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Women have joined the workforce en masse over the past 50 years. In all that time, they’ve never gained parity with their male counterparts: women serve in far fewer leadership positions and are paid less for the same work.

As well as being an issue in terms of fairness, this is an economics problem, argues Marianne Bertrand, the Chris P. Dialynas Distinguished Service Professor of Economics and a Willard Graham Faculty Scholar, as well as faculty director of Booth’s Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation. Companies in search of talent are largely tapping into only half the talent pool. 

Solving the problem is more complex than simply hiring more women. Bertrand’s research suggests that quotas can improve gender parity on corporate boards, but that doesn’t always translate into equal pay across the company or more women in other leadership positions. Instead, the broader challenge is to chip away at the implicit biases that keep girls and women from entering male-dominated fields and adopt workplace policies that make child-rearing more gender-neutral.

Research by Bertrand and Emir Kamenica, the Richard O. Ryan Professor of Economics and a Neubauer Family Faculty Fellow, along with Booth PhD graduate Jessica Pan, AB ’05, PhD ’10, indicates how professional success can take its toll on women’s personal lives. When women outearn their husbands, couples are more likely to divorce, and women are more likely to do more housework and childcare, perhaps to compensate.

Meanwhile, at work, employers are more likely to assign credit for teamwork to men in the group, downplaying women’s contributions, according to research by Heather Sarsons, the Neubauer Assistant Professor of Economics and the Diane Swonk Faculty Fellow, and her coauthors.

“All should agree that an economy that is tapping into a limited pool (men) to find its leaders must be operating inside the efficiency frontier.”

— Marianne Bertrand

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