Gender Equality in the Workforce: The United States Has Come a Long Way, but Barriers Remain

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Three-fourths of Americans (75%) believe the U.S. has come a long way toward reaching gender equality, but issues clearly persist. Strong majorities believe that:

  • Female leaders have to work harder than men to prove themselves (83%),
  • Women’s contributions in leadership roles often go unrecognized (78%), and
  • Being a parent has more negative implications on a woman’s career than on a man’s (75%).

Meanwhile, fewer than half believe that:

  • Women are just as likely as men to be considered for top executive roles (43%), and
  • Women typically receive the same pay as men for doing exactly the same job (31%).

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,057 U.S. adults surveyed online from January 19-21, 2016.

Optimism and Realism

Men tend to be more optimistic about the current state of affairs. They’re significantly more likely than women to believe both genders are equally likely to be considered for top executive roles (46% men vs. 40% women) and are nearly twice as likely as women to believe both genders receive the same pay for doing exactly the same job (41% vs. 22%).

Women, on the other hand, are more attuned to workplace (in)equality concerns than their male counterparts. They’re more likely to believe that female leaders have to work harder to prove themselves (89% women vs. 75% men), that women’s contributions in leadership roles often go unrecognized (83% vs. 71%), and that being a parent impacts a woman’s career more negatively than a man’s (79% vs. 71%).

Barriers…

When asked which barriers, if any, prevent women from being considered for leadership roles, the top culprits (according to both genders) are, well, men:

  • Discrimination by men (59%),
  • Male leaders unwilling to promote women to leadership roles (57%), and
  • Male workers unwilling to follow female leaders (54%).

Additionally, nearly four in 10 (38%) point to societal standards, indicating that some roles are inappropriate for women, while three in 10 cite women’s roles in U.S. households and families (31%) and women’s lack of support within their households/families (29%).

And though men take the lion’s share of the blame on holding women back in the workplace, many fingers also point right back at women. Three in 10 (29%) cite discrimination by women as a barrier, while over two in 10 (22%) feel women are unwilling to make sacrifices needed to succeed in leadership roles.

…and opportunities

So, what can be done to foster equality at the C-suite level? A level and transparent playing field seems key. When asked which steps are most important for employers to take in order to help promote equal leadership opportunities for women and men, the top requests are:

  • Enable flexible working hours for parents of both genders (55%),
  • Make salary ranges for various positions more visible (52%),
  • Ensure clear career paths and development plans for all associates (51%),
  • Encourage women to apply (51%),
  • Improve child care support (47%),
  • Offer equivalent maternal and paternal leave (47%), and
  • Advertise/post all job opportunities (44%).

Targets or quotas are less popular options, though still embraced by a noteworthy three in 10 Americans (for equal number of male and female candidates for all roles – 30%; for equal number of males and females in leadership training programs – 29%). Three in 10 also suggest implementing mentor programs (29%), while one-fourth recommend building and promoting a women’s network (25%).

Building blocks of workplace equality

Ultimately, Americans see workplace gender equality as being much more about opportunity and equal treatment than equivalency of bodies on the ground. When presented with a list of equality benchmarks and asked to rate the importance of each in working towards gender equality in the workplace, those most likely to be rated “absolutely essential” include:

  • Equal pay for equal work (47%),
  • Equal benefits (44%),
  • Equal opportunities to get an education (41%),
  • Equal opportunities for advancement in the workplace (41%), and
  • Equal job training opportunities (40%).

On the other end of the spectrum, having an equal number of men and women in leadership positions is the aspect least likely to be seen as absolutely essential (18%).

Perceived importance

Clearly Americans agree both that the U.S. has come a long way and that there’s a long way left to go. However, it’s far from the only issue facing our country today. In fact, three-fourths of Americans (75%) – including roughly the same percentages of women (75%) and men (76%) – believe that there are more important issues to address in the U.S. than gender equality.

 

TABLE 1a

EQUALITY STATEMENTS – Summary Grid

“How much do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements?”

Base: U.S. Adults

 

 

Agree (NET)

Strongly agree

Somewhat agree

Disagree (NET)

Somewhat disagree

Strongly disagree

Female leaders have to work harder than men to prove themselves.

%

83

36

47

17

12

6

I know at least one woman who works in the corporate world.

%

78

45

33

22

12

10

Women’s contributions in leadership roles often go unrecognized.

%

78

29

48

22

17

5

There are more important issues to address in the U.S. than gender equality.

%

75

37

38

25

18

6

Being a parent has more negative implications on a woman’s career than a man’s.

%

75

29

46

25

15

10

The U.S. has come a long way toward reaching gender equality.

%

75

22

53

25

20

6

Women are less likely than men to be considered for roles leading large teams in a corporate setting.

%

73

23

49

27

19

8

Some leadership roles are more appropriate for men than for women.

%

61

18

43

39

21

18

Some leadership roles are more appropriate for women than for men.

%

61

18

43

39

21

18

Women make better leaders than men.

%

46

8

37

54

41

13

Women are just as likely as men to be considered for top executive roles.

%

43

16

27

57

41

16

Women hold themselves back in the corporate world.

