Some new research recently came out of UNC, Duke and UBC, and it's shocking: Women's income qualifies for 1 percent status in only one of 20 elite American households.

Take a second to think about that.

The research, published in February in the American Sociological Review, used Federal Reserve data between 1995 and 2016 to analyze  gender income patterns in the 1 percent. That term refers, of course, to the elite earners in the American economy--which the researchers defined as people in positions earning at least $845,000 per year.

Although  self-employment and  higher education increase the likelihood that women will personally earn sufficient income for one percent status, the study says, marrying a man with good income prospects is a woman's main route to the 1 percent. In contrast, the research demonstrated that men's chances at reaching 1 percent status are associated with career and educational achievements.

If, like me, you find this data all too common and all too frustrating, rest assured that you can take action. The authors make some powerful suggestions at the end of the piece:

  • Create more access to money. Since the research showed a strong connection between entrepreneurship and high incomes, the authors suggest that expanding female entrepreneurs' access to financial capital to start their companies would help narrow the pay gap in the 1 percent. This is an objective shared publicly by groups including the World Bank, the Urban Institute, and the United Nations Capital Development Fund.
  • Provide more support for family. The authors also suggest jumpstarting gender progress by passing federal legislation such as state-sponsored childcare, paid maternity and paternity leave, and gender quotas that might positively increase women's representation in leadership roles. This, in turn, would also likely raise their ability to self-propel into the 1 percent.

Now, state-sponsored childcare isn't something achievable by the private sector--but paid maternity/paternity leave is. And while some would see this as adding cost to their business model, I'd suggest that the gains far outshine any financial burden. In fact, leading the way could be a competitive advantage for you, allowing you to attract and retain all the best female employees.

After reading through the study, I spent some time researching additional ways that you can help address gender inequality as an entrepreneur or small business owner. Here are seven strategies you can implement right now:

  1. Make gender equality part of training. New staff should be supported in choosing jobs that are future-oriented and promising, regardless of their gender.
  2. Rethink job interviews. Interviewers should provide a fair, explicit and non gender biased interview process. Spend time reviewing not only the questions to be asked, but how those questions might be biased. Similarly, rethink the sources of candidates your have been hiring from. Consider opening up the channel over which you find future hires. Tap into into underrepresented groups whenever possible. 
  3. Be proactive about welcoming women. Organizations should explicitly state that they want to hire, support and promote women. Salaries and promotions should be monitored and evaluated on a regular basis to ensure equal treatment.
  4. Make work-life balance a part of your company culture. Too often, employees have to specifically ask to work part-time or work from home, which can be awkward. Companies should instead offer a broad range of different options. Adding flexibility can expand your applicant pool to be more inclusionary and female friendly. 
  5. Leverage the power of networking. It takes a village to make change work. That's no different when it comes to fighting gender inequity. Networking, mentoring and coaching opportunities can help women build confidence and develop their careers. Make sure to include such in your HR plans.
  6. Create a "small wins" model. This model was developed by Shelley Correll, director of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research, who writes that it focuses on "educating managers and workers about bias, diagnosing where gender bias could enter their company's hiring, promotion or other evaluation practices and working with the company's leaders to develop tools that help measurably reduce bias and inequality." Correll and her team piloted and found this approach successful while working with several technology companies over the last three years
  7. Showcase talent to attract talent. Birds of a feather really can flock together, so to attract more strong female talent, showcase the success of your current talent. By showcasing these superstars to the world, you will attract more of the same. 

The study's suggestions are largely aimed at the public sector. I'm calling on entrepreneurs everywhere to not wait for that government interaction. I suggest that each of us, as leaders of our own companies, take action today--so that tomorrow, the world is a little more equal. 

Published on: Mar 7, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.