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12 Ways the Workplace Could Change for Women in the Next 30 Years

Women overall still make less than men. Some things are changing for the better—some things aren't.

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Women’s work equality—the good, the bad, and the ugly

The number of women working in the United States is projected to reach a whopping 92 million by 2050, according to a 2002 report in the Monthly Labor Review. But as of this writing, there’s still no federal policy that mandates maternity leave for all American women; women still only earn 82 cents for every dollar that men do (and that number is even worse for minorities); and many positions of power remain firmly tilted in favor of men (hello, presidential elections of 2016 and 2020). Nevertheless, women have persisted. This past January, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, bringing it back to life, more companies are offering paid leave, flexible work arrangements, and seeing women moved to their boards, and in some fields, the strides have been exponential. Find out all the ways women still aren’t equal to men and then take a look at the changes to come.

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STEM careers get a boost

It’s true, women still lag men in STEM careers and the difference is even more striking and abysmal for Black women in STEM, as Scientific American reports. However, certain programs and initiatives meant to have a positive effect on women in STEM are actually working. For example, companies committed to pay equity have seen a 113 percent boost in women employees; and those that provide women STEM employees with connections to the female or minority consumers who are impacted by their work see a 97 percent boost—a number that rises to 161 percent for Black women. If more companies could be convinced to take on these sorts of initiatives, STEM could begin to even out for women by 2050. Compare and contrast that to the most in-demand careers in 2020.

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Progress in the C-suite

The corporate world still lags in equality when it comes to the C-suite. And yet, a report released in 2019, Women in the Workplace, partly undertaken by Sheryl Sandberg’s nonprofit, showed some positive movement. As CNET reports, there’s been “a 24 percent increase in the representation of women with job titles that generally start with ‘chief’ (think COO, CFO, CTO).” Yes, as the report found, “Women continue to be underrepresented at every level.” But if trends could be encouraged to continue in an upwards direction, the number is sure to rise by 2050. Another positive: A Deloitte study found that women accounted for 32.7 percent of non-traditional C-suite positions such as chief data officer and chief privacy officer. Find out about 13 moments that changed women’s history forever.

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A lot more care

Women currently account for 84 percent of the workforce when it comes to professions like home health aide, childcare provider, and medical assistant, according to New America. That figure is projected to jump 27 percent by 2026—and will certainly be on track to increase by 2050 unless some radical shift in the way we view these professions occurs. And while it’s great that this means work opportunity for women, some of whom are credited with being amazing caregivers, the downside is that these are jobs that traditionally pay poorly, and offer little in the way of security or upward mobility. This is a trend that could use a boost in a radically different direction. Find out 16 facts and figures about the Equal Rights Amendment you never knew before.

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On their way out?

Despite the push to have more and more girls and women enter STEM fields, WeForum reports that “by 2022, at least 54 percent of all employees will require significant reskilling and upskilling” in order to keep abreast of emerging technologies and avoid being eliminated. But the IMF found that 11 percent of women were on track to lose these sorts of jobs in that time-frame—more than men. Adding insult to injury: “Technology can even keep women from getting the job in the first place; there’s evidence AI algorithms in talent management…have generated results biased against female recruits as a result of a cumulative bias contained in the data,” says WeForum. The good news is that companies can choose to increase opportunities for women to reskill, which will ensure fewer of them are left behind by 2050.

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Getting older

We’re living longer than ever. And a lot of us are working well past what was once considered the “normal” retirement age of 65, according to CNBC. Admittedly, this is not a women-specific issue. But as that Monthly Labor Review study shows, 19 percent of the workforce will be 55 or older by 2050—which means almost 18.5 million women will be working then. Is that a good thing? As Suze Orman wrote in Money, “You likely have plenty saved up to breeze through 15 years or so of retirement. But, people, if you stop working in your 60s, your retirement stash might need to support you for 30 years, not 15.” Find out 15 other mistakes that could ruin your retirement.

