Although women are still underrepresented in the best paying careers, the proverbial glass ceiling is far more fragile than it was a few decades ago.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, females’ earnings were 62 percent that of males’ in 1979. The gap narrowed steadily through the ’80s and ’90s, and the female-to-male earnings ratio now averages around 80 to 83 percent.
Researchers at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business have a couple of theories to explain the earnings gender gap.
The first has to do with college majors. Many female students opt for studies like literature or art history. Careers in those disciplines may be highly rewarding, but they have lower earnings on average. Female students who hope to increase their earning power should focus on what are known as STEM majors — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Another reason for the pay discrepancy is that females are more willing to earn less in exchange for workplace flexibility. This is probably because they are starting families.
In any case, there are still terrific jobs to be had, and women are making great strides in landing them.
Best Paying Jobs for Women
Unfortunately, the most recent BLS information on the highest paying positions for females is from 2014. On the list below, females’ median salaries in 2014 are shown in bold next to the job titles. Presumably, you could expect to earn more these days.
The figures in parentheses represent median salaries across both genders in 2018.
1. Pharmacist, $98,904 ($126,120)
Pharmacists are responsible for much more than just filling prescriptions. For one thing, they must decipher doctors’ handwriting.
Pharmacists are experts on the safe use of drugs and how different medicines interact. They carefully verify amounts. They advise patients on how to safely take their meds and tell them what to watch for in terms of side effects.
They’re sometimes called upon to create customized meds using two or more drugs. This technique is known as compounding. A strong background in chemistry is essential.
Some pharmacists give immunizations, conduct health and wellness screenings, check blood pressure, and teach patients how to use specialized equipment. When customers in retail pharmacies describe symptoms, pharmacists must be able to recommend over-the-counter remedies. Giving advice on diet, exercise and stress management is not unusual.
Pharmacists work closely with both doctors and insurance companies to make sure that patients get exactly what they need. They must be organized and keep meticulous records. Good computer skills are necessary for using electronic health record systems.
Pharmacy managers supervise technicians and interns. Some train other health care practitioners.
Pharmacists keep up with breakthrough medicines that are in clinical trial. They follow Food and Drug Administration regulations and receive ongoing training to stay compliant with ever-changing health care laws.
Community pharmacists typically work in chain drug stores or privately owned pharmacies. Some tack on a business degree and set up shop for themselves.
Clinical pharmacists work in hospitals or other health care settings. They don’t spend much time filling prescriptions; instead, they collaborate with doctors and are heavily involved in patient evaluations and treatment.
Pharmacists can even branch out as consultants or work in the pharmaceutical industry.
All states require a Doctor of Pharmacy degree and a license. Since this is an exciting and lucrative career, degree programs are highly competitive.
2. Nurse Practitioner, $87,464 ($113,390)
One of the highest paying positions is also one of the fastest-growing. The outlook through 2026 is 31 percent.
Certified registered nurse anesthetists, or CRNAs, provide local or general anesthesia for medical procedures and births. They grill patients beforehand about health history, illnesses, allergies and current medications to choose the safest pain-management drug and dosage. They closely monitor the patient’s vital signs throughout a procedure and adjust the dose if necessary.
In addition to delivering babies, certified nurse midwives, or CNMs, provide women’s health care, prenatal care and family planning services. They often assist surgeons during cesarean births.
Advanced practice registered nurses, known as APRNs, wear a number of hats. On any given day, they might review patients’ medical history and symptoms, perform exams, order or conduct tests, diagnose problems, create treatment plans, counsel patients and families, conduct research and much more.
In some states, they prescribe medications. Many specialize in certain areas like senior or psychiatric care.
These are highly rewarding careers for people who want direct involvement in patient care. A master’s degree, a national certification and a state license are required.
3. Lawyer, $82,680 ($120,910)
They interpret laws and research legal precedents. They present facts and prepare and file documents. They communicate with clients, judges, law enforcement officers and colleagues. They argue on behalf of their clients and negotiate settlements in court.
It’s no wonder that most lawyers work far more than 40 hours per week.
You can find attorneys in all levels of government, in corporations, in universities, in hospitals and in churches. Some find their niche in nonprofit organizations that assist disadvantaged citizens.
Where there are laws to follow, there are lawyers.
Specialties include family law, criminal law, tax and property law, securities law and environmental law.
Some attorneys simply keep companies and organizations compliant with government regulations. In that role, they are not always popular. Humorist Scott Adams, the creator of the comic strip “Dilbert,” once wrote, “If you want to kill an idea without being identified as the assassin, suggest that the legal department take a look at it.”
