I remember some years ago watching a dreadful film called “Junior” with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Emma Thompson. The fact that I thought it was dreadful whilst trapped on an aircraft for 8 hours only reinforces how bad it really was. Tedious story short “The Governator” plays a scientist who agrees as part of a fertility project to carry a foetus in his body.
Dodgy Arnie films and a transgendered person in the US who now male carried a baby to full term aside women are solely responsible for the difficult part of satisfying the genetic imperative. Fact.
In the process of completing an essay for college recently I took time to read a number of journal articles, published government reports and NGO reports on the topic of women in business and the gender pay gap.
First some statistics:
In 2010 the gender pay gap in the UK was 16.4%. This equates to women working for no reward from November 2nd every year (Fawcett Society Report)
64% of the lowest paid workers in the UK are women (Fawcett Society Report)
Only 12.5% of the corporate boards of FTSE100 companies are women (up only 3% from 6 years earlier) (Women on Boards Report)
60.5% of women work in only 10 of the 78 total occupational classifications (and with the exception of teaching the 10 does not include any professions) (DfEE Report 2001)
It would be easy (and I must confess I had largely taken the easy route) to assign all of these differences to women being out of the workplace through childbirth and parenting. If I’m honest my apathy on the subject was based on “well men can’t have kids” but reading the statistics above (and much more) has left me feeling that organisations need to do more than they are doing because although the statistics are changing positively year on year (check the ONS website if you don’t believe me) they are in tiny increments which don’t for my part tally with the contribution the women I know make the workplaces I have known.
I should add some caveats here:
- I know some fabulous women who are very successful and have broken glass ceilings
- I work in an organisation that is over 80% female
- The same organisation has an exec co that is 38% female (so although not truly representative statistically significant by comparison)
So apart from the propagation of the species (which is kind of important) what other reasons exist for the gap and the glass ceiling in corporate life. It should be noted there are no citations for this list (although plenty exist) and it is NOT exhaustive
- Corporations are largely still culturally male
- Access to informal networks (think the old boys’ network) is restricted both in opportunity and time to women balancing work with family
- Acceptability of role at senior levels is still largely male (without consideration of suitability)
- Women who want to work part time “crowd” to occupations that are more tolerant of it and where they won’t be penalised either formally or informally for balancing their lives
- A lot of the “go further” activities in organisations e.g. Training, rely on commitment outside of working hours
What I find interesting in this case is though rafts of policy have been enacted since 1997, the change is taking time and I don’t believe we’ve got the family friendly policies right yet in terms of where they are positioned and the reaction that generates from organisations (the automatic defensive to the ‘right’ to work flexibly) and a blog post worth reading (including the comments) on this topic is here . Saying that, I don’t believe a positive discrimination approach will work as not only is it legally dubious but also I think it will leave women feeling exposed and vulnerable to criticism in a way that would be more unhelpful than the results it could achieve.
One thing I am sure about is that the solution to this problem is beyond my wisdom or purview but in everything I’ve read the message that comes through is that not enough is either known or understood about the positive impacts that women have in organisations. In the spirit of this I will close this post with…
Last some facts:
- Companies with more women on their boards were found to outperform their rivals with a 42% higher return in sales, 66% higher return on invested capital and 53% higher return on equity (Women on Boards Report)
- Organisations benefit from “feminine leadership” with the challenge facing organisations the need for competitiveness, aggression and task orientation (what could be considered male traits) are seen as less valuable than good communication, coaching, being intuitive, flexible and more people orientated in general (stereotypically female characteristics). (Powell et al, 2002)
- In Europe and the USA, women account for approximately six out of every ten university graduates and in the UK women represent almost half of the labour force. (Women on Boards Report)
- European Women continue to devote twice as much time as men to domestic tasks: 4h29m for Women, 2h18m for Men (Women Matter, McKinsey & Co.)
- Children born today will be 30 by the time I retire so can we please ensure they are well cared for in their formative years to ensure my old age is a happy one
Note: This post only scratches the surface of a very complex situation and for those who are interested in more detail there is loads available, start with the reports linked here and follow the trail.
Powell, G.N., Butterfield, D.A., Parent, J.D., (2002) “Gender and Managerial Stereotypes: Have the Times Changed?” Journal of Management, 28(2)
All other references are linked to download