The True Scale of Gender Inequality

by Phil Stott | March 08, 2018

  • My Vault
McDonald's upside down sign

It's International Women's Day*, which is something that sounds like it should be a holiday. I mean, McDonald's has flipped its golden arches for the occasion, so it's got to be something positive, right?

As noted in a company statement, McDonald's chief diversity officer Wendy Lewis explained that the company wanted to honor "the extraordinary accomplishments of women everywhere and especially in our restaurants. From restaurant crew and management to our C-suite of senior leadership, women play invaluable roles at all levels and together with our independent franchise owners. We’re committed to their success."

See? The day is about progress. And honoring women. And celebrating success. Which is all well and good, until you think about how we can actually measure that progress and success.

One measure: the number of women CEOs in the Fortune 500. The good news? In 2017, the number hit an all-time high, up more than 50% in a single year. The bad news: the high is 32, or just 6.4% of the Fortune list.

Another measure: pay equality. The good news: According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), the pay gap between men and women currently stands at an all-time low. The bad news: women still only make around 80% of what men make, and the rate of improvement has slowed since the turn of the millenium. At current rates, it could take another century to hit parity:

AAUW Pay Gap Chart

To be clear, the pay gap isn't just important from an equal pay for equal work perspective. In addition to the (hopefully) uncontroversial idea that people who do the same job at the same level should be remunerated equally, there are compounding effects to consider. When you make more money, you can save more and/or invest in assets like stocks, retirement portfolios, and real estate.

As such, the ability to build wealth is directly impacted by pay inequality--and is therefore another handy indicator of where we're at in terms of actually "honoring" women and their contributions to our society.

Again: the good news is that the wealth picture for women relative to men is improving--we're getting closer to equality. The bad news: according to the World Economic Forum, we're unlikely to reach full economic parity between men and women for 217 years.

Perhaps most worrying is how little awareness there seems to be of the scale of the issues we're facing: according to Ipsos Mori, 47% of people believe that we will achieve parity in their lifetimes. Here's a breakdown by country, courtesy of Statista, that shows just how optimistic those ideas are compared to current trends: 

Economic parity chart

So, while International Women's day may be an opportunity to celebrate contributions from women--and how far we've come in terms of accepting and recognizing the role of women in many different walks of life--it's also an opportunity to reflect on how far we have to go, and the true scale of what still needs to be accomplished.

*Before you ask: yep, we dudes get one too

Filed Under: Consulting | Education | Salary & Benefits | Workplace Issues

Tags: Pay gap | Wealth gap

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