More women than ever would prefer to work outside home

New Gallup data suggests the gender gap discussion isn't going away anytime soon. It's time for businesses to start thinking more progressively about their policies.

When Yahoo! signed up new CEO Marissa Mayer, much was made about the fact that she is pregnant (the baby boy is due in early October), although I was more intrigued by her age (she's just 37!, the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 company).

Certainly, taking on a big job like that at the same time you are expecting your same child must be overwhelming. But Mayer isn't all that unusual, considering current attitudes women hold about working outside the home.

New data released by Gallup this weekend shows that women have become more and more interested in working outside the home since 2007: In the latest poll, 51 percent of the Gallup respondents said they would rather have a job outside the home "if they were free to do either," compared with the 44 percent who preferred to "stay at home and take care of the house and family."

There were about 1,012 U.S. adults included in the poll (that polling base was split between men and women).

When you put the same question to men, more than three-quarters of them would pick working outside the home, reports Gallup. That is the highest percentage since Gallup started collecting data about this issue.

So, here are some more statistics for us to ponder:

  • A smaller percentage of U.S. women work full-time (41 percent) than do men (60 percent). Personally, I take issue with the word "work" in this context because it doesn't reflect the fact that many women are likely to work in both places.
  • Women's views are somewhat generationally influenced, with 48 percent of those aged 50 and older preferring to stay home versus 41 percent of women aged 18 to 49. (The men's views don't differ by age.)
  • Women without any college education are more likely to prefer to stay at home (53 percent versus 41 percent)
  • Marriage is a big factor on women's perceptions. Those who are single showed a preference for work outside the home (55 percent versus 42 percent). Married women were more evenly split.

Sure enough, political affiliation definitely shapes women's opinions: Republicans are more likely than Democrats to opt for an at-home role (57 percent versus 37 percent). On the flip side, Democratic men are more open to assuming the role of homemaker.

The focus that both political parties are putting on women during the upcoming election is bound to get many of them pondering their role in the U.S. workforce. You can bet that the fact that many women still don't receive equal pay for equal work will be mentioned on a regular basis – President Obama figures suggesting that women earn 77 cents to every $1 that men earn, although I'm sure that some fact-checker would find some obscure way to refute this.

Since most executives I know are in favor of less rather than more government regulation – and the Senate as refused to support legislation that would have fixed this issue -- why not take proactive strategic steps to make equality of pay a competitive differentiator within your organization?

If you've hired a woman because she is the best person to do a particular job, why shouldn't her paycheck reflect that confidence?

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