Good grades in high school and post-secondary degrees are no match in combating the age-old gender gap in workplaces – especially during parenthood – according to a new study out of the University of British Columbia.
Yue Qian, UBC sociology assistant professor and co-author of the study, analyzed school transcripts and 11 years worth of career-oriented survey responses, dated between 1988 to 1998, from 5,000 people in the U.S. aged 57 to 64.
The study compared men and woman, as well as fathers and mothers, using the number of employees a person supervises or oversees as the measure of their leadership.
As high school GPA increased from zero to 4.0, the number of employees men oversaw increased from four to about 13, while women’s employees increased from about two to five.
A more gaping difference was found when comparing men and women working as parents: Fathers with failing grades in high school had the same leadership prospects as mothers who had an ‘A’ average.
As high school GPA increased from zero to 4.0, the number of supervised employees increased from four to about 19 for fathers but changed only slightly from about two-and-a-half to four for mothers.
The study didn’t specifically look to reasons why the drastic difference exists, but pointed to the wealth of research that already exists about gender disparity in leadership roles – synonymous with “the glass ceiling” and gender wage gap.
Data shows that women are still more likely to take parental or maternity leave before returning to work part-time. Race and gender diversity within executive boards in companies across North America are also still made up mostly of heterosexual white men.
In Canada, women made up only 43 of the 538 named executive officers among Canada’s 100 largest publicly traded corporations in 2020, down from 53 in 2019.
While two decades have passed since the career surveys were filled out by study participants, Qian expects to find similar trends when more recent data becomes available.
“Many gender research scholars have found that the ‘gender revolution’ has stalled in recent years, especially since the 1990s in the U.S.,” Qian said. “In Canada we find similar trends: the female employment rate, gender wage gaps, segregation of occupations and women’s access to leadership positions are all areas where it shows.”
The pandemic has furthered the wage gap between mothers and fathers, with restrictions on child care forcing mostly women to stay home. Most of the jobs lost during the height of the pandemic were in hospitality, food services or temporary jobs, which were predominately positions filled by women.
Qian recommended that schools include anti-sexist curriculum to reduce gender stereotypes and allow girls and boys to envision the same career options. The researcher also recommended that the federal government establish better work-family policies that encourage fathers to be the primary caregiver and for work organizations to implement stronger policies that reduce bias in hiring and promoting.
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