There’s no doubting that equality in the workplace has come a long way since the beginning of the last century, but how much further can it go? A long way according to a recent report by Visions of Britain…
It’s been a slow, drip-drip process, but things are definitely improving for women in the workplace. However, there’s still a long way to go before there’s total equality. A recent report by Visions of Britain 2020 looks at the way things are for women in the workplace today and how this may change by 2020. Some of the findings might surprise you:
55% of working women think there will still be a big pay gap between men and women by 2020
Unfortunately, this is one of those arguments that will run and run as long as women continue to have families. However, as more and more career women rise through the ranks, perceptions will eventually shift as men realise that women really are serious about their careers. Career-minded women are proving that it is possible to be a working mum and to do both jobs properly. Chloe Smith, a mother of two from London, is one such mum. Keen to prove that her job is just as valid as her husband’s she chose to go back to work full-time after having her children. “I had got to a place in my career where I was starting to earn good money,” she says. “My husband and I share everything equally – childcare, mortgage, bills – so it was important to me that I continued to earn to pay my way.” With more women thinking this way, it will only be a matter of time before the pay gap eventually disappears.
53% of working women think women will still struggle more than men to secure senior roles in 2020
Worryingly, a quarter of working women feel that their gender itself is a barrier, with 24% agreeing that ‘I feel that my gender is sometimes a hindrance to my progress at work.’ This figure actually increases to 32% among women in their thirties.
“I do believe a glass ceiling does still exist – not necessarily from overt sexism, instead often from cultural issues,” says Michelle McDowell, Chair, Civil and Structural Engineering, BDP. “For example, some managers may promote those in their image, which makes it difficult for women in male dominated professions (the reverse may also be true). Also cultural issues may affect progression – I personally find that (generally speaking) women do not promote themselves as much as men, despite being equally or more talented. Instead they often adopt a collaborative approach, giving others credit.”
51% of working mums think childcare is so expensive it is not worth returning to work
Until the issue of childcare is resolved, it will be a struggle to find equality in the workplace. Compared to many other countries, childcare in the UK is prohibitively expensive. When Emma Pearson from Surrey had her first child her career was going well and she was keen to return to work. However, in reality, she found that the sums didn’t quite add up – by the time she had deducted childcare from her monthly salary, she had to question whether it was all worth it. “When you take into account the cost of childcare, and all the associated stresses of being a working mum, it didn’t feel worth it to go back just for a few extra pounds a month,” she says. “Being a working mother is such a strain on a household emotionally that there’s got to be some kind of incentive for choosing to go back to work.”
With over half of women in this age bracket feeling the same way, it’s leading to a lost army of working mums – intelligent, experienced women who are just melting away from the workplace which impacts on our economy as a whole. “We should be keeping in touch with those people whilst they are having their career break,” says the original ‘supermum’ Nicola Horlick. “We should be treating it like some sort of alumni situation and then pulling them back in when the children are old enough and re-training them because otherwise you’re wasting all those skills. You’re spending a lot of money training women to do skills occupations and you’ve got to make sure that you don’t waste that talent and that knowledge base… it’s going to cost the economy an awful lot.”
88% of working women would like to reduce their hours to be with family without this affecting their career prospects
Flexible working has come a long way in the last decade, with government policies, better technology, and more understanding managers helping to pave the way. However, many women still feel that there is a stigma attached to flexible working. Becky Lewis from Yorkshire works in PR and has just had her first child. She has always been an integral member of the team, often working overtime five days a week, yet she is still worried about how asking for reduced hours might affect her career. “I’m nervous about asking my manager for flexible working,” she says. “I would love to just go back four days a week so I have one day at home with my new son, but I just know it won’t be looked upon favourably. It’s better that I just get my head down and continue full-time.”
However, the findings also show that it is not specific industries, but individual attitudes from companies and managers that’s key. Susanna Green from Surrey also works in PR yet managed to agree flexible working conditions with her manager. A similar high flier to Becky, Susanna negotiated going back to her job four days a week with two days working from home. “The company I work for is very forward-thinking and family-friendly,” she says. “It also helped that just before I had children, I made the PR jump from working client-side to working in-house, and that’s definitely a more family-friendly environment.”
The onus is definitely on the woman to choose a career – and a company – where flexible working is achievable. This is a view echoed by Nicola Horlick: “I looked around the bank I was working for and saw that there were four divisions and I thought that there were three where it would be really hard to have a baby and work and one where it would be really easy to do that so I chose the one where it was really easy to work in. You have to be sensible and choose a career which is compatible with having children, and also try and choose an employer who tries to make it easier for you, because there are some organisations that are more helpful than others in that respect.”
You can read the full Visions of Britain 2020 report here