%

41

9

32

59

37

22

Women typically receive the same pay as men for doing exactly the same job.

%

31

12

19

69

35

34

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.

 

TABLE 1b

EQUALITY STATEMENTS – “Agree” (NET)

By Age & Gender

“How much do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements?”

Base: All adults

 

Total

Age

Gender

18-34

35-44

45-54

55-64

65+

Men

Women

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Female leaders have to work harder than men to prove themselves.

83

81

80

80

85

87

75

89

I know at least one woman who works in the corporate world.

78

77

78

80

77

78

80

77

Women’s contributions in leadership roles often go unrecognized.

78

74

78

71

80

86

71

83

There are more important issues to address in the U.S. than gender equality.

75

69

73

77

76

84

76

75

Being a parent has more negative implications on a woman’s career than a man’s.

75

75

72

73

72

84

71

79

The U.S. has come a long way toward reaching gender equality.

75

75

79

74

75

72

76

74

Women are less likely than men to be considered for roles leading large teams in a corporate setting.

73

73

67

68

71

83

71

74

Some leadership roles are more appropriate for men than for women.

61

60

59

59

60

66

68

54

Some leadership roles are more appropriate for women than for men.

61

59

58

60

63

64

66

56

Women make better leaders than men.

46

50

46

45

42

42

38

52

Women are just as likely as men to be considered for top executive roles.

43

52

45

40

37

34

46

40

Women hold themselves back in the corporate world.

41

51

40

29

37

39

41

41

Women typically receive the same pay as men for doing exactly the same job.

31

44

37

23

26

19

41

22

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.

 


TABLE 2

BARRIERS PREVENTING WOMEN FROM BEING CONSIDERED FOR LEADERSHIP ROLES

By Age & Gender

“Which of these barriers, if any, prevent women from being considered for leadership roles? Please select all that apply.”

Base: All adults

 

Total

Age

Gender

18-34

35-44

45-54

55-64

65+

Men

Women

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Discrimination by men

59

54

57

60

62

68

54

64

Male leaders unwilling to promote women to leadership roles

57

51

51

57

63

68

51

63

Male workers unwilling to follow female leaders

54

48

44

55

58

64

47

60

Societal standards: some roles are inappropriate for women

38

36

31

42

36

47

38

39

Women’s roles in U.S. households/families

31

32

32

26

30

33

27

34

Discrimination by women

29

30

22

27

32

30

26

31

Women’s lack of support within their households/families

29

25

26

30

26

38

23

33

Women unwilling to make sacrifices needed to succeed in leadership roles

22

22

17

21

26

26

22

22

Women lacking the initiative to pursue leadership roles

20

19

19

19

20

23

18

22

Women’s lack of desire to take on leadership roles

16

14

14

16

19

18

15

17

Other

2

1

2

1

3

2

2

1

None – there are no barriers that prevent women from being considered for leadership roles.

12

11

17

14

11

9

12

12

Note: Multiple responses allowed.

 


TABLE 3

MOST IMPORTANT STEPS FOR EMPLOYERS TO PROMOTE EQUAL LEADERSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

By Age & Gender

“Which, if any, of the following steps do you believe are most important for employers to take in order to help promote equal leadership opportunities for women and men? Please select all that apply.”

Base: All adults

 

Total

Age

Gender

18-34

35-44

45-54

55-64

65+

Men

Women

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Enable flexible working hours for parents of both genders

55

46

54

56

56

69

46

63

Make salary ranges for various positions more visible

52

47

45

45

53

69

48

55

Ensure clear career paths and development plans for all associates

51

42

40

54

56

68

48

54

Encourage women to apply

51

47

43

50

51

64

46

55

Improve child care support (e.g., on-site, backup, employer-subsidized)

47

48

43

45

46

53

39

55

Offer equivalent maternal and paternal leave

47

47

40

46

48

55

44

50

Advertise/Post all job opportunities

44

35

36

43

50

61

41

47

Set targets or quotas for equal number of male and female candidates for all roles

30

30

28

26

31

32

23

36

Set targets or quotas for equal number of males and females in leadership training programs

29

33

21

24

29

33

23

35

Implement mentor programs

29

26

27

24

32

37

29

30

Build and promote a women’s network

25

29

24

21

22

26

19

31

Other

2

1

2

1

2

2

2

2

None – employers should not take any steps to help promote equal leadership opportunities for women and men.

8

7

12

12

8

4

10

7

Note: Multiple responses allowed.

 

 

TABLE 4a

ELEMENTS TO WORKING TOWARDS WORKPLACE GENDER EQUALITY – Summary Grid

“In your opinion, how important are each of the following in working towards gender equality in the workplace?”

