Supporting Women in Business Resource Guide

While women have made significant progress toward equality, the fight is far from over. The Center for American Progress estimates women only earn an average of 82 cents for every dollar earned by men. A closer look at the data by race is even more troubling: For each dollar earned by white men, Black women only earn 62 cents, American Indian and Alaska Native women only earn 57 cents, and Hispanic and Latina women only earn 54 cents.

Below, we’ll take a closer look at the many gender inequalities women face in the workplace. We’ll also highlight some successful women who have shattered expectations and risen to the top in this environment that is still largely dominated by males.

For women going it alone, we’ll explore what resources exist for business owners, spotlight some inspirational business leaders and discuss how to succeed as a minority-owned business. We’ll examine how to promote fair policies for working moms and how to grow women as leaders and expand their numbers in various fields where they are underrepresented. And, we will review education systems for women around the world, and how they contribute and can be changed to improve equity for women.

Table of Contents

The COVID Crisis and Its Toll on Women

COVID-19 has had a impact on nearly every population group but has disproportionately affected women in the workforce. According to a study on women in the workplace published by McKinsey & Company and Lean In, women in the United States make up 47% of the labor force, yet they suffered 54% of the initial job losses associated with COVID-19. As of September 2020, women accounted for nearly half of job losses attributed to the virus. 

One possible reason for this disparity that the Brookings Institution identified is the disproportionate number of women working in lower-wage jobs, which accounted for many of the jobs lost from COVID-19. Less than 40% of men work in low-paying jobs, compared to 46% of women, who earn a median hourly pay of just $10.93 an hour, according to Brookings. Approximately 15% of these women are single parents and more than 25% rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Social Security, Medicaid or other social safety net supports.

Child care is also an important factor. Women are often the primary caregivers for their children, even when both parents work. With the shift to virtual learning for students, many women were forced to juggle their careers and their children’s education. Mothers are three times as likely to take on the responsibility of managing child care and housework during the COVID crisis compared to fathers, according to the McKinsey report. The combination of working, looking after children all day, assisting with education and managing or co-managing the household has led to burnout. The McKinsey report found that a quarter of women are considering taking a step back from their careers or leaving the workforce entirely.

BACK TO TOP

Women in Business Growth by Industry

Women have been slowly closing the gender gap in leadership positions. In 2015, women made up only 23% of the number of senior vice presidents in large corporations and just 17% of the entire C-suite workforce, the McKinsey report notes. By 2020, those numbers increased to 28% of senior vice presidents and 21% of the C-suite workforce. 

In addition to the growing presence of women in leadership positions, minority women are also making gains to level the playing field with their white counterparts. According to the Small Business Administration, the number of women-owned employer firms grew by 6% from 2014 to 2016, driven by 14% growth of businesses owned by minority women (PDF, 816KB).

In science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, women are still very underrepresented compared to their male counterparts, though they have made steady gains to decrease the discrepancy. In 2017, women accounted for 29% of workers in science and engineering occupations, according to the National Science Board. Women accounted for 50% or more of jobs in life sciences, which include biological and medical science, and social sciences, which include psychology. However, they accounted for just over a quarter of computer and mathematical scientists and 16% of engineers.

The Census Bureau reports women accounted for 29% of manufacturing positions in 2016, a slight increase from 28.6% in 1970. Women in manufacturing jobs had a higher median income ($35,158) than women workers in general but earned less than men in the same industry; men earned a median income of $48,849. 

Women are also still significantly underrepresented in American politics. In 2021, women make up just over a quarter of representatives in Congress compared to just 13.6% in 2001, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. Women also hold more than 30% of statewide elective executive offices and state legislative seats.

Resources for Women by Industry

Women in STEM

The Untold History of Women in STEM

From the archives of the White House of the Obama administration, this resource features real-life stories of women from diverse backgrounds who have advanced in the field of STEM.

Women in STEM

This organization empowering high school girls to choose STEM careers through advocacy, education, mentorship, networking and outreach has 83 chapters in the United States and several other countries.

The STEM Gap

Learn why women track away from STEM throughout their education and download resources and reports to support the initiative of growing women in STEM.

Girls and Women in STEM

The Smithsonian Science Education Center has lessons, videos, resources and curriculum to engage all students, with the goal of encouraging females of all ages to cultivate an interest in STEM.

