Power Is Tricky

Part 2: On gender equity in the workplace.

Posted Aug 14, 2019

The equity gap: The U.S. still has a way to go in terms of gender equity; it is number 51 on the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranking of gender equity (1). (This will improve as the results of the 2018 mid-terms are processed). Indeed, barely a week goes by without another gender issue being raised. First, It was Joe Biden’s behavior, Georgia (and Alabama) were putting new limits on abortion, and Congress was failing to legislate discrimination against LGBT people, despite majority approval of such legislation. (2). Then it was the historical discrimination against female scientists like Esther Lederberg.  

The April 29 Time magazine issue on “The 100 Most Influential People was inspirational with 47 women featured; but by the May 13 issue, Eve Ensler (author of The Vagina Monologues) was saying: “Sixteen thousand years of patriarchy, and I don’t know that I have ever heard a real apology from a man.” In the Economist, Melinda Gates accused the Catholic church of bias against women, and Caster Semenya’s appeal to the top sports court was rejected (3). Elizabeth Warren was on the cover of the May 20 issue; also a report on alleged sex discrimination by Walmart. Then Greta Thunberg, then Alex Morgan (4)

The U.S. women’s soccer team has since filed a class-action suit against FIFA and the U.S. Soccer Association with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to protest inequity in pay and bonuses. FIFA has denied discrimination, explaining that pay differentials reflect differential revenues at the gates (5).(See the wage/pay gap forthcoming.) Meanwhile, in France, demonstrators protested against domestic violence: 130 women were killed by their partners in 2018 (6). No mention of the men killed by their domestic partners.

One major issue is sexual harassment, which the #MeToo movement has been addressing. Bill Cosby has been sentenced to three to 10 years, but it took 13 years, two trials, and accusations from 60 women before he was brought to justice. Weinstein still faces trial at the time of writing. Both men and so many others indicate the persistence of misogyny and negative aspects of the imbalance of power, as noted by Belinda Luscombe, a columnist with Time magazine.

And the appalling light sentence in the Brock Turner rape case alerted many to the injustice in the justice system. And then in June, E. Jean Carroll accused the president of rape and joined the 21 other women who have accused him of sexual misconduct (7). And the late Jeffrey Epstein was arrested and charged with child trafficking. And now it’s R. Kelly. Still, the U.S. is not a “rape culture,” as some assert. Rape is a major crime, not the norm.

But a recent report in the Atlantic demonstrates what the author calls “An epidemic of disbelief,” illustrated by the discovery of thousands of rape kits, unopened, in warehouses around the U.S., starting with 11,341 in Detroit in 2009, dating back 30 years. This discovery was followed by more, and further investigation revealed a huge number of undiscovered serial rapists, many of whom have since been sentenced and removed from further predations. But many women could have been spared. Apparently, police did not believe many, or most of the women, or prosecutors did not or did not believe there was not enough evidence or believed that juries would not convict, and all ignored the collection of DNA—a sickening failure of justice—and some cities, named, still do (8)

The corporate gap: There are 24 female CEOs in the Fortune 500 as of May 2018, representing 5 percent. Nowhere near parity, and down from 32, a record, in 2017, but up from 0 in 1995. They too are part of the power elite: the so-called patriarchy. A small number, but fluctuating, suggesting that this position may not be a worthwhile goal for many women, or that misogyny prevails.

The Labor Force statistics from the Current Population Survey (9), however, indicate that 56 percent of the management positions (of the 62 million in the category) are female, including 27 percent of CEOs. So a male privilege gender gap at the very top and a slight female privilege gender gap in the managerial ranks.

Professions gaps: The gaps here are rapidly being closed or are already closed and opening in the other direction. The professions are increasingly being “feminized”: medicine, law, social work, psychology, dentistry, veterinary science. In 2016, 46.5 percent of the professional Medical degrees were awarded to women, up from 8.4 percent in 1970, only a lifetime ago; 49.1 percent in Dentistry, up from 0.9 percent in 1970; and 48.5 percent in Law, up from 5.4 percent in 1970 (10)

In contrast, the military is only about 16 percent female, and the STEM professions—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—are also predominantly male. This rapid professional mobility reflects the shifts in the educational balance of achievement by women, as well as the increasing openness of occupations. It also shows the convergence in the professions, but note the divergence in many other occupations.

Occupations gaps: The Labor Force statistics indicate some gender convergence (e.g., in Management and the professions), but also considerable divergence. Some gaps privilege men, some privilege women. Women constitute 47 percent of the 156 million workers employed aged 16 and up. And 52 percent of the 62 million workers in the management and professional category.

In the professions, women are 32 percent of judges and magistrates, 36 percent of dentists, 37 percent of lawyers, 40 percent of physicians and surgeons, 63 percent of pharmacists, and 71 percent of veterinarians. Some of these distributions are changing rapidly and favoring women, as the last paragraph indicates. But occupational polarization persists.

Women constitute over 90 percent of hairdressers and cosmetologists, kindergarten teachers, secretaries, speech-language pathologists, and dental assistants, and over 80 percent of special-ed teachers, registered nurses, social workers, and more. Men constitute over 90 percent of pilots and flight engineers, firefighters, drivers, and railroad conductors, 85 percent of police and sheriff officers, about 84 percent of the military, and 95 percent of the 14 million categories of natural resources, construction, and maintenance(11)

Given the importance of education and occupations for income, this is where the wage/pay gap begins—or ends.


1                     World Economic Forum 2018. The Global Gender Gap Rankings, 2018.

2                     Time 2019. 2 ApriL

3                     The Economist. 11 May: 49-50

4                     Time, 2019. 27 May and 3 June.

5                     The Economist. 29 June 2019

6                     Time, 2019. 22 July.

7                     Time July 8, 2019:15-6

8                     Haggerty, Barbara Bradley 2019. “An Epidemic of Disbelief” The Atlantic. August:72-84.

9                     Current Population Survey. www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat11.htm.

10                 ProQuest, 2019. Statistical Abstract of the United States. Table 324 p.209.

11                 ProQuest, 2019. Statistical Abstract of the United States. Table 639