed in the workplace at every level are critical.

  • Expanding women’s leadership opportunities: Too often, women are shut out of decision-making and leadership roles that are essential for their advancement. The women’s leadership gap has practical consequences: It can exclude women from shaping important policies that affect their work; it can limit women’s ability to fully participate in a particular workplace; it can mean women’s experiences and challenges are not considered when decisions are made. Expanding women’s leadership opportunities can also benefit businesses by better utilizing talent and making management more responsive to employees and customers.
  • Changing the culture of the workplace: Improving women’s advancement opportunities may require challenging longstanding attitudes about work and cultural norms in the workplace. Views on what constitutes hard work, how much time must be spent in the office, and caregiving roles all can affect how women and men are perceived—and judged—in the workplace. Resetting workplace norms is critical to ensure that women are best positioned to move up the career ladder and make decisions that are sensible for themselves and their families. Men face their own set of gender stereotypes in the workplace that often times prevents them from taking advantage of policies enabling them to take on a greater caregiving role at home.
  • Combating workplace discrimination: Even with the enormous progress made by women over many decades, women still face discrimination that limits their ability to succeed and advance at work. Persistent stereotypes about women’s abilities, skills, and commitment can influence not only the jobs women obtain but also their economic standing. Efforts to combat gender-based stereotypes and discriminatory practices, such as pregnancy discrimination, are essential to ensure that all women are treated fairly on the job.
  • Creating career pathways in low-wage jobs: It is essential to expose women in the lowest-wage jobs to managerial and leadership opportunities that can lead to higher wages and more advancement opportunities. Exploring innovative programs that expand training and build new skills can play an important role in helping women move up the career ladder.