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The U.S. Census Bureau has released data showing that the pay gap between men and women has improved since last year -- by one whole penny. Instead of earning only $0.77 for every $1 a man earns, women now take home $0.78.

While the report notes that there hasn't been any meaningful narrowing of the gender wage gap since 2007, it is oodles better than it was in 1960, when women made less than $0.61 for each dollar a man earned. The previous two decades were especially difficult for women workers, it seems: Census data shows that, in 1940, women earned $0.62 to each dollar paid to a man. 

Why do women still earn around $11,000 less for full-time, year-round work? Some say the disparity is due to the types of jobs women choose, or that, unlike men, they tend to be the family caregivers. But bias can be one of the reasons women choose some jobs over others: After all, who would work in a lower-paying occupation if she or he were free to choose better options?

The problem seems to be two-fold: Many high-paying job sectors resist hiring women, and when women do break into such areas, they do not feel comfortable there, and move on.

Old-fashioned boys' clubs keep women out
Male self-improvement website has listed 10 of the occupations most dominated by men, noting they resemble boys' clubs that don't encourage the presence of women. From construction work, to emergency services, to tech jobs -- Askmen notes that women are vastly underrepresented in certain fields, a fact that makes these industries prime job-hunting territory for males.

Technology has been getting some bad press recently for their white-male dominated labor force, and with good cause: Tech jobs pay extremely well, and often require no more than a bachelor's degree. Recent company reports show that Apple employs the most women in tech positions, at a mere 20% of its workforce, while Twitter's tech force is only 10% female.

For women who break barriers, difficulties ensue
When women do manage to break into male-dominated occupations, there is often a sense of not belonging. This is especially true in technology and engineering, where women tend to feel particularly unwelcome.

With only 25% of tech jobs held by women, any loss is sure to be felt. Mid-career quit rates are high in the technology sector, at 56%; engineering suffers a slightly lower rate of 39%. More than half of these women do not pursue new jobs similar to the one they left.

This situation is not specific to the U.S., either. A recent poll by U.K. accounting firm Crunch found that 71% of female respondents in the tech sector considered sexism an industrywide problem.

What can women do?
There is some evidence women can make headway in male-oriented occupations by changing the ways in which they think, act, and present themselves. In other words, be more like a man.

Successful women, for instance, note that men have no qualms about negotiating a higher salary in most instances, while women will decline to do so. Women are also reluctant to market themselves in order to procure a promotion, whereas men will do so happily -- even when they know they lack a good portion of the necessary qualifications.

New research published in the Psychology of Women Quarterly encourages women to "man up" in order to secure that coveted position in a male-dominated industry. The study, which focused on the engineering sector, found that women who suppressed traits such as supportiveness and focused on more manly characteristics, such as independence, during experimental job interview sessions were considered more qualified for the job.

Doubtless, many women would bristle at the thought of having to play-act in order to enter a field for which they know they are fully qualified. And, to be sure, changes in the way society views women and the value of their work are sorely needed if the gender gap in jobs and pay is to be bridged.

Meantime, some powerful women are working on finding the reasons behind the gender pay gap and lack of opportunities for female workers. Hillary Clinton, her daughter Chelsea, and Melinda Gates have created No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project, which will sift through reams of data to help find solutions to these problems. Judging by the progress made so far, these women certainly have their work cut out for them.

Amanda Alix has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and Twitter. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Twitter. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.