Female Equality in the Workforce: Rising Fast or Falling Short?

Author: Harris Poll
Published: Saturday 1st April 2017
Summary: 80% of Americans say female leaders have to work harder than men to prove themselves - Harris Poll examines how Americans believe women are faring in the workforce today.


As National Women's History Month comes to a close, The Harris Poll examines just how well Americans believe women are faring in the workforce today.

While about 8 in 10 adults (81%) agree the U.S. has come a long way towards reaching gender equality -- a significant increase over the 75% who said the same last year -- there is clearly still work to be done.

When it comes to women in the workforce, nearly 8 in 10 (79%) adults say that female leaders have to work harder than men to prove themselves.

These are some of the results of The Harris PollĀ® of 2,106 U.S. adults aged 18+ surveyed online between March 3 and 7, 2017. Complete results of the study can be found here.

The leadership landscape

While some improvement is evident, a majority of Americans still say that women's contributions in leadership roles often go unrecognized (73% vs. 78% in 2016), and that women are less likely than men to be considered for roles leading large teams in a corporate setting (63% vs. 73% in 2016).

This begs the question of whether men are simply better at these roles. Yet, over half of adults say that women make better leaders than men (54%). If that's the case, then what's keeping women from these leadership roles? While not a majority viewpoint, 39% of adults agree that it is women who hold themselves back in the corporate world.

Nearly half of adults today say that women are just as likely as men to be considered for top executive roles (48% vs. 43% in 2016), yet only one third of Americans agree that women typically receive the same pay as men for doing exactly the same job (35% vs. 31% in 2016).

Working Moms: Still a Struggle?

While women in America today are both touted and criticized for their ability (or struggle) to "have it all" in pursuing their career ambitions while raising a family at home - as men have done throughout history - the struggles working moms face are all but gone. Seven in ten adults (71%) agree that being a parent has more negative implications on a woman's career than a man's (75% in 2016).

While the parental balancing act can prove difficult for anyone, fewer Americans - though still a notable one third - say we will not see women advance in professional leadership roles until they can lessen their household roles (35%). Men, however, are certainly seen as increasingly doing their part at home as 88% of adults agree that, compared to previous generations, men today are willing to take on more responsibilities at home.

The Future of Change

While progress at times may seem slow, the American people have confidence in their ability to see long-term changes in workforce equality. More than 9 in 10 (92%) agree the next decade will see more female leaders. Further, 85% of adults say they are hopeful that gender equality will be achieved in their lifetime.

Looking forward to the next generation, two thirds feel that American women will have increased opportunities to lead organizations and committees and increased income potential (66% each). Over half also feel women will have more access to education (54%).

More critically than ever, the changes we wish to see in the world must start at home. As men and women alike continue to redefine their roles in the workforce, their roles as parents become even more crucial to shaping the future of gender equality. An overwhelming majority of adults (91%) agree it's important that families teach their children that girls can do anything that boys can do (up from 89% in 2016).

"Americans are optimistic about the future of gender equality, while acknowledging that barriers remain -- particularly in the corporate world -- and that everyone has a role to play in advancing women's status in society," says Kathy Steinberg, managing editor of The Harris Poll.


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