The U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS) released some unsettling data last year regarding women’s participation rates in the labour force.

According to the BLS, the participation rate for all U.S. workers in 2012 was 63.6 percent, the lowest rate for men or women since 1981. Women were the largest demographic segment exiting the labour force, however, with a participation rate in April, 2012 of 57.6 percent (versus men’s participation rate of 70.2 percent). The participation rate for women was down from its April 2000 peak when it was 60.3 percent.

Women in the workforce better able to weather economic storm

Women weathered the recent recession better than men because their jobs tend to cluster in more recession-proof jobs in the health, education, hospitality, and retail industries, making the participation rate data particularly perplexing (Parker, 2012; House, 2013).

To make matters worse, the BLS report also noted that in the 12 months preceding the April 2012 report, 90 percent of the 1.3 million jobs that were created went to men. Women only gained 149,000 of those created jobs.

Gender discrimination in the workplace?

The labour force participation rate for women fell even for women working at Working Mother magazine’s 100 Best Companies. In 2012, women comprised 51 percent of all employees in these companies, as compared to 46 percent in 2013.

In these "Best Companies," where special attention is paid to developing and retaining women leaders, women represent 43 percent of all managers, 34 percent of all senior-level managers, and 23 percent of corporate executives, a significantly higher representation than in corporate America overall, where only 14 percent of executive officers are women and 8 percent of top earners at Fortune 500 companies are women (Stone 2013).

Even Top 100 companies that are doing better than American companies overall are still suffering from the downward trend in women’s participation in the labour force.

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What do you think is the key to retaining women in the workplace?  Is there a benefit to greater female participation? How do you think these statistics compare to the UK? Share your thoughts below.

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