Women of STEM

NASA.gov has put together this resource featuring videos and profiles of some of the women involved in the space program and STEM, along with downloadable apps, e-books and podcasts.

Women in Manufacturing

The Council of Industry

Read about the need for women in manufacturing and the long history of women in manufacturing jobs in the United States, starting during World War I.

The Manufacturing Institute

Women today account for less than 1 in 3 manufacturing workers; the STEP Women’s Initiative aims to close that gender gap.

STEM2D

STEM2D stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, Manufacturing and Design. This broadened scope and site with activities have reached 6 million girls.

Next Gen Manufacturing

Women represent about 51% of the global workforce, but only a fraction of the manufacturing workforce. This website shares information about careers in manufacturing and scholarships for women.

Women in Politics

Barbara Lee Family Foundation

Inspired by stories of suffragists marching in New York City in the early 1900s, this foundation works to advance women’s representation and equality in American politics and contemporary art.

National Democratic Institute

The NDI released a nonpartisan guide, “Increasing Women’s Political Participation Through Effective Training and Best Practices” [PDF, 994KB].

Clare Boothe Luce Center for Conservative Women

Resources, videos, books and more to help prepare conservative women for effective leadership and promotion.

Center for American Women and Politics

From Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Politics, find “Ready to Run” guides, fact sheets on all women in American politics, statistics and more. The center also maps out locations across the United States where women can get involved in politics.

BACK TO TOP

Supporting Working Mothers

The Pew Research Center reports approximately 55% of U.S. mothers with children younger than 18 are employed full time, with another 17% employed part time. And about 40% of working mothers work in educational services, health care and social assistance, with nearly half in management, business, science and arts occupations, according to the Census Bureau.

Working mothers face the challenge of trying to balance their career aspirations with taking care of their children. Pew reported that among working moms, about 50% said being a working parent makes it harder for them to advance at work, compared to 39% of working fathers. More than half of working mothers had to reduce their work hours or felt like they were not giving 100% at their job in order to balance work and family. And almost 20% had to turn down a promotion or were passed up for a promotion due to commitments to their family. 

Additionally, whether a working mother works in a full-time or part-time position often varies based on the age of her children. Only 62% of women with preschool or younger children are employed compared with 75% of women with children 6 to 17 years old who are in school most of the day, according to 2018 census data.

The Census Bureau also reports working mothers are more likely to be forced to take unpaid leave for child care, pregnancy or other reasons. Twelve percent of moms with a child under 6 needed to take at least two weeks of unpaid leave compared with % of women with children 6 to 17 and 8% of the entire workforce.

Resources for Working Mothers

MomsRising

A network of advocates that mobilizes grassroots action to promote policies that improve economic security for families and end discrimination against women and mothers.

Family Values at Work

This organization, now in 27 states, advocates for policy change on issues like earned sick days and family and medical leave and has helped guide inclusive policies.

Working Mother

This section of the site provides useful research and studies such as “Engaging White Male Middle Managers in Advancing Inclusion” and other topics.

The Second Shift

A woman-owned company that helps companies hire talented women. Women can apply to be members and Second Shift will match them to potential projects based on their skill set.

BACK TO TOP

Top Jobs for Women

More women are enjoying the salaries and power that come with high-ranking roles. There is no methodology to determine the best jobs for women, as there are many different factors to consider. However, in recent years, multiple news organizations have attempted to create lists using differing methodologies.

In 2018, CNBC Make It analyzed Bureau of Labor Statistics data to determine the 15 best-paying jobs for women. Analysts calculated median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers, limiting their scope to jobs with 50,000 workers or more. Chief executives ranked first, followed by pharmacists, nurse practitioners, physicians and surgeons, and lawyers.

In 2019, 24/7 Wall Street, a content partner with USA Today, ranked jobs with the highest average full-time salaries for women in the United States. Pharmacists topped the list, followed by lawyers, chief executives, computer and information systems managers, and physicians and surgeons.

In 2020, Business Insider analyzed 2019 BLS data, considering median annual salaries and the % percentage of the workforce that identified as female, to compile its list of jobs dominated by women with high pay. Veterinarians were first, followed by physicians and surgeons, pharmacists, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners.

Regardless of where specific jobs landed on these lists, women are capable of thriving in the same positions their male counterparts hold, so every job is a job for women.