Base: All adults

 

 

Absolutely essential

Extremely important

Very important

Somewhat important

Not very important

Not at all important

Equal pay for equal work

%

47

20

23

8

1

1

Equal benefits (e.g., health insurance, retirement savings, tuition reimbursement)

%

44

20

25

8

1

2

Equal opportunities to get an education

%

41

22

27

8

1

2

Equal opportunities for advancement in the workplace

%

41

22

25

9

1

2

Equal job training opportunities

%

40

24

27

8

1

1

Equal societal expectations

%

28

21

29

16

2

3

Equal responsibilities within the home

%

23

20

31

18

4

4

Equal number of men and women in leadership positions

%

18

17

21

23

13

8

 

 


TABLE 4b

ELEMENTS TO WORKING TOWARDS WORKPLACE GENDER EQUALITY

“Absolutely Essential” Responses by Age & Gender

“In your opinion, how important are each of the following in working towards gender equality in the workplace?”

Base: All adults

 

Total

Age

Gender

18-34

35-44

45-54

55-64

65+

Men

Women

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Equal pay for equal work

47

43

43

53

48

53

39

55

Equal benefits (e.g., health insurance, retirement savings, tuition reimbursement)

44

41

44

49

44

45

39

48

Equal opportunities to get an education

41

43

41

42

40

35

38

43

Equal opportunities for advancement in the workplace

41

41

39

42

40

40

36

45

Equal job training opportunities

40

42

40

38

40

36

35

44

Equal societal expectations

28

33

28

29

24

23

26

30

Equal responsibilities within the home

23

26

27

21

23

19

22

25

Equal number of men and women in leadership positions

18

22

22

19

13

12

15

21

 

 

TABLE 5a

WHEN WILL THERE BE EQUALITY IN EACH AREA – Summary Grid

“And when, if ever, do you believe there will be equality between women and men in each of these areas?”

Base: All adults

 

 

There is already equality in this area

In the next 10 years

In the next 11-25 years

In the next 26-50 years

More than 50 years from now

There will never be equality in this area

Equal opportunities to get an education

%

47

33

7

3

4

5

Equal benefits (e.g., health insurance, retirement savings, tuition reimbursement)

%

38

39

9

5

3

6

Equal job training opportunities

%

32

45

9

5

3

6

Equal responsibilities within the home

%

27

32

10

6

4

21

Equal opportunities for advancement in the workplace

%

24

45

14

6

3

8

Equal societal expectations

%

21

39

13

7

5

16

Equal pay for equal work

%

19

49

13

6

4

10

Equal number of men and women in leadership positions

%

16

38

17

9

5

15

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.

 

 

TABLE 5b

THERE ALREADY IS EQUALITY IN THIS AREA”

By Age & Gender

“And when, if ever, do you believe there will be equality between women and men in each of these areas?”

Base: All adults

 

Total

Age

Gender

18-34

35-44

45-54

55-64

65+

Men

Women

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Equal opportunities to get an education

47

42

47

46

53

49

48

46

Equal benefits (e.g., health insurance, retirement savings, tuition reimbursement)

38

30

43

40

46

37

38

38

Equal job training opportunities

32

31

34

33

36

27

33

31

Equal responsibilities within the home

27

26

30

32

29

21

30

25

Equal opportunities for advancement in the workplace

24

25

27

24

29

16

26

22

Equal societal expectations

21

18

22

22

26

18

22

19

Equal pay for equal work

19

19

24

18

20

13

20

17

Equal number of men and women in leadership positions

16

17

19

18

16

9

16

15

 


TABLE 5c

“THERE WILL BE EQUALITY IN THIS AREA IN THE NEXT 10 YEARS

By Age & Gender

“And when, if ever, do you believe there will be equality between women and men in each of these areas?”

Base: All adults

 

Total

Age

Gender

18-34

35-44

45-54

55-64

65+

Men

Women

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Equal pay for equal work

49

51

43

48

45

54

51

46

Equal job training opportunities

45

44

42

44

43

52

45

45

Equal opportunities for advancement in the workplace

45

45

43

43

43

50

45

45

Equal benefits (e.g., health insurance, retirement savings, tuition reimbursement)

39

42

34

38

35

44

38

40

Equal societal expectations

39

44

39

33

34

41

38

40

Equal number of men and women in leadership positions

38

42

39

33

37

38

36

41

Equal opportunities to get an education

33

32

29

36

31

35

31

34

Equal responsibilities within the home

32

37

30

30

26

35

31

33

 


TABLE 5d

“THERE WILL NEVER BE EQUALITY IN THIS AREA”

By Age & Gender

“And when, if ever, do you believe there will be equality between women and men in each of these areas?”

Base: All adults

 

Total

Age

Gender

18-34

35-44

45-54

55-64

65+

Men

Women

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Equal responsibilities within the home

21

14

19

22

29

24

17

25

Equal societal expectations

16

11

16

21

20

15

15

17

Equal number of men and women in leadership positions

15

10

16

15

21

18

16

15

Equal pay for equal work

10

8

10

12

14

9

8

13

Equal opportunities for advancement in the workplace

8

5

9

8

11

10

7

10

Equal benefits (e.g., health insurance, retirement savings, tuition reimbursement)

6

5

6

7

8

5

5

7

Equal job training opportunities

6

3

6

7

10

4

5

7

Equal opportunities to get an education

5

4

7

7

8

3

5

6

 

 

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between January 19 and 21, 2016 among 2,057 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. 

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

The Harris Poll® #18, March 3, 2016

By Larry Shannon-Missal, Managing Editor, The Harris Poll