Research into why women are still grossly misrepresented in business life has exploded a few myths – chiefly that it’s not just the glass ceiling we should worry about but probably the corridors, walls and stairways! Basically, women are being held back at every level and it’s time to stop the ‘women have babies so they don’t get on’ myth that is tirelessly perpetuated as an excuse for the woeful under-representation of women at the top.
Helena Morrissey, chief executive of Newton Investment Management, is chair of Opportunity Now which has teamed up with accountancy firm PwC on the Project 28-40 campaign.
The project is asking 100,000 British women of all ages and from all industries and levels of seniority to share their experience of the UK workplace. The Project 28-40 campaign is so-called because those 12 years are “the danger zone” where many women fall far behind male peers in their careers.
She warns that we are making progress in the boardroom’ but we haven’t got anywhere on the pipeline recently’.
She told the Evening Standard this week: ‘I’ve been working on gender equality [in business] since 1991, and we haven’t got past the tipping point. Eventually, my hope is that we reach a point where I never need talk about this again.’
Global research firm Catalyst which aims to advance women in the workplace – has also been working on a similar project for some years.
Early results from Project 18-40 concur with findings from Catalyst that a key myth is about women choosing to have families which slows down or halts their career path.
Although both find that working mothers do face prejudice in the workplace, Catalyst’s research shows that women are as ambitious as men but that three primary hurdles are placed in their way: they are shut out of informal networks, they suffer due to stereotyping and they lack sufficient role models.
As an educator, what really concerns me is that women appear to face a playing field which is never level from the start of their careers so they are fighting against the tide from the beginning.
According to Catalyst’s report, PipePromise, women start off in more junior roles and earn less from day one. After that, male salaries increase faster than female as each salary is negotiated with regards to the last and men get more promotions than equally-qualified women. And promotions are more rewarding for men: in 2008, that meant pay increased by a fifth for men but just two per cent for women.
Research also explodes the ‘queen bee syndrome’ myth that other women will keep you down if they get the chance. The reality is that women are more likely to help you get on than men.
The research suggests that almost three-quarters of the women who are ‘developing new talent’ are helping women, compared with 30 per cent of men.
Heathfield old girl Tamara Mellon said recently in an interview with the Guardian: ‘I’ve got to a position where I can speak up. I think any woman who has got to that position should speak up and pull other women up behind us.’
Women are also likely to have other female mentors but not male mentors which means that conversely they have less access to mentors in a senior position because of the numbers game. Catalyst’s research shows around 62 per cent of men had a mentor at senior executive level, compared with 52 per cent of women.
At Heathfield, we are working hard on the launch of a project which will give our girls the maximum chance of success as they head out into the workplace by equipping them with valid work experience and knowledge. But, if we do not speak out about the barriers they will face once they get into the workplace, they will still face an unfair future.
Please join me in looking at Opportunity Now’s survey at project2840.com and forwarding it to as many people as possible.