What is the glass ceiling?

After working in a number of organisations where it was clearly evident that the proportion of females reaching senior leadership positions was far lower than their male counterparts, I was interested to find out if the ‘glass ceiling*’ really exists, and what the reasons are for this.

*the invisible barrier to advancement that women face at the top levels of the workplace

When I started researching the data, I was quite shocked by the facts. There are almost four times more men than women in Britain’s highest-paid posts, according to scandalous figures. Showing the extent of the glass ceiling blocking women from top jobs (theguardian.com, March 2018).

 

Three-quarters of firms pay men more than women (based on data from 10,000 companies – April 2019).

All UK firms with 250 or more employees must disclose their pay gaps and there is still a huge gulf between the average pay earned by women at these companies and their male equivalents.

Although paying men and women the same salary for the same job has been a legal requirement for almost 50 years in the UK, the figures shockingly illustrate that this is still a significant issue for businesses. Representing a loss of talent for employers and a drag on the economy.

Marianne Bertrand (Uni of Chicago Booth School of Business) recently noted that “talent is left on the table when women are not placed in leadership positions and the economy suffers.”

Women get paid 32.5% less than their male colleagues at Virgin Money, 38.1% less at Octopus Capital, 43% less at Deloitte, and 38% less at EY. The Economist’s 2019 Glass-Ceiling Index reports that despite growing attention to the gender pay gap, the MeToo movement and calls to improve opportunities in the workplace, progress for women in the workplace has, in fact, stalled.

BBC News April 2019 reported that many of the best paying jobs at big companies are on the board, and less than a third of board members at the top-100 publicly traded firms are women. Chief executives are even rarer. There are just five women leading FTSE 100 companies.

Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality party said “These figures show inequality runs through every level of the economy. It is scandalous that women still make up barely a fifth of top earners. This discrepancy is not confined to those in well-paid jobs. Gender inequality is a feature, not a coincidence or side-effect, of our economic, political and social system.”

 

Solutions and Role-Models and how to start actions…

A wide interplay of factors have been documented to have created this status quo. And it appears that there is no ‘quick fix’ solution (the TUC federation of trade unions predicts it will take around 60 years to achieve pay parity between men and women).

  • Government commitment to action to closing the gap and to challenge assumptions about what both women and men can do. Push to blast the culture of secrecy that still exists in companies and is facilitating discrimination.
  • Employers should not only be required to publish information on gender gaps but also an action plan to document how they’ll tackle pay inequality in their workplaces.
  • Flexible working laws that actually work on the ground, enabling women to get on with their careers after, as well as before, starting a family.
  • Larger accessible (and affordable) childcare and elderly care (women currently do 60% more unpaid childcare, elderly care and social work than men having a clear knock-on effect on their chances of climbing the career ladder).
  • More women to be included in promotion shortlists, more effective management of women, appropriate senior female role models.
  • Increased encouragement of girls to aim for high-paying careers in areas like engineering that have been traditionally male dominated.
  • Psychological differences – further understanding of the role of nature versus nurture in women’s propensity to be more risk-averse than men (this could account for up to 10% of the pay gap).

The Nordic nations have embraced agile working patterns for decades. Offering an agile way of work has become central in their race for talent (The Economist’s annual Glass Ceiling Index 2019 shows that the Nordic countries are the best places to work if you are a women).

The new Working Hours Act, due to come into force in Finland in 2020 will give the majority of full-time employees the right to decide when and where they work for at least half of their working hours.

This has been made possible by the wide availability of WiFi and cloud-based technologies. Making it possible to work remotely in the same way as in the office in many professions meaning that employees can take control of their own schedules.

No one policy will be able to crack the glass ceiling, but the role of technology is set to be an interesting contributor!

 

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Dr Victoria Smith-Collins

Associate tutor of in>Professional Development