Lately I’ve noticed a lot of pessimism among female professionals about the prospect of equality in the workplace. For example Dragon’s Den star, Hilary Devey, was recently quoted in the media saying that “men and women will never be equal at work.”
Many might feel that this bold statement could just be a cynical ploy for media coverage, but Devey’s opinions do sadly reflect the wider feeling among many women.
In a recent study by the Future Foundation and Friends Life, 55% of women believe there will still be a significant pay gap between the sexes in 2020, while 53% think that they will still be struggling much more than men to secure senior roles.
The results correspond closely with a survey we conducted at Women in Technology. Our study, entitled ‘Women’s Careers in IT’, revealed that little progress has been made towards gender equality in the workplace since the last report in 2007.
If little headway towards closing the gender pay gap has been made in the last three to four years, and this trend continues, we may well see that by 2020, not much will have changed.
So what are the issues causing women to take such a bleak outlook on the future of gender equality?
The ‘Working Women’ report indicates several potential reasons, many of which are centred around maternity and motherhood issues – and employers being slow to implement ways to manage potentially long absences from the workplace.
The solution to all of the problems that arise from this is dependent on a change in attitudes – both by employers and by women. Although it’s important to be realistic, a defeated attitude is unlikely to shift the status quo.
Yes, a lot of change starts with businesses and HR, but statements from people like Hilary Devey proclaiming that change will never happen are counterproductive.
Devey’s argument is that, as a fact of life, women give birth and men don’t. This means that men can have it all but women can’t. In my opinion, this is a simplistic view of society that only serves to perpetuate the myth that children spell the end of a career.
The truth is that, although progress is slow, and more businesses need to be better equipped to assist working mothers, there are many initiatives that are designed to make this process easier. For example, although some employers are reluctant to offer flexible working, results of our ‘Women’s Careers in IT’ survey showed that it proves very successful in that it allows them to work a full day and still maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Paternity leave is now available to men, enabling couples to share childcare responsibilities and reduce the time they are away from work. Several organisations, such as Asda, have schemes to keep women in the loop while they are away from the office.
It’s not that nothing is being done, it’s that we need to fight harder for reasonable ways to make family life and work life compatible, rather than making big personal sacrifices to get to the top. It’s time for some optimism. Who’s with me?