More women in workplace are headed for senior roles
As major companies and the government tackle workplace gender equality through balancing initiatives, the glass ceiling is beginning to crack
It was back in 1978 that the phrase ‘glass ceiling’ first caught on. It was used by management consultant Marilyn Loden during a panel discussion to describe the insidious challenges that women in workplace scenarios faced at that time. While there were no hard-and-fast rules decreeing women couldn’t rise to the top of the corporate world, when they tried, they bumped up against an invisible barrier.
Forty years on, there is still workplace gender inequality, but while the glass ceiling is not entirely shattered, it is most definitely cracked enough to allow women to ascend to top jobs.
Women’s representation in the British workforce is increasing. As of June 2020, 72.7% of women were employed, according to a report by Catalyst. This compares to about 50% when Loden was giving her speech.
As well as there being more women in workplace environments, more women are now achieving senior leadership roles. In the finance industry – a notoriously bullish, male-dominated sector – Catalyst reports that the percentage of women on FTSE 250 boards increased to 29.6% in 2019, with 582 female directors in these companies.
In government, too, there has been a shift, with women’s representation at an all-time high. Women hold a third of the seats in the House of Commons and more than a quarter in the House of Lords.
The government has also spearheaded initiatives to tackle sexism in the wider workplace and increase female representation at the highest levels of business. One move was to introduce a law that all organisations with more than 250 staff must submit data on the wages of their staff in a bid to further reduce the gender pay gap. The government estimates that, on average, men currently earn 6.5% more than women.
A research project undertaken by the government showed that “interventions to induce transparency”, such as reporting on wages and also formal career planning for women within organisations, were the most effective at improving women’s working lives. It also promoted mentoring and networking opportunities as other ways of increasing women’s chances of progressing.
Companies’ increasingly positive attitudes towards flexible working – no doubt spurred on by the pandemic – is also creating more opportunities for women. In November, insurance broker Zurich revealed it had managed to appoint a third more women to senior roles after advertising all of its jobs as having part-time, job share or flexible working options – making it the first company in the UK to do so. It also made sure to use gender-neutral wording in the job ads.
Advancing gender equality in the workplace won’t just benefit women. A study by McKinsey suggests that if every region of the UK matches the progress of the best-performing region in terms of male-female equality, this would lead to a boost in our GDP of £150 billion by 2025 – a 5% increase. It suggested that a good place to start would be the UK tech industry, in which women are poorly represented, taking up just 15% of roles. A closing of the tech gender gap could similarly boost the GDP by 5%, it said. Being a woman in the workplace still has its challenges, but so much has changed since the concept of the glass ceiling was first introduced. Through government intervention, the rise of positive role models, and a changing attitude amongst employers to give women the opportunities and flexibility they need to compete, we will continue to see a positive evolution of the women in workplace discussion.