Working Women May Be More Educated, But are We Getting Ahead?

Why aren't women getting ahead?When I am working with a female coaching client, sometimes the question arises as to whether or not further studies would be a smart idea. This is most often for women who already have one, if not several degrees – but who feel that something intangible is holding them back. Something perhaps that a another qualification could rectify?

While I have a PhD myself, so am a fan of education, I do encourage my female coaching clients to look at the degrees (or lack thereof) of their male colleagues before deciding if such a huge commitment is warranted.  Still, increasing numbers of women are voting with their feet by attending university in droves.

As described in a recent article in the Economist on “The World of Blue Stockings” “The big surprise of the past few decades has been women’s huge advance into tertiary education. Across rich countries the share of those aged over 25 who have had some form of higher education is now 33%, against 28% of men in the same age group …. However, it is too soon to feel sorry for men. Although women now earn more first degrees, they mostly still get fewer PhDs and if they stay on in academia they are promoted more slowly than men.”

As the authors explain: “Crucially, women’s lead at first-degree level does not so far seem to have translated into better job opportunities. In a paper published earlier this year Ina Ganguli, Ricardo Hausmann and Martina Viarengo of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government concluded that the achievement of educational parity is a “cheque in the mail” that may encourage women to join the labour force, but lots of other factors—such as cultural attitudes and the availability of child care—also play a part. On its own, educational parity—even superiority—is not enough.

The authors continue: “Women may not be helping themselves by concentrating heavily on subjects that set them apart from men. In rich countries they account for over 70% of degrees in humanities and health, whereas the vast majority of degrees in mathematics and engineering go to men. Women with humanities degrees are less likely to be in demand for jobs in high-tech industries, which tend to pay well. At postgraduate level the gap between subjects gets even bigger. And on MBA courses, the classic avenue to senior corporate jobs, women make up only about a third of the students.” Let me know if this is at all familiar? Have you put in the time for a degree, but feel you are still waiting for that “cheque in the mail”?

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