For decades, it has been acknowledged that there is an unseen barrier preventing women from reaching the top positions in their careers. And while recent progress has shown that more women are entering the top 10% percent of top earners, a new study shows that there is much less progress being made when you look at the very top 0.1%. Men still disproportionately represent the vast majority within this income group.
This study[i] was conducted by The London School of Economics’ International Inequalities Institute, and used tax data from eight different countries-Spain, Denmark, Canada, New Zealand, Italy, UK, Australia, and Norway- and from a period starting as far back as 1940s. This study is unique in that it looked at income from all sources, not just earnings, and brings self-employment and capital income into the data. It includes factors such as dividends and interest, which typically makes up the largest portion of income generation for the corporate elite. The primary finding was that as you climb look at the corporate ladder, the fewer women you will find.
Among its findings, women represent between one third and one fifth of the top 10% despite being half of the population. This number ranged between 22% and 33% and was lowest in Norway and highest in Spain. Furthermore, it continued to drop as you looked at the more elite; at the top 1% they were between 14% and 22% with the same countries claiming the first and last position. And finally, at the top 0.1%, they comprised between 9% and 17%, with Spain still holding the top spot, but with the UK showing the smallest portion of women as top earners.
Also, with the exception of Australia, the study did find that the presence of women at the top 10% and even the top 1% did tend to increase over time, that increase was much less rapid at the very top with little change at the top 0.1%. There are historical anomalies, such as during times of crises, but the overall trend has shown steady growth, except at the very top.
This study supports the idea that there is still a glass ceiling at the very top of the corporate ladder. One author of the study, Alessandra Casarico summed it up by saying, “Women now make up more of the top income groups, but they are still a distinct minority and they become rarer the higher one climbs. Composition of income is important. In the old days, the rich were those with property; they have been replaced by CEOs and entrepreneurs, and whom women are not well represented.”[ii]
This study illustrates the persistence of a glass ceiling in which women have a much harder time breaking into the top professional and income brackets. Is still much to be done in order to reach gender equality in the corporate world.