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Factors that Might Explain the Decreasing Presence of Women in Retail

It seems that women are consistently at a disadvantage in the job force, whether experiencing the effects of the gender wage gap, the increased risk of workplace sexual harassment, or the lack of opportunities to climb the corporate ladder compared to their male counterparts. As of recently, women are experiencing a significant disadvantage as it relates to employment in the retail industry.

A recent Washington Post article states that “the retail industry, which shed the most jobs last year (54,300), seemed to push women out while offering more opportunities to men,” and this unfortunately comes as no surprise.

An analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) found that from October 2016 to October 2017, 160,300 women lost jobs in the retail industry, while 106,000 men found jobs in the industry.

As more women began to lose out on opportunities in the retail industry, men increasingly gained opportunities for high-commission positions and managerial positions within retail companies. Because many men in the retail industry are getting these higher positions, they have more job security compared to their female counterparts. And, like in the case of the gender wage gap, these findings become increasingly more complicated with the addition of race, ethnicity, and class.

Many women working in the retail industry find themselves in clerical or sales-associate positions, which are usually the first positions to go in the event of economic hardships. And because many men are provided opportunities for mobility and greater job security in their retail positions, their female counterparts find themselves met with the harsh reality that they are seen as disposable.

This development in the shift of retail job opportunities available to women has been exacerbated by the influence of online retailers, which have gained more popularity. Due to the fact that many of the men who work in retail tend to hold packing and shipping positions, their salaries tend to reflect the popularity that online shopping has gained in recent years.

Retail workers may rely on their jobs as either their sole source of income or as an additional income to sustain themselves and sometimes even entire families. The gradual decline in opportunities available to more women for higher-paying positions in retail may worsen many of the living situations of those who depend on these forms of employment.

As a counter to this sentiment, many economists make the claim that because women are seeing an increase in college enrollment, they’re moving themselves out of the retail industry and into higher paying positions. Heidi Hartmann, an economist and president of the IWPR, theorized that women are leaving retail for higher paying jobs in healthcare, one of the fastest-growing fields.   

While it may be true that more women are moving away from the retail industry in pursuit of more lucrative career opportunities, this does not excuse the disadvantage that many women who still rely on these retail positions to survive face due to the gender discrimination they are exposed to in the field. It is clear that this bias calls for more regulation geared toward providing equal opportunities for both men and women in the retail industry.

Featured Image by Robert Couse-Baker on Flickr

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