The Myth of the Pipeline: Inequality Still Plagues Working Women, Study Finds

Women lag behind in pay, advancement "from their very first professional jobs."

ByABC News
February 9, 2010, 11:54 AM

Feb. 18, 2010 — -- You've probably noticed that here at ABC, we've got a woman in the network's top news job. In Washington, women hold eight of the Obama administration's 22 Cabinet positions. Women now run half the Ivy League --- Harvard, Princeton, Brown and the University of Pennsylvania -- not to mention Germany and Argentina. It sure seems as if they're making real progress toward parity in the work world with men.

"If only that were true," say the authors of a new study.

The women's research firm, Catalyst, is out with a study today that finds even the best and brightest women -- the "high potentials" as they're called -- "lag men in advancement and compensation from their very first professional jobs."

Right out of the starting gate from business school, men are more likely to be assigned jobs of higher rank and responsibility and earn, on average, $4,600 more than women.

"I was shocked," says Catalyst CEO Ilene Lang of the findings. "This really ate away, undermined my confidence that important change had taken place."

The study of 4,100 male and female MBA grads from 26 elite business schools all over the world also undermines the longstanding conventional wisdom that women's parity in the workplace was only a matter of time. As soon as they achieve critical mass in the corporate pipeline, the thinking went, they'll make their way to the "top of the house."

Well, women now graduate from college in greater numbers than men; they graduate from law school in roughly equal number; they make up about a third of MBAs. The proverbial pipeline is stuffed. But just 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEO's and 15 percent of board directors at those companies are women.

"The last decade was supposed to be the 'promised one,' and it turns out that it wasn't," says James Turley, CEO of Ernst & Young, one of the companies that sponsored the study. "This is a wake-up call for corporations."