Women in the Workplace

Updated: Jan 23, 2021

In the last century, women’s rights and opportunities have grown dramatically in the United States and other countries around the world. In very few areas are these changes as pronounced as in women’s role in the workforce. Cultural, political, and economic factors all push and pull social norms and contribute to these changes, and their relationships are complex. Gaining a basic understanding of the role gender plays in workplaces around the world is a vital step in the successful navigation of the global marketplace. The articles in this series will aim to present a basic picture of what the workplace looks like for women around the world primarily on the basis of access to education, labor force and industry participation demographics, and wage gaps.


One fundamental cultural factor that helps determine how women participate in the economy the quality and quantity of education they are able to attain. The quality of education available to women and the level of education they complete has a major impact on their quality of life and that of their families. Women who complete lower secondary school are more likely to earn more, be healthier, and make better decisions than women who do not. According to a study done by the World Bank, the estimated cost of not educating girls (in lost human capital) is between $15 trillion and $30 trillion US dollars. (World Bank) The costs and benefits surrounding women’s education shape the cultures and economies those women live and work in.

Workforce Participation

Where do women around the world work? Decisions are never made in a vacuum, especially career decisions. The choices that anyone makes about what career to pursue are powerfully influenced by many factors, from the psychosocial like stereotypes, family patterns, and industry subcultures to legal and practical factors like occupational segregation, childcare options, and the laws surrounding sexual harassment. The outcomes of all these factors are often reflected in whether women choose to work outside the home (labor force participation rate), industry demographics, and what opportunities they encounter throughout their careers.

Wage Gaps

The definition and causes of gender wage gaps are widely debated, but they do exist in many places around the world. Suspected causes of wage gaps include lack of access to education, occupation and industry choices, lack of experience, and social expectations and perceptions. These gaps have a significant impact on women’s economic power and help shape the way women interact with both their workplaces and the economy as a whole.

The aim of this series is to illustrate how women influence and are influenced by the economies and cultures they participate in. In addition to the indicators listed here, many of the articles in this series also include other cultural factors unique to the country or region considered. The cultures surrounding women and their workplaces will have lasting influences on not just the women themselves, but their families, their communities, and their societies. To successfully navigate business in these settings, one must have a sound understanding of both gender dynamics and the cultural shifts that are changing those dynamics.


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