BACK TO TOP

Education Is Key

How can women even the playing field and advance to high-paying careers and leadership roles? Education is part of the answer. As the American Civil Liberties Union states, “education is the foundation for civic participation,” and schools and learning centers influence how children and younger generations view themselves and others in the world.

U.S. law guarantees a right to an education free from discrimination based on sex, which has allowed for the advancement of women since the law was enacted in 1972. As of 2016, 42% of women ages 25 to 64 held a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with just 11% in 1970. But globally, women face a different landscape. 

Women make up two-thirds of the 750 million adults in the world who lack basic literacy. Limited access, gender-based violence, early marriage and pregnancy, disability, minority status, geographical isolation and traditional attitudes about the role and status of women contribute to these disparities, with 16 million girls never setting foot in a classroom

According to a 2018 report, “Missed Opportunities: The High Cost of Not Educating Girls,” prepared by a team at the World Bank with support from the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, the Global Partnership for Education, and the Malala Fund, lower educational attainment for women leads to lower expected earnings and higher rates of poverty for households [PDF, 5MB]. Women with partial or completed primary education make up to 19% more than women with no education, while those with secondary education make twice as much as those with no education.

Resources for Empowering Women and Girls Worldwide

USAID

Empowering women and girls is one mission of USAID, which leads humanitarian efforts and international development to save lives, strengthen democracies, reduce poverty and more. They offer international resources for women in many countries that align with this mission.

The World Bank

Download the 2014 report, “Voice and Agency: Empowering Women and Girls for Shared Prosperity,” along with many other resources, press releases and articles about women and their power in the world.

European Commission

Read about the European Union’s Gender Action Plan III, which focuses on key areas, gaps and strategies to ensure that women and girls are on equal footing in EU member states by 2025.

United Nations

The U.N.’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development plans for “a world in which every woman and girl enjoys full gender equality and all legal, social and economic barriers to their empowerment have been removed.”

Peace Corps

One of the main global initiatives of the Peace Corps is education, with the goal to bring English, math and science into schools in communities worldwide, particularly impacting young women and girls in areas where many don’t continue past a primary education.

BACK TO TOP

Growing and Supporting Women in Business

Empowerment through education is just one piece of the puzzle. Educated women still face roadblocks as they try to advance their careers.

Although there were a record number of female CEOs in 2020, for every company run by a woman in the United States, there are 13 companies run by a man, according to research from the nonprofit Catalyst. In the United States, less than 40% of management positions are held by women. In 2019, white women held just over 32% of all management roles, while women of color held significantly smaller percentages of these roles (Latina women, 4.3%, Black women, 4% and Asian women, 2.5%)

Frustrated with a lack of opportunity in the workplace, many women start their own businesses. And while they have experienced success—women-owned businesses employ more than 9 million people in the United States—there is still a disparity: Firms owned by male entrepreneurs generate about double the annual revenue of businesses owned by their female counterparts.

Women can benefit from allies in the workplace, including other businesswomen who can offer mentorship, supportive colleagues who lift up their voices and ideas, and professional networks.  

Resources for Female Business Owners

Catalyst

This nonprofit membership organization works on a global scale to bring inclusion into the workplace and help women at all levels excel.

Association of Women’s Business Centers

The AWBC is a leading voice for women’s entrepreneurship in the United States and has a national network of more than 100 Women’s Business Centers providing training, mentoring, business development and business financing opportunities.

Accion

Billing itself as the largest nationwide nonprofit lending network in the United States, this funding resource for women-owned businesses also provides information on all types of business loans, from SBA loans to microloans.

National Women’s Business Council

This national government group provides information on 200 resources for women entrepreneurs as part of its Grow Her Business project. NWBC also offers webinars, a roundtable and public meetings for women business owners.

Lean In

Lean In provides resources for men to become allies for equality and support their female colleagues by challenging stereotypes, confronting bias and including them in male networks.

Center for Creative Leadership

Help organizations realize the importance of women in the workplace with this resource about why women make great leaders and how you can retain them.

I Am Remarkable

This initiative by Google helps to empower women and other underrepresented groups to celebrate achievements in and out of the workplace through workshops and self-guided online courses.

Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women

Goldman Sachs started this global initiative to foster economic growth through women’s empowerment, access to capital, mentoring, education and networking.

This article was updated April 2021. 

BACK TO TOP