The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Equal Opportunity and Women - Fact Sheet

Americans for a Fair Chance - January 1, 2004

Equal opportunity is a tool to provide qualified individuals with equal access to opportunities. Equal opportunity programs, including recruitment, outreach, and training initiatives, have played a critical role in providing women with access to educational and professional opportunities they would otherwise have been denied despite their strong qualifications.

Although progress has been made over the last 30 years, ensuring equal opportunity for women remains an elusive goal. Continued use of equal opportunity is necessary to help break down barriers to opportunity and ensure that all Americans have a fair chance to demonstrate their talents and abilities. Consider the following facts:

Pay Inequity

  • Women earn approximately 77 cents for every dollar men earn. Minority women fare significantly worse - black women earn 66 cents, while Hispanic women earn 56 cents for every dollar men earn. ("Highlights of Women's Earnings in 1999," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, May 2000)
  • In 2001, the median annual earnings of white males with a four-year college degree was $55,307, while white women with the same educational attainment earned $40,192. Black women and Hispanic women with the same education credentials suffered from an even larger gap. Black women with equal college credentials earned $36,253, while Hispanic women with equal college credentials earned only $34,060. Also, on average, a woman with a master's degree makes $4,765 less than a man with a college degree. ("The Wage Gap by Education," National Committee on Pay Equity: 2001")

Glass Ceiling

  • Today, women remain severely underrepresented in non-traditional occupations even though these jobs pay 20-30 percent more than traditionally female jobs. In 2002, for example, women were only 10.8 percent of all engineers; 1.4 percent of all auto mechanics; 1.8 percent of all carpenters; 30.6 percent of all doctors; and 29.2 percent of all lawyers. (Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, Table 11, June 2003)
  • The U.S. Department of Labor's Glass Ceiling Commission report, released in March 1995, showed that while white men are only 43 percent of the Fortune 2000 work force, they hold 95 percent of the senior management jobs. A report from Catalyst reveals that only 4.1 percent of the top-earnings officers in Fortune 500 companies are women. ("Census of Women Corporate Officers and Top Earners of the Fortune 500," Catalyst, 2000)
  • Sex discrimination, including sexual harassment, continues to be a serious barrier to the advancement of women. Last year, 25,194 individual sex discrimination complaints were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This number includes over 15,800 sexual harassment claims - up significantly from the 10,500 filed in 1992. (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Sex-Based Charges FY 1992 - FY 2000)
  • Even though women-owned firms represent an estimated 28 percent of all businesses in the United States, their firms have obtained a mere 2.9 percent of the $235.4 billion in federal government contracts awarded in fiscal year 2002. This is still short of the five percent goal Congress established in 1994. (Center for Women's Business Research; National Women's Business Council, Federal Contracting with Women-Owned Businesses FY1997-FY2002, August 2003)

Equal opportunity programs in education not only ensure that women and girls have equal access to quality education but also encourage females to enter traditionally male-dominated fields where it is well-documented that salaries are often higher.

  • Although in 2001 women earned 57.3 percent of all bachelor's degrees and 58.5 percent of all master's degrees, they still earned only 46.2 percent of doctorate degrees, and remain underrepresented in areas not traditionally studied by women. According to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, in 1998 women earned only 17 percent of undergraduate and 12 percent of doctorate degrees in engineering and only about 25 percent of doctorate degrees in math and physical sciences. (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2001)
  • By 2010, one in four new jobs will be "technically-oriented," or involving computers. However, women still lag far behind in earning computer technology degrees and working in computer technology-related professions. High school girls represent only 17 percent of computer science AP test takers and college-educated women earn only 27 percent of bachelor's degrees in computer science (down from 37 percent in 1984) and 16.3 percent of doctorate degrees in computer science. Overall, women comprise roughly 20 percent of IT professionals. ("Tech Savvy: Educating Girls in the New Computer Age," American Association for University Women, 2000)

Equal opportunity programs have opened up job opportunities for qualified women to achieve higher wages, advance in the workplace, and seek nontraditional careers that make them better able to meet the financial needs of their families.

  • A Department of Labor study estimated that 5 million minority workers and 6 million women are in higher occupational classifications today than they would have been without the equal opportunity policies of the 1960s and 1970s. ("Affirmative Action Helps Boost Women's Pay and Promotes Economic Security for Women and Their Families," National Partnership for Women and Families)

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