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Are we moving towards gender equality in the workplace, or is the glass ceiling still intact?

ID-100161451I recently wrote a series of articles about issues that could affect the progression of your career – such as obesity, the rising popularity of tattoos, and your visibility as an employee when looking for a promotion.

An issue I only touched on within the obesity post was discrimination against women in the workplace, particularly in senior, board and executive roles. Gender equality is a more talked about subject than ever before, and we’re increasingly conscious about the younger generation and their influences towards traditionally male or female dominated roles. But do these factors mean equality is just around the corner?

Women in the boardroom

Much has been made of the slow but significant rise of women sitting on various boards – mainly because organisations have realised that, in order to sell products to women, they must have accurate – not assumed – insight of them as consumers. That said, statistics show just 23% of board members are women.

This is an improvement – there was only 15% in 2011; however, Britain didn’t make the top twenty in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap survey in 2014. In 26th place, we lagged behind Rwanda and Nicaragua. Norway came amongst the top in the survey, following their decision to make gender quotas law.

One of the unspoken fears of men considering a women for a senior role is the likelihood of her getting pregnant, and the ramifications of her maternity leave absence. Karren Brady has stated that she returned to work within the week she gave birth to her first child, because she feared her career and the reputation she’d so carefully built would suffer. She says, “I thought people would forget me, or that I might even lose my job.”

Times have changed since Karren’s experience a couple of decades ago, not least because of business’ attitudes to flexible working for both genders, and a much-heightened focus on a word/life balance. There are also improved paternity rights for fathers, which allows a family the option of sharing the childcare. Dismissing a woman’s application on these grounds, however subconsciously, is unnecessary in today’s society.

The pay gap

Even when women gain senior jobs, the pay gap between what they earn compared to their male colleagues is, on average, £10,060 less, according to the CMI – and they receive half the bonuses their male counterparts also enjoy. This difference is narrowing, though. Recent figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed that the gap went from 10% to 9.4% last year. Before females rejoice in this positive report, this narrowing was due to a drop in men’s wages as opposed to a rise in women’s. Applying this narrowing of the pay gap towards the future means 81 years would pass before pay became equal.

What are the benefits of gender equality in the workplace?

Having a gender-equal workforce improves morale, ensures a wide range of talent and expertise, enforces a company’s reputation and boosts staff engagement. So how can organisations attract more women, or take steps towards a gender-equal culture?

  • Make it easy for staff of both genders to work flexibly. Implement a range of working options, i.e. job sharing, flexitime, working from home, effective use of technology, etc. Encourage staff to embrace such measures so that a flexible culture becomes the norm.
  • Proactively appeal to women when hiring. Make it clear that women are supported and promoted within your organisation, and that their input is valued.

It’s not just women who see gender inequality; according to the Center for American Progress, both sexes agree that pay gaps and discrimination occur, but they have different opinions as to whether things have improved in those areas. 80% of men also support maternity leave, which makes one wonder if discrimination on these grounds is doled out by the same 20%.

35% of men surveyed felt that woman needed to toughen up if they wanted a board or executive position. What’s perhaps most shocking is that almost the exact same percentage of women agreed with this.

Debunking the myths

Project 28-40 was a recent ground-breaking study involving 25,000 women in the UK. A commonly cited lack of ambition was put to rest as a reason women are not reaching top positions; in fact, 70% of both sexes said they had a drive to reach the top. Loyalty was inherent in the women surveyed, demonstrating that if a woman felt supported by her employer when it came to the progress of her career, she was more likely to stay with the firm than male colleagues in the same situation.

Gender equality is not the taboo subject it once was, but it’s clear from these findings that there is a long way to go before equality is intrinsic in every workplace. The glass ceiling may have cracked but it’s not shattered just yet.

Angela Sabin is an executive coach who helps her clients succeed and progress within their career, and also remove obstacles having an impact on their life in general. Contact Angela on 01302 220021 or at angela.sabin@executive-life-coaching.co.uk for a free, no obligation chat about your needs and circumstances.


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