For those who missed it, PEW released an interesting study on the pay gap between men and women -- a perennial favorite since apparently the "pay gap" has apparently been one of these immutable things. Except for anyone willing to actually dig below headlines and look at deeper demographic trends a number of thing have been clear for some time.
I have long held the following theories from this and similar reports, as well as a general survey of demographic trends.
1. A good deal of the persistence in the pay gap comes from the relatively slow shift in management based on generational shift. That includes all other aspects of the production food chain, such as access to capital for businesses. As long as management making the decisions derived from a generation that internalized core sexist ideas was still calling the shots, there was an upper bound to change. As Miles Vorkosigan so aptly put it at the end of Brothers in Arms "some attitudes can only be outlived."
As we move through the demographic snake, we will continue to see a general rise in pay parity between women and men.
1a. In point of fact, demographic trends point to a reversal of the problem in approximately 20-25 years unless corrective action is taken simply as a function of education, training and drive. We have had more women than men graduating with college degrees for awhile. Women dominating in all higher ed fields, with the exception of STEM, has been the trend more recently, but appears to be holding. The impact of this has been somewhat muted by the bad job market, but if the trend holds it will have significant impact going forward.
2. The PEW poll on attitudes reflects the continued problem of dealing with pay gap and work conditions as "women's issues" rather than "family issues" impacting all of us. Most notable is the shift of attitudes on work and children. Women view having children as a career barrier, and expect to make career sacrifices to have children. Men see having children as when they need to get serious about their careers. This is reflected in hours worked for full time position, as noted by PEW in this article here (explaining how they get a different result than BLS). 26% of men in full time jobs report working more than 40 hours a week, whereas only 14% of women similarly employed report similarly working more than 40 hours.
Certainly some of that is reflected in the nature of work, such as the continued preponderance of men in management positions (which tend to be salary w/out overtime rather than salaried with overtime), but it also reflects a cultural attitude. These things tend to be intertwined.
As a personal observation, the system tends to be reenforcing by providing an even more limited "daddy track" than a "mommy track." For men trying to parent and work, we are very much where we were about 30 years ago for women. Men taking parental leave face severe social and economic penalties in most employment situations. The Mommy Track may be lower pay and lower prestige, but the Daddy Track is usually to unemployment except for a handful of jobs. While this is changing in response to demographic trends, it is changing at a glacially slow rate.
3. While not covered in PEW, recent studies and personal articles about women in STEM demonstrate that the idea that "all we have to do is treat everyone the same and the problem goes away" is ignorant nonsense. Silicon Valley in particular has a sorry reputation of operating with a "frat boy" atmosphere in the sort of quiet sexism that is difficult to quantify but very effective at driving women out and discouraging women from advancing professionally.
Workplaces need to be structured as artificial environments to get work done. The problem of the "relaxed" environment is that it tends to drop to least common denominator. Unsurprisingly, 'least common denominator' is dictated by the tolerance of the majority culture within the workplace.
I would note in passing on this that for those professions that have historically been (and remain) women-dominated, such as nursing and K-6 education, we tend to have the reverse problem. This is because culture w/in a particular cluster tends to be persistent over time and respond to leadership.
My curmudgeonly prediction is that we will continue as a Society to fail to address this in any meaningful way. So that leaves working through the demographic snake and individual/targeted efforts. The rise of women in various professions has created a body of mentors and social capital that is starting to pay off. As leadership at Fortune 500 companies shifts to the next generation, we are slowly populating their ranks with women (African Americans and other minorities continue to suffer lag, for reasons that require an entirely different post).
A side effect of this is that we can expect a dramatic shift once the demographic shift happens. The previously glacial pace as a result of deferring retirement and other demographic trends that extended career/life expectancy will be replaced by sudden rapid "tipping point" over the next 15 years.