Over the last six decades we have seen the numbers of women in the workplace rise hugely; a lot of this is down to some complex social movements such as the feminist movements, the equal opportunities legislations, expansion of the service sector and the knowledge economy. There is also an ever increasing cost of living and increased access to education meaning that more women want to, and have to work.
Women employees and employers can be found in a much broader range of industries and occupations than ever before; from supportive and nurturing roles such as teaching and nursing, right through to industries and roles that were previously considered as the sole prerogative of men.
In previous years, and still today in some cases, there have been many obstacles that women have had to face such as procedural blockages to the appointment of women Bishops in the Anglican Church, which was only overcome recently.
Culturally, businesses have continually favoured men over women as they are keen to employ ‘one of their own’, someone who will be likely to hit the ground running and therefore offers a saving in time and money for induction and development costs. Due to fact that most managers are men it means only 35% of senior managers in the UK are women.
A significant obstacle for women that are looking to progress their careers is something known as the ‘motherhood manacle’; while men are viewed positively if they have children because it means they offer stability, women with children can be viewed much more negatively.
In 2012 a research conducted by the Institute of Leadership & Management showed that 20% of female managers and 7% of men believe that having children created problems or barriers in their career progression.
Having children is a huge obstacle for women looking to progress in their careers because it is presumed they will take time out of work to care for their children, but on their return women are frequently unable to secure jobs at their previous level of responsibility or reward. On average, a UK woman earns an average of £140,000 less than men over their working career.
While we, as a country, have come far in the battle for equality and it is pretty much accepted that there are no differences between men and women in capability or potential, there are still some stark limits to perceived parity.
Although pay gaps are narrowing between the sexes – the journey is far from over.