A Snapshot of Progress Among Women in the Workforce

A Look at How Women Have Progressed in the Workplace Over the Last Four Decades

March 6, 2018

While the rate of progress for women to achieve economic parity has been slow, it’s important to shine a light on the progress that has been made, and make time to say thank you to the women in our lives who have helped us push for progress personally and professionally. So, in honor of this year’s International Women’s Day happening on March 8, we wanted to highlight progress made by women in the long and short term.

The 2017 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report found that gender parity is over 200 years away, and LinkedIn data reinforces that the rate of progress for women has been slow: over the past 10 years, the proportion of female leaders in the workforce has increased by an average of just over 2 percentage points among the 12 industries we studied.

More Women Entering STEM Fields Than Any Other Roles

Encouragingly, we’re seeing significant growth  in women joining the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) sector. In the last four decades, women are making progress in these roles, as well as the public safety and construction industries, indicating a strong trend of women being better represented amongst traditionally male-dominated roles and industries.

Roles that Have Seen the Most Change in Female Representation (% Change)

When we looked at the movement of women in the workforce over the last 40 years, we found the top roles are STEM-based roles. Also notably, female architects have made significant progress over the 40 year period, going from under 25% women, to now being close to 50%.

  • Roles

But, not all STEM roles are attracting women at equal rates. Despite the surge of women entering the industry in the last 40 years, software developers have seen very little change, with women making up just over 20% of total professionals, and the number of female data analysts actually dropping more than 10%.

Industries That Have Seen The Most Change in Female Representation (% Change)

  • industry

This shows  progress is happening, but it’s happening slowly. In the last several decades there has been a nearly 25% increase in female representation overall in the Software & IT industry -- despite slow growth in developer roles -- and nearly 30% change in Hardware & Networking. We’re also seeing a rise in women being hired into traditionally male-dominated industries, such as construction and agriculture, albeit still holding traditionally female-dominated roles in functions like marketing and HR.

Women in Leadership Roles Are Continuing to Make Strides

We also took a look back at the recent shift of hiring of female leaders in the last eight years, and again we’re seeing a higher rate of change among traditionally male-dominated industries. But no matter the industry, soft skills like leadership and management are present among nearly every group of female leaders.  

Industries With the Highest Rate of Change Among Female Leadership Hires & Top Skills

1) Software & IT Services (+27% change in female leadership hires)

Top Skills of Female Leaders: Business Development, Leadership, ManagementProject Management, Strategy

2) Manufacturing (+26% change in female leadership hires)

Top Skills of Female Leaders: Customer Service, Management, Microsoft Office, Project Management, Strategic Planning

3) Entertainment (+24% change in female leadership hires

Top Skills of Female Leaders: Entertainment, Film, Social Media, Television, Video Production

4) Hardware & Networking (+23% change in female leadership hires)

Top Skills of Female Leaders: Business Development, Leadership, Management, Project Management, Telecommunications

5) Public Safety (+21% change in female leadership hires)

Top Skills of Female Leaders: Government, Leadership, Management, Microsoft Office, Public Speaking

You can brush up on all of these skills on LinkedIn Learning. We’ve also created learning paths and courses to help you gain expertise on the most common skills among women in leadership positions. Learn more here, and take a look at courses that highlight top skills of women in leadership, such as Thinking Like a Leader or Business Development Foundations.

While we are making strides to encourage more women to enter traditionally male-dominated fields, there is still work to be done. One of the key aspects to closing the gender gap is to identify where we have made progress, tackle challenges to continue closing the hiring gap, and provide more opportunities for women. It’s also important to take the time to acknowledge the women who have helped drive the progress that has been made. This week, we invite you to take a moment to thank a woman who has helped you #PressforProgress in your industry or more specifically, your career.

Other contributors to this piece include Nick Eng, senior data scientist on the Economic Graph analytics team.


To generate this analysis, LinkedIn looked at a member’s first position after earning an Associate’s Degree or Bachelor’s Degree (limited to 4 years after graduation, and excluding internships) to understand what types of roles women were entering each decade. To generate growth figures, we compared women entering the workforce between 1978 - 1987 to those entering between 2008 - 2017 to understand the differences between the two decades. This data was examined at a global level across LinkedIn’s platform, however only countries where at least two-thirds of members had associated genders were included.