Three Views of Women’s Progress in the Workplace: Where Do You Stand?

Are women advancing in the workplace? And what is HR doing to help level the playing field so they can?

It depends who you ask, I suppose, and I keep hearing different things from different people.

For example, here are three different perspectives from three different sources that have gotten me thinking about this issue and wondering if we’re actually moving ahead as a society on this issue or not. They range from the optimistic and positive all the way to the pretty pessimistic, but they get me to wondering — are we making progress, or is this just a version of “one step forward, and two steps back?”

Three different perspectives

  • Perspective #1: The case for how far we’ve come. Labor attorney John Gallagher had an interesting and positive take here at TLNT on the workplace victories women have won and how far they have advanced even though there are things that need to be done. Here’s the gist of what he said:

Today, women outnumber men in traditionally male –dominated professions such as human resources, accounting, financial management and budget analysis, veterinarian medicine and psychology. There are virtually just as many women as men graduating from law and medical schools, and the ladies earned nearly 45 percent of the MBAs awarded in 2010…

The march to equality for female American workers is inexorably moving forward. Fifty years ago, the journey of a thousand miles began, and many have been traversed since.

Equal pay, family rights and workplace bullying should be addressed and stemmed, and may be the biggest hurdles that remain. It stands to reason that, with more women ascending the corporate ladder, it will not be long until the journey will be at end.

  • Perspective #2: Some progress, yes, but still a long way to go. Former SHRM CEO Sue Meisinger tackled this subject in the HR leadership column she writes for Human Resources Executive Online and pegged it to International Women’s Day on March 8. She took more of a middle ground position, noting that although women have come a long way in workplace equality, there is still a great deal left to do.

This month, I’m reminded … that, while women in the workplace have indeed come a long way, we still face subtle and frustrating barriers to equal opportunity.

I’m reminded that many of the inappropriate behaviors and decisions found in the workplace are just plain hard to eradicate.

And even with so many women in the HR profession having an opportunity to help level the playing field, there is much work to be done. The challenge for the profession remains.”

  • Perspective #3: Many women believe things are actually getting worse. A new CareerBuilder survey this week had some pretty stunning numbers that make you wonder if we’ll ever make real progress on the men-women pay equality gap.

A new study from CareerBuilder shows perceptions of unequal pay and career advancement opportunities are increasing in the workplace. Some 38 percent of female workers said they feel they are paid less than male counterparts with the same skills and experience, up from 34 percent in 2008 when the survey was last conducted, and up from 31 percent in 2003. And 39 percent of female workers feel men have more career advancement opportunities within their organizations, up from 26 percent in 2008.

Perceptions are reflecting reality. Comparing salaries, 45 percent of men surveyed reported they make $50,000 or more, compared to 24 percent of women. Ten percent of men make $100,000 or more, compared to just 3 percent of women. On the other end of the pay scale, 40 percent of women reported they make $35,000 or less compared to 24 percent of men.”

“A significant disparity still exists”

So, which perspective do you believe is accurate? Is great progress being made?  Are things for women actually getting worse, or is it a mixed bag with some of both?

Perhaps this view from Rosemary Haefner, CareerBuilder’s Vice President of Human Resources, will help here.

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“While many companies are working toward greater equality in all measures of the workplace, a significant disparity still exists,” she said. “Workers in general are more aware of average compensation levels. They are also more vocal about shortcomings they believe exist when it comes to their pay and title, especially coming off of a recession when workloads and hours largely increased.”

What interested me most about the CareerBuilder survey was that about 60 percent of those surveyed were men. That tells me that the negative perceptions that rise from the survey aren’t just something that women focus on; men are well aware of them, too.

Where do you stand? Are women making progress in the workplace or not? I don’t see it as “one step forward and two steps back,” but I’m not sure we’re making huge headway here either. What do you think?

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


1 Comment on “Three Views of Women’s Progress in the Workplace: Where Do You Stand?

  1. John: Great article. As my article at stated, I rarely get calls from women seeking to have me represent them on equal pay claims. What I did not say, and what I believe, is that more women will need to step forward and file such claims before true progress is made. Whether we like it or not, companies will do what they can to maximize profits, and if women are “tacitly complicit” in allowing this inequality to persist, equal pay progress will remain stilted.

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