Women in the workforce earning wages or a salary are part of a modern phenomenon, one that developed at the same time as the growth of paid employment for men, but women have been challenged by inequality in the workforce. Until modern times, legal and cultural practices, combined with the inertia of longstanding religious and educational conventions, restricted women's entry and participation in the workforce. Economic dependency upon men, and consequently the poor socio-economic status of women, have had the same impact, particularly as occupations have become professionalized over the 19th and 20th centuries.
Women's lack of access to higher education had effectively excluded them from the practice of well-paid and high status occupations. Entry of women into the higher professions like law and medicine was delayed in most countries due to women being denied entry to universities and qualification for degrees; for example, Cambridge University only fully validated degrees for women late in 1947, and even then only after much opposition and acrimonious debate.Women were largely limited to low-paid and poor status occupations for most of the 19th and 20th centuries, or earned less pay than men for doing the same work. However, through the 20th century, public perceptions of paid work shifted as the workforce increasingly moved to office jobs that do not require heavy labor, and women increasingly acquired the higher education that led to better-compensated, longer-term careers rather than lower-skilled, shorter-term jobs. Despite this, women are still at a disadvantage compared to men because of motherhood. Women are viewed as the primary caregiver to children still to this day, so their pay is lowered when they have children because businesses do not expect them to stay long after the birth.
The increasing rates of women contributing in the work force has led to a more equal disbursement of hours worked across the regions of the world.However, in western European countries the nature of women's employment participation remains markedly different from that of men. For example, few women are in continuous full-time employment after the birth of a first child due to the lack of childcare and because women in Britain lose 9% of their wage after their first child and 16% after their second child.
Although access to paying occupations (the "workforce") has been and remains unequal in many occupations and places around the world, scholars sometimes distinguish between "work" and "paying work", including in their analysis a broader spectrum of labor such as uncompensated household work, childcare, eldercare, and family subsistence farming.
Paid employment globally:
Workforce participation by sector:
|Africa||43% women / 42% men||11% women / 20% men||46% women / 39% men|
|Asia (excluding China)||32% women / 26% men||12% women / 25% men||56% women / 49% men|
|Latin America and the Caribbean||7% women / 22% men||13% women / 27% men||80% women / 51% men|
|Europe and other more developed regions||6% women / 8% men||15% women / 36% men||79% women / 55% men|
Occupational Dissimilarity Index:
Organizations formed by Women for rights:
Laws protecting women's rights as workers:
Women in workforce leadership:
- Committee of Women Elected Representatives of Local and Regional Authorities (Council of European Municipalities and Regions)
- BPW Europe, Business and Professional Women – Europe
- Association of Organisations of Mediterranean Businesswomen
- Eurochambres Women's Network
- European Platform of Women Scientists
- Network of Parliamentary Committees for Equal Opportunities for Women and Men in the European Union
- European Network to Promote Women's Entrepreneurship
- European Women's Lobby
- European Women's Lawyers Association
- CEE Network for Gender Issues
- European Women Inventors and Innovators Network
- European Women's Management Development International Network, EWMD
- Femanet – Eurocadres
- European Professional Women's Network, EPWN
- Women's Forum for the Economy and the Society
Barriers to equal participation:
- Prohibitions or restrictions on members of a particular gender entering a field or studying a field;
- Discrimination within a field, including wage, management, and prestige hierarchies;
- Expectation that mothers, rather than fathers, should be the primary childcare providers.
Access to education and training:
Numerous other institutions in the United States and Western Europe began opening their doors to women over the same period of time, but access to higher education remains a significant barrier to women's full participation in the workforce in developing countries. Even where access to higher education is formally available, women's access to the full range of occupational choices is significantly limited where access to primary education is limited through social custom.
Access to capital:
Discrimination within occupations:
Actions and inactions of women themselves:
Effects on the middle and upper classes:
Effects on the working class:
Occupational safety and health:
Women are at lower risk for work-related death than men. However, personal protective equipment is usually designed for typical male proportions, which can create hazards for women who have ill-fitting equipment. Women are less likely to report an occupational injury than men.