Attorneys have completed college and law school and have passed their state’s licensing exam.
4. Top Executive, $81,744 ($104,980)
Top-level executives set company goals and come up with strategies for achieving them. They may be over a single department or an entire organization, but they’re responsible for all operations, policies, procedures and results under their supervision.
A company’s core values and mission statement typically come down from the top executives. Leaders define the company culture.
Depending on the size of an organization, chief executives might be involved in budgeting and spending, operations, negotiating contracts, appointing department heads, tracking results and a host of other responsibilities. They look for ways to cut costs and streamline systems. They meet regularly with clients, other executives, potential investors and shareholders.
Job titles include chief executive officer, chief operating officer, chief financial officer and general manager. Executives work in government, health care and education as well as corporations.
The people who land the corner offices usually have at least a bachelor’s degree in business administration and several years’ experience in their fields. They are gifted leaders and effective communicators with strong problem-solving and decision-making skills.
5. Computer and Information Systems Manager, $79,508 ($142,530)
Spots in information technology are expected to increase 12 percent through 2026 as skilled systems managers are needed across all sectors.
IT managers analyze computer needs and implement efficient systems to keep companies in step with the competition.
They stay current on cutting-edge technology, recommend upgrades, and pitch their ideas and solutions to top executives. This is sometimes the most challenging part of the job. To people who aren’t especially computer-savvy, technical talk can sound like a foreign language. IT managers have to present their findings in layman’s terms and make their ideas understandable.
Once they’ve secured funding, they plan and oversee the installation and maintenance of computer hardware and software.
Organizations usually have an IT department or team, so IT managers fill short- and long-term staffing needs. In large companies, they oversee software developers, programmers, computer systems analysts and support personnel.
They also negotiate with vendors to get the highest level of service for the most affordable price.
Some companies have several positions for IT managers.
Chief information officers look at the big picture. They identify long-term technology goals and oversee implementation. Many small operations don’t have CIOs.
Chief technology officers typically have more technical expertise and experience than CIOs. They actually find and test new technology. If a CIO is employed, the CTO reports to her. CTOs are responsible for carrying out technology plans in all departments.
IT directors define business requirements, see that policies are followed and manage the IT department’s finances. They are also in charge of staffing.
IT security managers are in especially hot demand. They ensure that networks and sensitive data are secure.
As cybercrime becomes increasingly sophisticated, it falls on security managers to detect and address weaknesses. They educate personnel in other departments, as well as top management, on security awareness and best practices. They also design emergency response plans and conduct investigations when cyberattacks occur.
Computer and information systems managers usually hold a bachelor’s degree and have lots of experience. Many IT security managers also hold a master’s degree.
6. Software Developer, Applications and Systems Software, $75,764 ($105,590)
Expected job growth through 2026 for software and app developers is a whopping 24 percent.
Developers identify core functionality, performance and security needs to come up with software solutions. They upgrade existing systems for greater efficiency. They work closely with programmers to explain the coding they need for certain apps. They determine how various apps will work together.
Some design and install underlying systems for entire networks while others develop specific apps. Common business apps include spreadsheets and word processors. Other apps aid in project management, time management or scheduling. Developers often create the interfaces that users need for interacting with their computers.
Once systems are in place, developers may be responsible for monitoring performance, troubleshooting and doing routine maintenance.
Not all software developers work within organizations. Some create specialized software, mobile apps or games and sell them to businesses or the general public.
People in this field have highly creative minds and the technical skills to bring their ideas to life. Software development calls for endless designing and testing, but it’s stress-free for the most part. There’s also great potential for a healthy work-life balance.
U.S. News & World Report ranked software development at No. 1 on its list of the 100 best jobs.
A bachelor’s degree is usually required, but employers are almost more interested in experience.
7. Physical Therapist, $67,964 ($87,930)
PTs work with injured or ill patients to improve movement and manage pain. They treat people who have suffered a stroke or had spinal injuries, assorted sports injuries, fractures and severe sprains. They may work with amputees, patients with chronic arthritis or people who have neurological problems like cerebral palsy.
After initial care, doctors, surgeons and other caregivers frequently refer their patients to PTs. PTs play a key role in ongoing treatment, rehabilitation and injury prevention.
Reviewing patients’ medical histories, observing their limitations and developing treatment plans are all in a day’s work. PTs must create specific stretches and exercises to increase mobility. They teach patients how to use wheelchairs, crutches, walkers and other special equipment. They work closely with families to train them for home care and let them know what to expect.
