As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we’re taking a look at how women’s roles in business and at the workplace have evolved over decades, along with how employers can make positive changes to support women.
Quick facts about women’s work history
1. Women played a considerable role in driving our economy in the 18th and 19th centuries, as many were active in growing and making goods that were sold or bartered. As more materials were produced by machines, women’s economic participation declined and morphed into the stereotypically childrearing and domestic care roles.
2. In 1950, 34% of women participated in the workforce, and since then, that number has nearly doubled to about 57% in 2016. Women’s participation in the labor market passed 50% in 1978 and the “working woman” became the norm.
3. Despite the rise of women participating in the workforce, many still shoulder the brunt of household and caregiving duties, or unpaid labor. This trend has declined some in the past 25 years, but women are still far more likely to be the primary childcare provider, handle laundry, wash dishes and shop for groceries. These all require significant amounts of time and energy. There are bright spots: more men are splitting household duties equally, and in dual-income homes, it’s more likely that men are pitching in more around the house. Personal lives absolutely impact professional lives – as we have all learned in the past year – and understanding women’s challenges in and out of work can help employers see the whole picture and assist job seekers in finding the right fit.
4. To piggyback off the point above, the pandemic has disproportionately impacted women’s employment, with 493,000 fewer women than men in the workforce. But it’s not all bad news – here are a few tips for rejoining the workforce.
5. Women are also making modest gains in leadership roles, and women score as high or higher for leadership skills compared to men. These 10 female CEOs are great examples of women excelling at work.
The future of women at work
Women face unique challenges in the workplace, from disparities in pay (compounded by race) to lack of development into management roles. Meeting women’s needs not only improves gender disparity on teams, doing so tends to meet other workers' needs as well. Allowing flexibility in schedules, expanding parental leave, and offering supportive and inclusive benefits are examples of alleviating stresses across varying demographic groups. Plus, data shows that offering these to your employees can improve retention of women and particularly women of color.
Keep reading about how to recruit and retain women on your team: