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Women A Force in the Los Angeles Workforce

Women have recovered all jobs lost since the 2008 economic recession, while men lag in regaining the 6 million jobs lost according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics released in November. Today there are 67.6 million women in the workforce, up from 67.4 million in March 2008. By comparison, there are 69.2 million men working today, which still lags from the 70.9 million peak in June 2007. Based on the current data and workforce trends, women are poised to exert much greater workplace power in the years ahead. At the same time women in certain industries are poised to climb to the c-suite.  Sectors that have weathered the financial crisis and are now experiencing significant growth are more often women-led industries. Areas in which women are regaining jobs are in the healthcare, education, hospitality, and retail industries. Meanwhile, in male-dominated sectors, like construction and manufacturing, men are struggling to recoup from the economic downturn altogether. Embodying the influence women are bringing into the workforce is General Motor’s Mary Barra.  In December, Barra was named the next chief executive officer of General Motors, becoming the first woman to be made executive head of a major U.S. auto company. In a male-dominated industry, Barra is of the few women to ascend to the highest ranks. It is clear the job market and the prospect of future prosperity for women is growing.  However, a major problem remains – women struggle with advancing into higher level management and executive positions. According to a recent report from management consulting firm McKinsey & Co., 83 percent of middle management women have a strong desire to move to a higher level in their companies.  However, their chances of landing a senior-level executive job are 60 percent compared to those of men. The study points to certain barriers women face in advancing their careers, including institutional mindsets that hold women to a different standard than men and structural obstacles that impede women from receiving the same opportunities as men. As a labor economist, I think it is both prudent and virtuous for local policymakers and industry leaders to support advancing women in the workforce. On a statewide level, California has taken an important step by urging public companies to add more women on their corporate boards. In September 2013, the California legislature approved Senate Concurrent Resolution 62 to “encourage equitable and diverse gender representation.”  This measure encourages greater gender diversity on corporate boards.   The resolution urges publicly owned companies in California with nine or more directors place at least three women, companies with five to eight seats have a minimum of two women, and those with fewer than five seats have one woman on its board. As the state’s policymakers encourage the statewide business community to clear the path for more women in upper levels, I believe the Los Angeles region needs to follow suit. The Los Angeles business community has a tremendous opportunity to benefit from the rise of women in the workplace, and policymakers at the county and city level should take action. The Los Angeles business community should aid women who desire to ascend into higher ranks in the workplace.  Chambers of commerce, local business groups, and elected officials should encourage active participation in career-accelerating activities, like mentorships and networking geared toward women. I recommend the business community enlist companies committed to developing career advancement practices for women and achieving SCR 62 recommendations, and hold them to this standard. Companies who fulfill these standards should be praised and be seen as a model for the business community. Institutions of higher education also have a role. Business schools should foster gender parity in class composition. Within MBA programs, the percent of students who are female in the U.S. is an estimated 30-35 percent. Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management aims to close this gap. We are encouraging women to earn their MBA by offering significantly more financial aid (up to 50 percent of tuition for top-performers), greater flexibility in hours and locations to take classes, as well as clubs, events and business-to-student mentoring opportunities.  However, we know more needs to be done. SCR 62 is an important step in creating meaningful change and demonstrates California’s commitment to transforming the labor market landscape and its occupants. As the nation continues to bounce back from the recession and women seek to advance into higher ranks, the Los Angeles business community is well-equipped to lead the country in integration of strategies that encourage diversity and women in the workplace so that we have more stories like Barra’s to tell. Dr. Dave Smith is an associate professor of economics and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management.

Published originally in the Los Angeles Business Journal.