PTs’ work is physical and hands-on. They must manipulate limbs and have expertise in massage. They must have physical strength and sufficient knowledge of body mechanics to lift patients when necessary.
One of the greatest challenges of the job is customizing treatment for specific problems and patients.
Rehabilitating a torn ligament is nothing like rehabilitating a traumatic brain injury. An elderly patient can’t be expected to recover at the same rate a child does. PTs have extensive knowledge of the whole human body and how its parts function together in different body types and people of all ages. They continually track patient progress and adjust treatment plans as needed.
Another necessary skill is the ability to convince patients that painful manipulations or exercises will eventually make them better. Not everyone is good at that.
Some PTs specialize in a certain type of care or work with a specific age group. Others design fitness and wellness programs for active people and go into business for themselves.
A doctorate in physical therapy and a state license are required.
8. Human Resources Manager, $67,600 ($113,300)
HR managers coordinate and oversee administrative functions such as payroll and employee training. They also act as liaisons between managers and employees.
Executives count on HR managers for their staffing needs. Much of the day is spent recruiting top talent, screening applicants, scheduling interviews and onboarding new employees.
HR managers are responsible for creating and assembling new-hire packets. The paperwork addresses issues like compensation, eligibility to work in the U.S., tax withholding, company policies, termination conditions, and bank information for direct deposit.
Another important duty is selecting and implementing benefit packages. HR managers make sure that employees know how to use their insurance and contribute to savings plans such as 401(k)s.
They see to it that everyone understands and complies with safety policies. They mediate disputes involving equal employment opportunity or workers’ compensation claims. They make sure that sexual harassment claims are investigated and properly documented. They usually work with legal teams to ensure that their organization is compliant with state and federal laws.
There are several different career paths in HR. Some businesses need labor relations directors to draw up and negotiate contracts for union practices, fair wages or grievances. Others need managers who are solely responsible for payroll and reporting. You could also specialize in recruiting for executive-level positions. You could even start your own company.
Most employers require a bachelor’s degree and at least five years’ experience.
9. Purchasing Manager, $66,352 ($67,600)
Purchasing managers supervise the buyers who choose the products and services that their company sells. They have a good feel for what consumers need or want. They evaluate the quality of goods or services and determine which suppliers are most efficient. Price, speed of delivery, technical support and reliability are key factors in choosing suppliers.
At the management level, purchasers handle complex procurement duties and negotiate contracts.
Purchasing managers aren’t chained to their desks. They tour manufacturing plants and distribution centers to see that operations are up to snuff. They attend conventions and trade shows to stay abreast of industry trends and develop contacts.
They work out delivery logistics and time frames with suppliers. They also meet with vendors and team members to resolve issues over unacceptable or defective products.
This is a great possibility if you have a good head for figures. Purchasers must analyze company financial reports and vendors’ proposals to determine fair prices.
Managers monitor contracts to ensure that suppliers are living up to their obligations. They make changes as needed. They keep meticulous records to track goods, prices, delivery speeds and product performance. They take careful inventory of their existing stock to identify purchasing needs. They follow industry news to get a feel for availability.
Managers also write company policies for procurement. Agreements must be legal and ethical with no conflicts of interest or inappropriate company-supplier relationships. Management decisions could make or break the company’s bottom line or reputation.
Purchasing managers often specialize in fields like technology, agriculture, wholesale or retail.
Buyers typically have a bachelor’s degree and move into management positions after gaining experience.
10. Civil Engineer, $66,300 ($86,640)
Civil engineers are innovators, researchers, designers, builders and operators. They create and oversee infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges, tunnels, buildings and water supply systems. They work in both public and private sectors.
They read maps and survey reports to pinpoint optimal locations and site layouts. They analyze long-range costs, risks and potential hazards for projects under consideration. They’re always applying to government agencies for building permits. They like testing soil and construction materials.
Desk duties include calculating costs, preparing reports for the public, and using design software. Civil engineers also research eco-friendly products and initiatives. They predict how structures will stand up to heavy winds, seismic activity or other environmental disruptions.
However, civil engineers are most often in the field supervising construction for best practices and making sure that safety policies are followed.
There are specialized construction engineers, structural engineers and transportation engineers. Geotechnical engineers focus on foundations and their compatibility with the soil and rock at specific sites.
Civil engineering requires a bachelor’s degree or an equivalent from an accredited program. All states require a license.
If you’re a talented, highly motivated woman, you have an excellent chance of landing your dream job and shattering the glass ceiling.