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Philly’s workforce secret: A bigger share of women than any major U.S. city

Women in Philadelphia not only outnumber men in fields traditionally strong for women like education and health, but also in law and business/finance.

Philadelphia makes just about every top 10 list these days, from the positive (food and beer) to the negative (crime and poverty). But the category where it might stand out the most has flown under the radar: Employment opportunities for women.

Philadelphia is the only city among America’s 10 largest where women comprise more of the external workforce than men. They not only outnumber men in fields traditionally strong for women, like education and health, but also in law and business/finance.

But a majority isn’t everything. While more women are working than men in many of Philly’s most desirable job categories, they still lag behind in salaries, and minority women are far less likely to attain high-paying or management jobs as white women.

Why Philly has a majority female labor force

Philadelphia is unlike the rest of America’s 10 biggest cities in that women comprise a majority of the workforce here, at 52.4 percent. This isn’t just because Philadelphia has a majority population of women. Most of the other cities do, too, as well as smaller East Coast cities like Baltimore, DC and Boston.

But of these 14 cities, only Baltimore and Washington DC join Philly in having majority women workforces. And only Baltimore has a percentage of women that work exceeding the percentage of women in the overall population. Philadelphia is next-closest, with women making up .3 percent less of the external workforce than they do of the total population.

One reason for the high number of working women is the local economy. Eds and Meds run Philly. About 38 percent of the city’s jobs — from doctors to nurses to janitors at hospitals or universities to college professors — fit into this category. DC and Baltimore also have sizable Eds and Meds sectors.

But Eds and Meds aren’t the lone reason. The Census delineates most high-paying jobs, ranging from some health professions to finance to engineer under the category “management, business, science and arts occupations.” Nationally, women hold about 52 percent of these jobs. In Philadelphia, their share is 57.5 percent.

Even in fields that tend to feature more men, Philadelphia has a greater share of women than most other big cities. In the subcategory of finance, management and business, for instance, women represent 46.9 percent of the total share. In Philadelphia, they represent a majority, at 51.6 percent. Their share in legal occupations is 55.6 percent, compared to 51.2 percent in New York City.

Debbi Casey, assistant Professor of Human Resource Management from Temple University’s Fox School of Business, suspects it might have to do with a culture that has better embraced women as they started joining the external workforce in higher numbers. Philadelphia has had a majority female workforce for a long time now (the share of women has been between 51 and 53 percent the last decade). Casey notes that Philaworks pegs the number of woman-owned firms at just over 40,000 — not far behind the men-owned firms, at about 55,000.

Race and gender

As described above, Philadelphia has a greater share of women working in the most lucrative and prestigious careers than many other big cities. The bad news for Philadelphia is that black and Hispanic women attain those jobs — the”management, business, science and arts occupations” — at a much lower rate than white and Asian women.

Here’s what the percentage of employed women working in that category of job looks like for each major race or ethnicity in Philadelphia:

  • White: 49 percent
  • Asian: 41 percent
  • Black: 31 percent
  • Hispanic: 30 percent

The share of Hispanic women working in these types of jobs in Philadelphia is slightly above the national average but the same as it was here in 2005. The share of black women in “management, business, science and art occupations” is below the national average of about 35 percent and 1 percent less than it was in Philadelphia in 2005. So things haven’t improved in recent years.

The wage gap

“Just because it’s women dominating,” says Casey, “doesn’t mean it’s changed.”

Casey is certainly right as it pertains to median salaries for women in Philadelphia. Despite accounting for a majority of the external workforce and holding many prestigious jobs, the median earnings for employed Philadelphia women in 2014 were $29,816, according to the Census. For men, median earnings were $35,599. The gap is much smaller than the national average — about $40K for men and $28K for women.

“People who don’t believe employers are doing anything wrong typically cite women go into lower paying jobs maybe because they’re family-friendly or don’t require as much education,” Casey said. “That trend can’t be true for Philadelphia because the women are participating at these highly trained jobs of management and education and health care.”

Casey said firms should be doing more wage audits, and women should be more willing to negotiate salaries at the beginning of their careers.

“I teach negotiation class and I asked women and men who has negotiated before,” she said. “The women — almost every woman — was like, ‘meet a number I can live with that’s great.’ Men are like, ‘that’s always just the start of the conversation.’ We’re not teaching our own students to negotiate their first salary.”

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