It has always seemed like an insurmountable injustice. Despite the social advances we’ve made in so many other areas in the last 50 years, the gender wage gap has been perplexingly persistent, yielding no indication that anything will ever change. But futurist David Houle insists that within 20 years, that deplorable gap will finally be closed.
I’ve written for years about the injustice inherent in the gender wage gap, and I’ve been as frustrated as anyone by the excuses that are so predictably made to try to justify it or explain it away. According to a report released last year by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, full-time working women in the United States make only 82.2 percent of the median weekly earnings of their male counterparts. For software developers, that figure is a bit higher—about 86 percent—but still outrageously unjust.
It makes a lot of us wonder if anything will ever change. But Houle, author of “Entering the Shift Age: The End of the Information Age and the New Era of Transformation,” which was just released on Friday, says it absolutely will, and it will happen within 20 years.
I asked Houle what will change to finally make it happen, and he said you have to look a bit into the past to see the future:
When we went from a production economy to an information economy, the asset of physical strength was no longer valued. It became a knowledge economy—the single advantage that men have over women, which is strength, was no longer a defining job necessity. In the last seven to 10 years, in the developed countries of the world, 60 percent of undergraduates have been women. Sixty-five percent of those who get master’s degrees are women. So if there is any correlation between higher education and career success, and there still is over the long term, then that points to women being on an ascendancy. Strength and hierarchies are no longer valid—and men are more hierarchical than women; women are dominating across the board in all sectors of education. Women are much more networked and socially-oriented. The shift age, by 2030, will be looked back on as the age that eliminated millennia-old gender profiles.
Another disturbing statistic relating to gender inequality in the workplace is that only 4 percent of CEOs of Fortune 1000 companies are women. Houle predicts that figure will rise to 40 percent by 2030:
As soon as the baby boomers start leaving the C-suite, the change will accelerate. Millennials don’t have the sexism that baby boomers were raised in. Millennials were raised in households where Mom and Dad both worked. They don’t have any of the stereotypes—they assume that women are equal; they’ve been raised that way. That’s a different mindset. When you look at the corporate suites in America, they’re overwhelmingly baby boomers, at least in the Fortune 1000—they’ve moved up the corporate ladder. The millennials don’t think in terms of rungs on ladders. So I think that metric will be slow to change initially, and then will change really quickly. By 2030, it will be 40 percent. It’s really just a generational legacy issue.
By the way, on a completely different note, since I had the opportunity to speak with someone whose career is all about forecasting what we can expect to see in the future, I asked Houle to tell me what’s happening today that he would never have imagined 10 years ago. I found his response quite interesting:
I’m surprised that in the election of 2012, the conversation was still about class warfare. I’m surprised that governments around the world are the most limiting factor in innovation and human potential that exists. So governments, which are supposed to lead, are way behind the people. I’m surprised that governments haven’t adapted as quickly as they will have to.