Can the US Really be Going Backwards in Gender Parity?

Mercer’s Pat Milligan, the Global Leader of Multinational Client Group and When Women Thrive, delivered some good news and bad news in a briefing last week on Capitol Hill. She had been invited by Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY) to speak with the New Democrat Coalition to talk about our groundbreaking global research on women in the workforce, called “When Women Thrive.” To start with the bad news: The US is losing ground to other advanced nations on gender parity, which is measured in four areas:

  • Economic participation and opportunity
  • Educational attainment
  • Political empowerment
  • Health & survival

The US fell 4 places to #49 last year due to women’s decline in the “political empowerment” sub-index. Not that we’re doing so great in “economic participation and opportunity,” either! In fact, we’ll be writing a separate post on a relevant example of gender pay inequity -- a recent study out of Maryland that found female doctors in the state make about $100K less annually then male doctors. That’s particularly galling when paired with the finding (from a study on the Medicare population) that patients with female doctors live longer, and particularly upsetting in light of the fact that while more women enter med school, fewer are practicing physicians.

The good news is…well, the size of the economic opportunity if we could stop doing “business as usual.” By achieving gender parity in the workforce, management consultant Mckinsey estimates we could add $12T to the global GDP by 2025. The opportunity in the US alone is over $4T. Also in the good news category, Pat shared success stories of a number of Fortune 500 companies that have taken steps to promote gender equality in the workplace and are thriving.

Pat pushed the legislators to take action on several fronts: To keep pushing for equal pay for equal work, and to start where the work; to encourage female participation in STEM fields, starting in early school years; and to encourage apprenticeships for women without college degrees. She also described the #metoo movement as an inflection point in the battle against sexual harassment, with momentum for change that we can’t afford to waste.

According to others at the briefing, the 25-odd coalition members attending were highly engaged in the conversation, asking good questions, leaning in. It’s not surprising. The Coalition describes its members as “committed to pro-economic growth, pro-innovation, and fiscally responsible practices.” True gender equality would advance every item on their agenda.

Beth Umland
by Beth Umland

Director of Research, Health, Mercer

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