There’s good news and bad news for women in the workplace. The good news is that the gender divide appears to be narrowing. The bad news is that women still seem reluctant to move up the ranks, regardless, for a variety of reasons.
The Closing Divide
Randstad Canada’s new Women Shaping Business survey, conducted in partnership with Ipsos Reid, found that the salary gap between men and women has shrunk from 78% last year to 65% in 2014. Women also report seeing progress in areas like managing the work-life balance, and making flexible work arrangements.
But despite this, women are still reluctant to pursue those senior roles, still finding them unattractive. So much so, in fact, that 48% (almost half!) of Canadian women don’t aspire to senior positions, and close to 30% are undecided about whether they want to take the upward plunge or not.
What’s Holding Women Back?
Interesting, what’s stopping women from moving forward appears to be the very areas where they feel progress is being made. First, it’s family obligations and flexible scheduling. More than half (53%) of women feel that if they had to leave work due to a family obligation, it would prevent them from advancing within a senior role.
“…women still have hesitation when it comes to their employer understanding and accommodating home obligations and work obligations,” says Faith Tull, Senior Vice President, Human Resources, Randstad Canada. “And when it comes to moving up the ranks, women who may be juggling family life alongside their career may view the road to the corner office as a bit too steep.”
The elephant in the room – maternity leave – remains as such, with 51% of women feeling mat leave would impact their ability to move up the corporate ladder.
“Organizations need to acknowledge these concerns and further enhance their offerings beyond maternity leave, to alleviate stress related to managing family obligations and make the pursuit of leadership opportunities stimulating and attractive for women,” adds Tull. “And it starts with nurturing a work culture of flexibility, openness and empowerment.”
The survey also found that 30% of women believe their employers do not have confidence in the leadership capacity of female leaders; and 22% of women do not think executive positions are now more attainable for women.
An overwhelming majority (91%) of senior managers and executives believe overall appearance plays a significant role in the professional advancement of a woman. That’s a marked difference from just 49% for men. This very point was illustrated recently by Australian Today host Karl Stefanovic, who wore the exact same suit for an entire year on air to prove how no one noticed nor judged him, while his female co-anchor was scrutinized day after day for her wardrobe choices.
What Can We Do About It?
There are a number of ways to help encourage more females to pursue executive roles.
Randstad suggests that mentorship programs can be key. And while they are widely available, they are underused – 77% of women surveyed say they never sought out, or were provided with, a mentor. Only 5% of women have a mentor they sourced themselves, and only 9% have a mentor that provided by their employer.
“In order to remain competitive, to attract top talent and promote gender diversity in more senior roles, Canadian employers need to create and promote efficient and accessible support programs, foster the development and amplify the voices of the female leaders they have and demonstrate how career opportunities are as attractive for women as they are to men,” says Tull.
Randstad created the Women Shaping Business program as a way to help, and encourage further examination of the issue and how organizations can start to affect change. It will include several events across Canada, with business leaders and guest speakers discussing how women can challenge stereotypes.
There are other programs as well. For example, the Women in Capital Markets Return to Bay Street program works to help re-integrate women into the financial services business after a lengthy absence. They provide placement opportunities based on the women’s skills, with training and the potential to remain on with the firm.
We have a major problem in our economy,” says WCM’s CEO Jennifer Reynolds. “The vast majority of leadership roles are held by men. We’re not maximizing our talent pool. Every company has to realize we have to modernize our concept of work.”
All that said, it’s still important for women to have the confidence to speak up and demand equal opportunities for promotion. Twenty-three per cent of women in the Randstad study believe that women doing just that is what has had the most impact on increasing the number of female leaders over the past five years.