Backwards and in High Heels – Women Report Little Change in Workplace Challenge

Women are now more likely than men to attend and graduate from college, to perform better academically, and to attain an advanced degree.  A majority of those in management and professional careers are now women, according to the Department of Labor (up from one-third in 1985).

Yet, the latest NBC Wall Street Journal  poll co-conducted by POS founding partner Bill McInturff and Democratic pollster Peter Hart shows a stubborn lack of change in perception of the challenges women feel they face.  In 2000, 44 percent of women said they had “personally experienced discrimination” because they are a woman.  Thirteen years later?  Just as many women – 46 percent – report being discriminated against, with a significant increase indicating that discrimination took place in the workplace (26 percent in 2000, 35 percent today):

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Moreover, the young college co-eds sitting in class with their female peers may be in for a bit of a shock.  More educated, higher income women are the most likely to say they have experienced discrimination in the workplace.

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One of the more interesting dynamics in the data is that the youngest women are the most apt to say they have experienced discrimination (52 percent total; 40 percent in the workplace).  Is their definition of “discrimination” the same as the travails of Mad Men era women?  Or even for those of us who entered the workforce not long after the main character in the 1988 movie Working Girl announced that “I’m not gonna spend the rest of my life working my ass off and getting nowhere just because I followed rules that I had nothing to do with setting up.”  A recent Catalyst survey of those in their mid-20s to mid-30s indicated that 42 percent of women in that age group believe they have had to overcompensate to get the same rewards at work as men.   Like the famous description of Fred Astaire’s dance partner, Ginger Rogers, referenced in this article’s title, they truly do believe they are doing everything that men are doing – just backward and in high heels.

And finally – like almost everything on which we poll – there is a partisan distinction in this data.  A Republican woman – irrespective of her age category – is far less likely to believe she has experienced discrimination than her Independent and Democratic sisters.  In turn, women who voted for Obama were 12 points more likely to say they had experienced work place discrimination than women who voted for Romney (38 percent, as compared to 26 percent).   Having interviewed hundreds of women in focus groups last fall, this data does illuminate some of the dynamics that came into play in swing women’s vote decisions.  It might even help explain how a campaign that tagged itself with the mantra “Forward” ended up playing better to an audience that’s tired of dancing backward.

Public Opinion Strategies