Despite the popular sentiment that women have nearly closed the gender gap in the workplace, men continue to get the vast majority of high-paying jobs, new research shows.
The study from the Center for Research on Gender in the Professions at the University of California, San Diego found that while recent high-profile stories in Slate and the New York Times have helped popularize the theory that the role of men in the workplace is declining, women continue to lag behind in securing top-level positions.
The research shows that women are well-represented, at times even overrepresented, in low-paying service jobs, such as those in the retail and hospitality industries, but men still secure the highest paid and most highly regarded careers.
Researchers specifically examined professions of law, medicine and science and engineering because not only are they some of the best-paid occupations in the service economy, but they are also historically male-dominated fields where women have made tremendous gains in education.
Mary Blair-Loy, the study's lead author and founding director of the Center for Research on Gender in the Professions said researchers found that women are under represented in all three professions.
“They are rarest in the most powerful sectors and at the highest levels," Blair-Loy and her co-authors wrote in the research.
The study discovered that women make up only 21 percent of scientists and engineers, while in the medical profession, women are only 34 percent of physicians, but 91 percent of registered nurses. The research found that in law firms, women make up 45 percent of associates, but only 15 percent of equity partners.
A significant gender pay gap continues to exist as well, with research showing that women working full-time earn only 81 percent of what men do.
"The momentum of movement toward income equality gained in the 1970s and 1980s has largely stagnated since the mid-1990s," the study's authors wrote.
The researchers also discovered that that the number of women earning advanced degrees that qualify them for these high-level professions in the first place have slightly declined since the mid-2000s.
"There are a series of interlocking factors that include workplace cultures that privilege men and cognitive biases that shape what we notice and remember about male and female workers," Blair-Loy said. "Even the most well-intentioned people among us default to cultural stereotypes — that men are more likely to be competent and professional, while women are more likely to be warm and nurturing — that undermine our efforts to reward talent alone."
Blair-Loy said the study's results prove that in order to solve these issues, policymakers need to not only see through the myth that women are doing better than men, but also recognize the structural barriers that continue to disadvantage and discourage.
"We need to make legal and organizational changes," Blair-Loy said.
She suggested changes that include everything from better access to child care and greater acceptance of flexible work schedules to more transparent hiring, evaluation and promotion procedures.
The study, "The Persistence of Male Power and Prestige in the Professions," was co-authored by UC San Diego's Laura Pecenco and Erin Cech of Rice University.