The XX Factor

Where Are the Women Managers?

A new study by the GAO shows that women have stalled at 40 percent of all manager positions. Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York , who commissioned the study, expressed her disappointment that the report merely confirms “what little progress we’ve made.” As with all such reports, it depends on when you start the clock, how you define progress, and even what you mean by “manager.”

In 1972 women represented 18 percent of management positions. Now they hover, on many measures, between 40 percent and 42 percent, which many would describe as progress. Also, of all women working, 13 percent are managers, as opposed to 16 percent of all employed men, which is not much of a difference.

But there are many ways to slice up the numbers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics ran these numbers recently and found that “women accounted for 51 percent of all workers in high-paying management, professional and related occupations.” Remember, a “manager” is something very specific. It’s someone climbing the ladder inside a larger corporation. If you expand that definition just a little, as the BLS did, to include other professional jobs such as accountants, tax preparers, medical scientists, teachers, then the number jumps. And that doesn’t account for the fact that women are more likely to run their own businesses, which does not make them managers but should count as progress.

The GAO report reminded us of important discrepancies which we should never lose sight of. Women in equal positions still make less money than men, especially if those women have children. There is no good explanation for that, and it’s something Maloney should fight. But you can’t boil the whole picture down to “little progress.” “Progress” implies a kind of catch up. But as I explain in my End of Men story , the deeper restructuring of the economy now favors women, and sets them up for a dominance far beyond progress.

Photograph of a business woman by Oli Scarff for Getty Images.