Knowledge Center

Statistical Overview of Women in the Workforce


The Labor Force Participation of Women Has Increased Over 28% Since 19781 

In 1978 women made up 35.9% of the labor force compared to 46.1% as of June 2015.2 

Women's Growth in Top Management Positions Is Increasing But at a  Slower Rate3

Women made up 16.3% of CEO positions in 2015-2016.4

Although 28.5% of key management personnel positions were held by women in 2015-2016, one-quarter of organizations had no women in those positions in the previous year.5

  • Women held 34.1% of senior management roles in 2015-2016.6

  • Women represented 24.7% of board directors in 2015-16 (12.7% of boards have targets in place).7


Overall the Participation of Women in the Labor Force Continues to Grow8

Women were 47.3% of the total  labor force in 20169 compared to 37.1% in 1976.10

More men are in the labor force.

  • 61.3% of all women were in the labor force compared to 70.3% of all men (15 years and older). 11

The number of working mothers continues to grow.12

  • Between1976 and 2007, employment for mothers with children under six years old more than doubled from 31.5% to 68.1%.13

Women's Progress in Reaching Senior Management Positions Has Stalled14 

Men are two to three times more likely to be in a senior management position than are women.15

  • Women hold 34.8% of all management positions and 37.1% of all senior management positions.16

Canada Has a National Goal of 30% Women on Boards by 201917
  • According to one report, women held 20.5% of board seats in 2015.18 


Women's Participation in the Labor Force Continues to Fall
  • Women's labor force participation rate fell from 34.8% in 1990 to just 26.7% in 2014.19
  • In 2016, women held 16.0% of senior leadership roles.20

According to one report, women held 11.2% of board seats in 2015.21 


Women Leave the Labor Force When They Marry or Have Children22

Women made up just 43.1% of the total labor force in 2015.23


  • The labor force participation rate for women in 2015 was 49.6% compared to 70.3% for men.24

  • Only 7% of senior leadership roles were held by women in 2016.25

Women held 0.8% of board chairs and 2.4% of board seats in 2014.26


United States

Women's Growing Labor Force Participation Peaked in 1999 at 60.0%27 


Women's share of the total labor force was 46.8% in 2016.28

  • 56.8% of all women 16 years and over were in the labor force in 2016, compared to 69.2% of all men.29

Women held 51.5% of management, professional and related positions.30

  • Women currently hold 26 (or 5.2%) CEO positions at S&P 500 companies.31

61.5% of all mothers with children under the age of three are in the labor force.32

  • In 2015, the labor force participation rate of parents with children under the age of 18 was 69.9% for mothers and 92.7% for fathers.33

The first woman CEO to appear on a Fortune list was Katharine Graham, Washington Post Co., in 1972. 34

  • As of Fortune’s 2018 published list, there have been 68 individual women in Fortune 500 CEO roles in total. 35 *This figure was updated on May 24, 2018

Women made up 20.2% (1,100) of board seats of the Fortune 500 in 2016.36

  • Minority women made of 3.8% (207) of 2016 boards seats of the Fortune 500.37 

  • 85.6% of board seats on the Fortune 500 were held by White/Caucasian people in 2016.38

  • 7.9% of board seats on the Fortune 500 were held by African-Americans in 2016.39




Globally, Women’s Labor Force Participation Rate Decreased from 52.4% to 49.6% Between 1995 and 201540


The odds that a woman will participate in the labor force remains almost 30% less than they are for a man.41

  • Still, an additional quarter of a billion women have entered the labor force since 2006.42

Over 60% of the world's employed women work in the services sector.43

Women Face a Gender Wage Gap Globally, Earning 77% of What Men Earn44


In 2015, the global average annual earnings for women were $11,000, compared to men 's earnings of $21,000.45

Women held only 12% of the world’s board seats in 2015.46 


Catalyst Resources


Catalyst, Women in Australia (2015).

Catalyst, Women in Japan (2015).

Catalyst, Quick Take: Women in the Workforce: Canada.

Catalyst, Quick Take: Women in the Workforce: India.

Additional Resources

Deloitte, Women in the Boardroom: A Global Perspective (2015).

The World Bank, "Labor Force Participation Rate, Female (% of Female Population Ages 15+) (Modeled ILO Estimate)," The World Bank Databank (2016).

The World Economic Forum, The Global Gender Gap Report 2016 (2016).


How to cite this product: Catalyst, Quick Take: Statistical Overview of Women in the Workplace (August 18, 2017).