Julie Tucker
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Survey conducted by Headspace points to rise in sexism and gender discrimination in the workplace

Half of women change the way they look or act and a growing number take on male traits to be taken seriously in the workplace

Nearly half (48%) of women have changed the way they act or look to get ahead in the workplace, according to a survey of 2,000 female office workers across the UK. At the same time, an increasing number of women have taken on the traits of male colleagues in order to be taken seriously (26% – up from 19% in 2017).

The survey – conducted by One Poll on behalf Headspace Group, ahead of International Women’s Day 2019 – suggests that little has improved for women in the workplace over the past six years and, on some issues, there has been a steady decline in workplace equality. Just 23% believe that the MeToo movement has had a positive impact on women’s’ experience in the workplace.

Rise in sexism and gender discrimination

Headspace Group compared this year’s data with similar surveys conducted in 2013 and 2017 by parent company BE Offices and, in a number of instances, observed a rise in sexism and gender discrimination. Key findings include the fact that:

• Nearly a third (29%) of women report being knowingly paid less than a male colleague of lesser or equal seniority (up from 23% in 2017)

• 39% of those surveyed had experienced direct or indirect sexism in the workplace (up from 31% 2017 and 27% in 2013).

• 24% reported that they had been overlooked for a job or promotion because they were of child bearing age; 24% reporting the same because of having young children; and 24% had been overlooked simply because of their sex.

• 32% had suffered from sexist comments and 22% had been the victim of sexual harassment.

• The number of women discriminating against other women is also on the rise, with 29% reporting that they would be reluctant to hire a woman recently married (up from 22% in 2017 and 20% in 2013); 36% reporting that they would be reluctant to hire a woman with children (up from 31% in 2017 and 25% in 2013) and 33% reluctant to hire a woman of child bearing age (up from 28% in 2017 and 27% in 2013).

• Moreover, 62% of those surveyed indicated that they would be reluctant to hire a woman who dressed provocatively (up from 61% in 2017 and 58% in 2013) and 43% would be reluctant to hire a woman deemed ‘too confident’ (up from 40% in 2017 and 36% in 2013).

Juggling work and family life

On top of gender discrimination, the key challenge for many women remains balancing home and family life – an area in which, according to respondents, both employers and the Government are falling short:

• 45% believe their workplace doesn’t offer enough flexibility to adequately juggle childcare and work life (a steady rise from 39% in 2017 and 33% in 2013).

• Around two thirds (67%) believe the Government doesn’t offer enough support to adequately juggle childcare and work life.

• A quarter of women (24%) believe that having children has held them back in their career.

More flexibility needed

Headspace questioned respondents on what employers could do to support greater equality in the workplace. Whilst there had been some improvements on basic rights (37% of companies are offering more than statutory maternity leave, up from 36% in 2017 and 31% in 2013) it’s clear that a more flexible approach to work-life balance is needed. Indeed, 45% believe their workplace doesn’t offer enough flexibility to adequately juggle childcare and work life (a steady rise from 39% in 2017 and 33% in 2013).

Better part time and flexible working options were deemed most likely to have the greatest impact (by 43% of respondents) on improving equality, compared with greater pay transparency (40%), more women in senior positions (35%), better maternity leave (28%), better paternity leave (26%), better training for female members of staff (17%) and better training for female members of staff (14%). Only 8% of women felt that women’s only areas in the workplace would have the biggest impact and just 6% believed the same of women’s only events.

Just 22% of respondents believe fathers should be offered paternity leave more in line with current maternity legislation and less than half (40%) said that they would take advantage of equal paternity leave, suggesting that UK is not quite ready to adopt the Scandinavian approach.

Other key findings

• Those working in environment & agriculture suffer the greatest pay disparity with their male colleagues (74% believe they are paid less than a male colleague at equal or lower seniority). Conversely those working in the social care sector have it best/most equal (only 8% believe they’re paid less than male colleagues)

• Those working in environment and agriculture are most likely to have experienced direct or indirect gender discrimination (78% answered yes). Those working in sales were least likely to (88% answered no).
Additional comments from respondents:

Female office workers reported a number of alarming incidents including:

• Being ‘told to stand and look pretty’

• ‘My boss would tell me to bin CVs for women who were over 35 plus for secretarial jobs.’

• ‘I was forced to work in a separate office to the men so they could ‘be themselves’ at work’

• ‘A manager in a bank stated that he could never give top grades in a performance review to a woman with children as her mind is ‘always somewhere else’

 

Nazia Siddiq, HR Director of BE Offices, parent company of Headspace Group, commented:

“Employers have a responsibility to treat all employees equally and it’s clear that many organisations have a long way to go in this respect. It’s just not right that in this day and age so many women are still facing sexism and gender discrimination in the workplace and these results point to some, arguably simple, steps that both employers and the Government could take to provide better support. Flexibility is becoming increasingly important for the modern workforce and, in our experience, this not only benefits employees by contributing to their overall wellbeing, but employers as well. A happy workforce is a creative, collaborative and productive workforce, after all.”

The BE Group employs 101 females and 59 males in corporate roles, of which 17 females and 18 males are of senior management or director level.

 

 

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