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More than 1/3 of UK female employees have faced barriers during their career, finds research

However, a separate study also shows that nearly half (47%) of HR directors believe women are in fact advancing their careers on par with men in the workplace, displaying a clear mismatch in perceptions between employees and HR directors.

Of those women who have experienced inequality at work, over a third (35%) say they believe male colleagues at the same level earn more than they do.  Thirty one per cent indicate they are assigned work that is below their level and are therefore unable to demonstrate their abilities, while almost one in five (19%) say that junior colleagues don’t take instructions from them, but will do from male colleagues of equal seniority.

Across the wider business community,  two thirds (66%) of both male and female employees believe women experience barriers in their careers yet there is huge disparity between the genders, with 57% of men and 75% of women believing that a glass ceiling exists for women. The greatest proportion of those who perceive there to be a glass ceiling come from the Yorkshire & Humber (73%) and London (72%) regions, and the lowest come from Wales and the West Midlands (58% each).  

As we observe over 110 years celebrating International Women’s Day, nearly three quarters (73%) of UK employees surveyed believe that the societal perception of a woman’s role and / or career path is a major factor in creating a glass ceiling. 

Other top causes of inequality of work for women reported by both male and female employees are due to: managerial style (29%) lack of workplace visibility - i.e too modest about successes/achievements - (24%) and a lack of confidence within the business (22%). Regionally, the North East is leading the way on societal perception – only 46% feel this effects their career compared to 85% in Wales and 78% in the South West.

In a bid to alleviate this gap in the workplace,  nearly half of employees (49%) think companies should provide flexible working opportunities, identified by 39% of males and 48% of females. A further 43% want UK organisations to review pay grades, with 23% looking for workshops such as within management training and confidence building (23%). 

Estelle James, director, Robert Half UK, said, “While business leaders are taking steps to level the playing field between men and women in the workplace, our research shows that these inroads are not being felt by the employees themselves. Businesses need to eradicate the & lsquo;old boys club’ mentality and allocate adequate resources to ensure that the glass ceiling becomes the glass elevator. Offering the right career pathing and development opportunities coupled with more flexible working options will result in a larger pool of women ready to take their rightful seat at the boardroom table.

“We’ve had 110 years celebrating International Women’s Day, yet there is more work to be done. Respect, equality and fairness need to be embraced by all, as in the end, it’s about the skills one brings to the workplace, not their gender.”


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