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The Changing Face of the American Workforce

Authored by Catherine Maillard, Danielle Hartmann, and Jennifer Fraone at the Boston College Center for Work & Family

Women now account for half of the American workforce, and are the primary breadwinners in 40% of American families (Shriver, 2009). In light of these issues, we come face to face with the realities concerning women in the workforce. According to the 2009 Rosabeth Moss Kanter Award finalists, even though employment can be a source of support, there remain biases against women and mothers in the workplace.

The Motherhood Ceiling
Not only is there a glass ceiling, but there "could be, in part, a motherhood ceiling" keeping women from obtaining high level positions—or any positions at all (Correll, 2007). According to their 2007 study, Shelley Correll and her colleagues found that mothers were rated less competent and less committed to work than non-mothers, and that the pay gap between mothers and non-mothers is greater than the gap between men and women. In addition, although women are now a significant presence in the workforce, research finds that they are still the primary caretakers for children and the home (Amilion, 2007). Despite advances, women, particularly mothers, still lag behind men in terms of pay grade and division of household labor.

One Less Worry
Women can lessen their guilt about careers negatively impacting family life—it's not true; employment can actually be a source of support for women and families. According to Burchinal (2007), early maternal employment does not lead to negative cognitive outcomes for children. In fact, children in poor families whose mothers worked full-time showed higher reading scores than children whose mothers were unemployed. Employment can also be a safe haven and support system for women, especially those affected by intimate partner violence (Rothman, 2007; Villareal, 2007). Work can be a safe place for women affected by violence, and a source of both economic and emotional support.

Female Managers
Although women are gaining ground in terms of management positions, the majority of female managers are in low- to mid-level positions. Cohen's (2007) study found that "the representation of women in management reduces the wage gap," and that the more senior the female manager is in the organization, the greater the impact on all women's wages. In order to make a real impact in reducing the gender gap, women need to be given the chance to have high-level management authority in the workplace.

Implications for Practice

See what corporations are doing to make women's advancement and gender equality an integral part of their business.

 Avoid building biases and discrimination against women and mothers in the workplace

Understand domestic violence and the workplace and how to help

Learn about the state of women in America


Amilon, A. (2007). On the sharing of temporary parental leave: the case of Sweden. Review of Economics of the Household, 5, 385-404.

Burchinal, M.R., & Clarke-Stewart, K.A. (2007). Maternal employment and child cognitive outcomes: The importance of analytic approach. Developmental Psychology, 43, 1140-1155.

Cohen, P.N & Huffman, M.L. (2007). Working for woman? Female managers and the gender wage gap. American Sociological Review, 72, 681-704.

Correll, S.J., Benard, S., & Piak, I. (2007). Getting a job: Is there a motherhood penalty? American Journal of Sociology, 112, 1297-1338.

Rothman, E.F., Hathaway, J., Stidsen, A., & de Vries, H.F. (2007). How employment helps female victims of intimate partner violence: A qualitative study. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 12, 136-143.

Schoen, R., Landale, N.S., & Daniels, K. (2007). Family transitions in young adulthood. Demography, 44, 807-820.

Shriver, M. & The Center for American Progress (2009). The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything. Retrieved from

Villarreal, A. (2007). Women's employment status, coercive control, and intimate partner violence in Mexico. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 418-434.

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