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The State of Women at Work in the U.S.

Women face challenges that uniquely shape their work experiences—whether that’s seeking equitable compensation, career advancement, or healthy work-life balance. Meanwhile, at home, women also often have a “second shift” during which they carry the responsibilities of caregiving and housework while also carrying the “mental load,” or the responsibility of overseeing and ensuring those tasks are completed. In fact, studies have shown that women do about two more hours of housework daily than men, and they’re more likely to experience burnout.  To learn more about the state of women at work, we surveyed 2,000 American women employed either part-time or full-time.

Why it matters:

  • By seeking out women’s perspectives, we can discover valuable insights into how to support them in the workplace better than ever.
  • Ensuring the support of everyone at work increases a sense of community and inclusivity that is essential for a positive work environment and thriving culture. 

Key Takeaways

  • A total of 63% of American women are satisfied with their jobs, yet 20% are unsatisfied, indicating room for improvement. 
  • Major areas for enhancement include equal pay and fair compensation (31%), career advancement opportunities (15%), and work-life balance (13%). 
  • Significant percentages of women report lacking clear career advancement pathways (65%), flexible work options (over 1 in 4), and opportunities for professional growth (38%). 
  • Work-life balance (39%) and job security and stability (17%) are the top contributors to job satisfaction among women. 
  • There’s a distinct perspective on gender equality in the workplace, with 37% feeling it’s not addressed, 28% seeing it as insufficiently addressed, and 35% believing it’s excellently addressed. 

Can’t Get No Satisfaction

A significant percentage of women (63%) are satisfied with their jobs, indicating that many women are, indeed, thriving at work. However, a notable 20% report being unsatisfied, which indicates that there is still work to be done. 

Several factors contribute to anyone’s happiness with a job, and for the women we surveyed, 38% reported work-life balance as the most significant factor in their overall job satisfaction. Like many other people since the pandemic, the ability to unplug and tune in with our lives outside of work has become essential for workers. 

Work-life balance was the biggest factor by a hefty margin. However, job security and stability (17%) and autonomy and independence in their roles (14%) are also important to women. According to another report by McKinsey & Company in 2023, women are also proving to be more ambitious in the workforce, indicating that their satisfaction also relies on how much control they have over their schedules and the scope of their positions. As women become more ambitious in the workforce, work-life balance helps women (and everyone) achieve their career goals without risking burnout or sacrificing aspects of their personal lives. 

It may come as a surprise that equal pay and fair compensation trailed behind, with 11%, but this is not to say that this issue is unimportant, and we’ll dive into this later. 

The Glass Ceiling and The Broken Rung

A substantial 65% of women reported a lack of clear pathways for advancement, and 38% rarely have opportunities for professional growth, such as training, courses, and workshops. In addition, 27% feel inadequately supported by their employers in terms of both personal and professional development. 

Women have worked to break through the glass ceiling, but the “broken rung” may be as challenging of an obstacle when it comes to career advancement. The broken rung is another metaphorical obstacle that prevents women from progressing beyond entry-level positions. 

These findings speak to both of these barriers women face in the workplace. What’s more, according to the aforementioned report from 2023, women are actually asking for promotions and negotiating raises as often as men but are not receiving them at the same rate as men. The pathways become even more unclear when women continue to come up against these barriers. 

Striking the Right Balance 

Work-life balance has become a hot topic since the pandemic, but especially for women. Our findings revealed that 1 in 10 American women rate their work-life balance as poor, and 1 in 4 have no flexible work options, such as remote work and flexible schedules. 

Work-life balance and flexible work options often go hand-in-hand, and these findings indicate that work-life balance is what women desire most. Yet, many women have still not gotten it. 

Our findings also align with broader trends in remote work. Another recent survey found that 98% of workers want to work from home at least some of the time, but only 16% of companies operate fully remotely. There’s also a gender disparity here, with more men (38%) working remotely full-time than women (30%). 

This imbalance raises questions about access and equity to remote work, especially given that remote workers, on average, earn $19,000 more than in-office workers. 

All these findings combined highlight the potential barriers women face in accessing flexible work options conducive to maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Gender Equality in the Workplace 

Gender equality is another area women feel could be improved in the workplace. The women we surveyed identified equal pay and fair compensation as the area requiring the most improvement (31%), with career advancement being the second-biggest concern, with 15%. 

Additionally, 37% of women feel their employers are not addressing gender equality in the workplace, and 28% feel it’s addressed but insufficiently so. However, 35% believe their employers have excellently addressed gender equality. 

One of the biggest impacts on gender equality in the workplace is the gender pay gap. While this gap has been closing over the years, women overall still make 16% less than men, or $0.84 for every $1 a man earns. The gap is even wider for women of color. 

Gender equality is also lacking in leadership. According to the McKinsey report, as of 2023, only 28% of C-suite positions are women, and women of color make up only 6%. At the managerial level, 87 women are promoted for every 100 men. And, just like at the C-suite level, that number decreases for women of color. This is another example of how the broken rung impacts women’s advancement from the very beginning. 

Where Do the Most Satisfied Women Work? 

Working women may still face many challenges at work, but certain cities and industries stand out as havens for female employee satisfaction. Miami, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco each boast satisfaction rates of 90% or higher. San Jose and Tampa are not far behind, with 89% and 88%, respectively. 

Analyzing satisfaction by industry reveals that the most satisfied female employees are found in real estate (85%), manufacturing (79%), energy and utilities (78%), healthcare (72%), and insurance sectors (70%). Real estate’s number one spot aligns with our other findings, as professions in real estate often afford women autonomy in setting schedules, determining income potential, and cultivating their businesses.

These highly-rated industries are also prominent in the highly-rated cities. For example, Miami’s economy is primarily driven by tourism. However, transportation, professional services, education, healthcare, and finance are also prominent—all of which had a satisfaction rate of 51% or higher for women. 

Similarly, Salt Lake City’s largest industries are education, healthcare, and professional services. San Francisco and San Jose’s most prominent industries are (to no surprise) IT and software, biotech, healthcare, and manufacturing. Women are finding the work they’re happiest with in these cities. 

Additionally, we wanted to know how government and non-government employees fared. Notably, female government employees report slightly higher satisfaction rates than those with non-government jobs, with 68% reporting satisfaction versus 63%. This discrepancy may stem from the perceived job security, benefits, and flexible work arrangements often associated with government positions.

Whether it’s the autonomy and flexibility offered by real estate or the stability and benefits associated with government roles, these cities and industries provide conducive settings where women can thrive in their careers while maintaining a satisfying work-life balance.

Despite a significant percentage of women being satisfied at work, our research shows that a lack of work-life balance, the persistent gender pay gap, and disparities in career advancement opportunities are still issues that women face. However, employers and policymakers have the power to create more equitable and satisfying work environments for women. 

Employers can prioritize initiatives that promote inclusivity, flexibility, and advancement opportunities for women across all industries and regions. At an even higher level, policymakers play a pivotal role in addressing systemic barriers that prevent women from thriving more at work. But, by harnessing the power of community and fostering inclusivity, everyone can forge a future where all women have the opportunity to lead fulfilling lives and careers.

Stephanie Self loves to tell stories and expose new perspectives through writing. When she's not typing on a laptop or buried in a book, she loves watching horror movies and pro wrestling, playing video games, and snuggling with her cat, CleoCatra. Lest you should think she never sees the light of day, she also spends time practicing hot yoga, hiking, and traveling.

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