A study out today in the Harvard Business Review gives an overview of the improved representation of women in managerial positions. But there's a downside: those female managers are concentrated in industries with the largest gender wage gap. The upward career movement hasn't helped the overall economic standing of women in the workplace

Question of diversity can sometimes seem as crazy, as when tech companies with diversity problems were named as being top in diversity. You might think that more women in management should have reduced the wage gap, but apparently not.

Let's start with some good news from University of Illinois at Chicago researcher William Scarborough. Women have made big strides in representation within the managerial ranks.

Women's representation in management is higher than it's ever been. Of the nearly 4.5 million new jobs in management created since 1980, women have obtained the majority of them.

Men still make up 60 percent of all managers, but that is much smaller than the 75 percent of 1980, suggesting progress.

The problem is that the greater representation is focused in certain industries. Here is a sample along with the percentages of management women represented in 1980 and now:

  • Marketing/advertising (14/44)
  • Finance (29/54)
  • Human resources (35/60)
  • Purchasing (20/44)
  • Education (31/62)
  • Medical/health services (47/70
  • Property/real estate (38/57)

These industries, as Scarborough put it, focused largely on "people-centered caring skills" while male managers "are concentrated in field dealing with production-centered skills." Many of the industries where women managers are concentrated have traditionally seen some of the greatest wage gaps by gender.

Women have traditionally been paid less than men in virtually every field and at every level. To close the median wage gaps, women need to earn more in comparison to men (or men need to earn less, but that would seem to be a self-defeating result for all).

Industries that have had the highest wage gaps are likely to continue along the same path until something forces them to change. Companies won't suddenly open the coffers out of the goodness of their hearts. They want to make more money and keeping a portion of wages lower is a benefit to them.

To make significant gains, women in management would have to move into professions they haven't focused on in the past, where the pay gaps are lower and, so, the relative increase in gains would be higher.

Not only are women managers in areas where they have been paid less, but the more recent growth of managerial positions suggests that they might also have less seniority and, therefore, lower pay on that front. The result has been exactly opposite of what one might have expected from having more women in management, as Scarborough explained:

In 1980 the gender wage gap was lower in occupations where women were highly represented, but by 2010 the effect was in the opposite direction -- the gender wage gap is larger in positions with a higher proportion of women.

We have more equality in count but less in a critical area that counts most: pay. It will likely take more women at higher levels of management to help push real pay equity even though that shouldn't be necessary.

There was other discouraging news in the report. The advances have been largely for white women. Black women, for example, saw only 7 percent of new management positions, far below population representation, and are only 4 percent of all managers. Black men, for that matter, obtained only 4 percent of new management positions.

Published on: Feb 23, 2018