Limited Work Opportunities

“If you’re a young woman who graduated last summer from high school, you will earn $700,000 less over your working life than the young man standing in line with you to get his diploma.” Evelyn Murphy, President, The Wage Project


Jobs and careers are typically “women’s” issues, but limited work opportunities affect girls too. It becomes a girls’ issue when young girls have inadequate role models in all career paths and jobs. Not to mention, in many areas 16-year-olds are legally allowed to work, which means those “women’s” issues affect these girls too. Women are underrepresented in many fields(PDF), like STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) and politics.

These situations create the stereotypes of “men’s work” and “women’s work.” Imagine a police officer and a nurse–which one did you imagine as female?

Also, in 2009, women working full time in the United States earned only 77 percent (PDF), on average, of what men earn. The “glass ceiling” also keeps many women from progressing upwards in their career, which means women hold only 15.7% of top leadership positions in Fortune 500 companies. This happens worldwide, too:

  • 21% of companies in Norway have female directors, and that’s the highest percentage in the whole world!
  • In Japan, the glass ceiling isn’t even glass; they call it the “cement-ceiling.”

Sexual harassment is also a big problem for women in the workforce–though sufficient data on this is hard to come by.

In developing countries, career opportunities for girls are significantly more limited. Girls typically don’t receive an education, restricting the opportunities available to them; without any schooling, a girl can’t become a teacher or a doctor. Women also hold more low-quality jobs, and have fewer hours of paid work than men, while getting paid less than men in the first place.

This is strongly connected to poverty: 70% of the 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty are female. In any country, lower wages for work make it virtually impossible for a woman to help her family out of poverty. In developing countries, families often do not send their daughter to school, meaning she won’t be prepared for work that could help her and her family. Then when she does get a job, it is often a low-paying one, meaning she might not be able to afford further schooling which could help her advance to a higher-paying job.

On top of these limitations are cultural traditions and pressures to care for children and the elderly. (Notice how these things happen in the U.S. too; women and girls face the same problems, no matter where they live or work.)

Think of it as a cycle: Little preparation (no schooling) leads to fewer work opportunities and jobs with lower wages, which limits further training. Gender inequality feeds poverty, and poverty feeds gender inequality.

Call to Action

Learn More

  • Delve into the U.N. report “Innovative Approaches to Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment,” (PDF download) which examines the global context of women in poverty, and explains that because women cannot get paid jobs in a wide range of sectors, they have fewer opportunities to climb out of poverty. The lack of job security is also a problem in many poor countries, which means banks are unlikely to give loans to women. Micro-finance programs can help women start a business by loaning them money at an appropriate interest rate, so that they can reasonably repay the loan without going further into debt. Many women and girls also do not have rights to property or inheritance, meaning they must rely on men for money and have no control over their own income. Guaranteeing legal rights for women and girls such as the right to own property will allow women to control their own assets, and promote economic empowerment.
  • Check out this cool infographic by MBA Online about women in technology!

Inform Others

Create Change

  • Write to your government representatives! Ask your U.S. Senators to support the Fair Pay Act of 2011 (S. 788), and ask your U.S. Representative to support the Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 1519). Both proposals would end the pay gap by trying to find effective remedies to discrimination in pay and requiring employers to pay equal wage for equal work, regardless of gender, race, or national origin.
  • The first United Nations Millennium Development Goal, signed by 163 countries including the U.S., is to end poverty by 2015, and in particular, to achieve productive and decent work for all people, including women. Make sure this goal stays on the radar of decision-makers by writing and calling them, asking them to work to achieve this big task. Small changes can have big results.
  • Teachers can be trained to understand stereotype threats, and to encourage their students to persist under challenging work, and to encourage girls to take more classes in math and science. Even providing a student lounge can make a science department feel more welcoming, to both men and women.
  • Insist that your School Board implement programs that encourage higher education and training. Some help teachers become better teachers; some encourage students to take more AP classes, which may help them do better in college. Read more about how you can get your School Board to work harder for STEM opportunities and programs.  Demand that schools and universities create environments that are welcoming to women in all fields.
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