Despite comparable levels of commitment, women don’t advance at the same rate as men

In the past 40 years, women have assumed a larger role in the U.S. workforce. While roughly two out of five women worked for pay in the early 1970s, almost three out of five do so today[1]. But Julie Kmec, a Washington State University sociologist, has repeatedly seen how their roles, wages and mobility continue to differ dramatically from those of their male peers.

In a study of some 800 law firms, she found that a woman’s chance of promotion decreases as she advances. Nearly 40 percent of entry-level associates were women, but only 25 percent of new partners were. Kmec and a fellow researcher found that on average, the mobility rate of women fell by more than half on the path from entry-level employment to partnership.

Studying a nationally representative sample of 2,000 workers, Kmec saw that employed mothers were more engaged than fathers at work and had equal levels of commitment, intensity and motivation. The findings put to rest several myths negatively impacting mothers’ pay and promotion.

Kmec has also seen the role that policies can have on gender diversity in the workplace. In a unique study of more than 200,000 private U.S. companies, she saw a relationship between state equal employment policies and the representation of women in management, where they are typically under-represented. In states with the highest levels of sex-based equal employment opportunity protections, women had from 2 to 9 percent greater representation in top management. Those state statues went beyond federal laws, demonstrating the power of state policies in shaping company diversity.