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More women veterinarians

Starting in 1986 and lasting for about three decades. women and men attended veterinarian school in the U.S. in equal numbers. But that changed in 2017; by then women vets accounted for 55 percent of all the vets out there and that same year, women enrolled in vet school spiked to 80 percent, according to Veterinarian’s Money Digest; the number of women working at vet schools also rose 14 percent, to 42 percent. Why? “In part because educated women are drawn to professions that are providing flexibility to combine work and careers,” Claudia Goldin, Harvard University economist, told the American Economic Association in a lecture as reported in the Wall Street Journal. Unfortunately, that rise will likely lead to lower earnings; “When women dominate a field, the field becomes less appealing and attractive as an occupation,” writes The Balance Careers. Check out these unusual high-paying jobs that aren’t for everyone.

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More women-owned businesses

With employers “unable to meet the flexibility requirements of many women,” The Balance Careers found, “women-owned businesses will become the career of choice for many women.” In fact, that prediction is already showing up in hard data. Business Wire reported that in 2019, women-owned businesses, like this trucking company, stood at 42 percent, trending above all business over a five-year period. “U.S. women with diverse ethnic and geographic backgrounds started an average of 1,817 new businesses per day in the U.S. between 2018 and 2019, down only slightly from the record-setting 2018 number of 1,821,” says Business Wire. Those numbers are expected to rise. Find out 14 careers that could make you a millionaire before you retire.

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A woman where women have never served before?

In 2017, Cheat Sheet reported on highly influential jobs in the U.S. that have never been held by a woman and sadly, in 2020, nothing has changed here. But maybe 2050 will be different? A few of those influential jobs include chief justice of the Supreme Court, White House chief of staff, Vice president of the United States, and President of the United States. There’s hope, considering these 58 trailblazing women are all responsible for famous female firsts.

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Yoga instructor to the elderly

As of 2016, the percentage of yoga teachers in the United States stood at 72. That represents a marked change from yoga’s origins in India, where it was once an absolute men’s club—and from its first years in the States, where male teachers were the norm. Given that yoga’s popularity isn’t likely to diminish anytime soon, and that an aging population will probably embrace “the yoga market as a gentle option for keeping fit and healthy, cornering the elderly wellness market could be a savvy option for women entrepreneurs,” according to Metro.Co.UK.

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Green building executives

Bucking the C-suite trend that still favors men as top corporate leaders. “Despite construction still being a traditionally male-dominated industry, more than 50 percent of the CEOs running established Green Building Councils are women,” reports Environment Journal. And that means, as governments and organizations like the World Green Building Council try to get us to Net Zero by 2050, there is an outsize role for women to play in this sector. In the words of Green Building Councils’ own (female) CEO, Cristina Gamboa, “dynamic women” are the “catalysts for change we need to cut greenhouse gases and limit the planet’s rising temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius.” Learn about 30 pioneering women who changed the world.

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Dental hygienists

Already in 2020, the vast majority of our country’s 150,000 registered dental hygienists are women—98 percent, according to the American Dental Hygienists’ Association. And those numbers are sure to stay on track for 2050 when the Futurist predicts that it will be the #1 profession of the year. As futurist Glen Hiemstra postulated to a reader who wrote to query about his prediction, “Evolution made a bit of a miss on our teeth, in that we can live for 75 to 100+ years and most do these days. But, without care our teeth are only good for about 30 years…So, in a world of more people, living longer, and in which dentists are expensive and not needed for routine maintenance, then lots of work for hygienists.”

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Personal health maestros

Earlier we highlighted the New America report about more and more women filling roles in the care industry. Link that with futurist Thomas Frey’s prediction that by 2040 “most of the job growth in the health industry will be surrounding the digitization of personal health and the optimization of human performance,” and you’ve got a bunch of new takes on an old career track for women. Some of Frey’s top jobs in this sector: anti-aging practitioners; brain augmentationists; aging assistants; gene sequencers; epigenetic therapists; brain neurostimulation professionals; and genetic modification designers and engineers. Discover Find out 15 more cool jobs you could have in the future.

Lela Nargi
Lela Nargi is a veteran journalist covering science, sustainability, climate, and agriculture for Readers Digest, Washington Post, Sierra, NPR, The Counter, JSTOR Daily, and many other outlets. She also writes about science for kids. You can follow her on Twitter @LelaNargi.

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