“The glass ceiling is dead as a concept for today’s career”, so says new research conducted by Ernst & Young. Sadly, this is where the good news ends. While the single glass ceiling may have been shattered, it has been replaced by multiple barriers that dog women through their careers.
Based on the results of a poll conducted amongst 1,000 UK working women, Ernst & Young have identified four key obstacles to hinder a woman’s career progression. In no particular order, these are: age, lack of role models, motherhood and qualifications/experience. The researchers stressed that these barriers were not chronological and can be experienced at any time; often several at once.
Campaigns around gender diversity have largely focussed around increasing female representation in the boardroom – with groups like the 30% Club making great strides in raising awareness about the gender disparity at the top of companies. However, while valuable, such groups should not forget the women in the middle, who are unable to rise high enough within a company to even consider aiming for a seat in the boardroom.
This inability to retain women in the workplace has become so prevalent that it has even been given its own name: the problem of the “leaky pipeline”. CEOs complain that greater gender disparity at the top of a company is often difficult to achieve because there simply aren’t enough well qualified women in senior positions able to step into a board role. Women are far more likely than men to fall out of the pipeline in middle-management – a disheartening trend that persists because companies simply do not have the mechanisms in place create a working environment that enables women to feel able to succeed while respecting other areas of their lives.
Although I’ve only been referring to women, employees of either gender would benefit from businesses embracing practices that would accommodate the expectations of their staff to have a fulfilling life outside of work, as well as in the office.
However, it is not only the responsibility of the employer to manage these four barriers. Individuals need to be more proactive in seeking out mentors and role models who can guide them as they progress up the ladder and people should be more willing to offer assistance to those below them. There is a common misconception that an individual has to be “perfect” before they can act as a role model to others, but this is manifestly not the case. In reality, almost everyone will have a skill, attribute or experience that would be valuable to share with others. The Government too has to play its part, for example by enforcing companies to reveal the “pay gap” between men and women or by offering tax relief to child-care to support working parents.
Achieving gender diversity in the workplace transcends the responsibility of government, business and individuals. It will take a concerted effort on the part of all three to make a difference. Crucially, however, the focus needs to be on mending the “leaky pipeline”, rather than just on the boardroom.