From the cradle to the boardroom – women and work

In 2015 one thing didn’t change – women continued to get a raw deal. The gender pay gap means that women were essentially working from 9 November until the end of the year for free, compared to their male counterparts.1 Though this day falls four days later than it did in 2014, indicating that the gender pay gap has narrowed slightly, we are still a long way from equality.

According to our 2015 research across the G20 countries,2Survey conducted on behalf of the Thomson Reuters Foundation and carried out online by Ipsos Global @dvisor from 24 July – 7 August 2015 and face-to-face in South Africa and Indonesia from 6 August – 25 August 2015. Respondents are aged 18-64 in the US and Canada, and 16-64 in all other countries. Data are weighted to match the population profile of each country. equal pay is the biggest challenge for women in the workplace in Britain; with only one in three confident they are earning the same as their male peers. It’s also cited as a major concern for women in the US, Germany, France and Japan; proving that many women believe they are paid according to gender rather than ability. Though younger women are more optimistic, with 43% saying they are confident they earn the same as their male counterparts, confidence drops to 34% among women aged 50 to 64.

Equal pay is certainly not the only issue facing G20 women in the workplace. Work-life balance is the key workplace challenge keeping working women up at night, cited by 44% of women. Russian women are most concerned about juggling home and work, followed by those in South Korea, India, China and Japan. The fact that Asian women see this as such an important issue suggests they have increasingly conflicting work and family demands – despite working outside the home, many are still the primary caregiver for their children and elderly relatives.

While expectant fathers are rarely asked how the arrival of their bundle of joy will affect their career prospects, the question over whether women can have a successful career and a family continues to be raised. Overall, just under half of women (47%) say that having a child would not impact on their ability to have a career.

Brazilian women are the most confident that motherhood will not impact their career prospects. Interestingly, some of the wealthiest G20 countries – Britain, France, Germany and Japan – feel the least positive. In Britain, where female workplace participation is the third highest of the G20 countries, only 29% of women feel having a child would not damage their career.

This may be explained by the lack of reliable and affordable childcare. Brazil has generous maternity leave and families tend to live close together, so relatives have greater involvement in raising children. Whereas, in richer countries such as Britain, France and Germany, the high cost and inflexibility of childcare means that, for many women, going back to work simply doesn’t pay.

As on many issues, younger women have a more optimistic outlook and are more likely to feel they can have children without damaging their career, as well as being more confident that they have the same chance of success as men in starting their own business. Whether this is a result of the optimism of youth, or genuine change, remains to be seen.

As the Everyday Sexism Project3 reminds us, harassment in the workplace is still common. This is borne out in our research, which found that nearly one in three G20 women have experienced it. Most worryingly, 61% say they never or rarely report it. Turkish women are the most concerned, with six in ten women citing harassment as a major challenge, though women in India are the most likely (53%) to speak out and report it. This is perhaps an outcome of the national debates and protests following the fatal gang rape of a female student on a bus in 2012. In contrast, only 7% of Russian women say they would report harassment. Whether it’s a fear of repercussions, a lack of solid harassment policies, or other factors, more needs to be done to ensure women don’t suffer in silence.

While cultural factors, age and country all impact on how working women feel, women the world over are still facing a work environment that is stacked against them.  Though younger women are generally more optimistic about their prospects, there is still much to do to ensure a fair and equal workplace. There are many difficult cultural and structural issues to address here – but few women would argue with equal pay as a good starting point. What I can predict, though, is that change in 2016 will be as gradual as in 2015. As Yuval Noam Harari puts it in a 2014 Book of the Year “Sapiens”: “most human societies have been patriarchal societies that valued men more highly than women”. Changing that is taking rather longer than the internet revolution.

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