By Dr Anand Kulkarni
With International Women’s day just passed, it is timely to consider a recent global survey of women who work. The survey, conducted by Price Waterhouse Coopers, canvassed 3627 women (aged 28-40) in 27 sectors across 61 countries, including India. The survey is conducted due to an environment of growing consciousness around female empowerment. As expressed through the “Me too” movement, there are concerns about the large gender pay gap around the world, and broader inequality in the workplace and beyond.
Career expectations and challenges
Firstly, the survey found that women are aspirational and keen on career advancement, globally. Some 75% feel that getting to the top of their career is significant, 73% actively seek career advancement opportunities, 77% feel confident in their ability to lead and 82% feel confident in their ability to fulfil career aspirations. In each of these categories, the results were higher for women in Asia and Africa than in the rest of the world.
However, there remain a number of challenges and constraints to overcome. Some 45% believe that diversity (gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation) is a barrier to career progression. Motherhood and work-life balance continue to be flashpoint issues. 42% of respondents feel nervous about the impact children might have on their career and 48% of new mothers returning to work felt overlooked for promotion and major projects. These constraints are magnified in Asian countries compared to North America and Western Europe. Overall, 37% did not capitalise fully on maternity leave provisions due to career pressure while only just over a half said that employers are doing “what it takes” to improve gender diversity.
Flexible work arrangements?
Related to this is the vexed issue of flexible work arrangements (e.g reduced work hours, job sharing, and telecommuting). Globally, around 40% of women say that flexible work arrangements are either not available, have negative implications for their career, or are a signal of lack of commitment to an organisation. This is particularly the case for minority women and Asian respondents.
In China and India, 61% and 54% of employees respectively indicated that their organisation did not value flexible work arrangements. It appears that entrenched practices, habits and views still abound in the workplace. In our view, this is also related to more hierarchical, bureaucratic and regimented corporate structures. Globally, women ranked lack of flexibility and work-life balance as a core reason (top 3) for wanting to move out of an organisation. This has particularly important implications for talent management in corporations, at a time when skills shortages and gaps are becoming apparent in a number of areas.
Towards a healthy organisational culture
The provision of opportunities for advancement is critical. According to the study, there is a link between women’s advancement and their managers actively providing career opportunities. Interestingly, this is more pronounced in the developing world compared to developed countries. Thus, mentoring and support are critical for development. The study also found that negotiation skills for women are important in landing a promotion, pay rise and major project. This is an area in which females traditionally have been seen to be less forthcoming than males.
A fundamental concern from the survey is addressing organisational culture. In spite of the “awakening” that “Me Too” and the like have brought to bear, one-third of women surveyed had in the last two years, experienced verbal abuse and bullying, and one quarter experienced sexual innuendo and harassment.
Overall, while some progress has been made, there is much to be done. Trust, transparency, openness, and a supportive environment are critical core values. As the study points out, there is a need for employers to be aware of, and avoid unconscious bias in hiring and promotion decisions, and in perpetuating gender stereotypes.
Above all, attitude makeovers are required. More specifically, measures such as mentoring, training and networking support, meaningfully identifying and addressing pay gaps, and providing support in areas such as access to child care, and flexible work arrangements, are key.
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