Expanding women's access to middle-skilled jobs in growing sectors like manufacturing and information technology (IT) could help narrow the gender pay gap and improve economic security for families.
That's the key takeaway from a new study by the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR).
Nationwide, female full-time workers made only 79 cents for every dollar earned by men last year. The wage gap widens for middle-skilled workers in female-dominated jobs, who earn just 66 cents on the dollar paid to their counterparts in male-dominated occupations.
Women hold 55 percent of all middle-skilled jobs, i.e. those requiring a high school education but not a bachelor's degree, yet they account for only a third of workers in "good," middle-skilled occupations paying between $35,000 and $102,000 a year, IWPR found. On the flipside, women represent 86 percent of middle-skilled workers making less than $30,000 annually.
"Progress on closing the gender wage gap has slowed to a halt in the last decade," IWPR's Ariane Hegewisch, the study's lead author, said in a statement. "At the same time, employers are facing a shortage in workers who can fill these fast growing jobs in middle-skill sectors. Integrating these occupations is a win-win-win for women, employers and the economy as a whole."
IWPR's research, commissioned by JPMorgan Chase as part of its New Skills at Work initiative, zeros in on higher-paid, middle-skilled occupations in the growing sectors of manufacturing, information technology (IT), and transportation, distribution, and logistics (TDL).
Women represent 29 percent of workers in middle-skilled IT jobs and fewer than 10 percent of workers in manufacturing and TDL.
For its study, IWPR experts "compared over 252 job characteristics--including training requirements, on-the-job tasks, and the attitudes, experiences and attributes of workers-- to identify middle-skill, female-dominated occupations that can serve as 'on-ramps' to male-dominated target jobs facing skills shortages."
The researchers looked at the potential economic impacts for middle-skilled women workers if they moved into similar, but higher-paying jobs predominately held by men.
If just 10 percent of middle-skilled women workers moved into these male-dominated jobs, they would see their average earnings increase by 50 percent, from $36,779 to $55,860, based on 2013 figures. Additionally, the earnings for all women would increase by 5 percent, the research showed.
Here are other findings from the study, as detailed by IWPR:
Female packaging and filling machine operators could increase their earnings by over 50 percent by becoming welders. Women make up 56 percent of packaging and filling machine operators. Similar to welders, the job requires arm-hand steadiness, manual dexterity and control precision. With additional certified training, these women could have success in this higher-paying career path. Median annual earnings for welders are $38,762, which is 50 percent higher than the $25,851 per-year earnings for packaging and filling machine operators.
Library assistants--8 in 10 of whom are women--get paid almost $24,000 less per year than IT support specialists, nearly 3 in 4 of whom are men. Based on the analysis, these two occupations share many similar characteristics, and with some additional training and education, library assistants could become IT support specialists, improving their own earnings and filling growing demand for IT workers.
IWPR reseachers say employers, policymakers and workforce developers should take steps toward creating "more gender-inclusive environments that successfully retain female talent."
"In the coming decade these occupations will have substantial job openings both from growth and from the coming retirement of many workers who are now in these jobs," the report reads. "If employers are going to successfully fill the skills gaps resulting from retirement, turnover, and employment growth in advanced manufacturing, IT, and transportation, distribution, and logistics, they can ill-afford to ignore the potential talent of women workers."