UK Markets closed

10 major issues holding back women at work in the UK

Women who display 'masculine' are disliked, while women who display 'feminine' traits are not considered for leadership roles. Photo: Monkey Business Images/REX/Shutterstock

From ambition being frowned on to unhealthy company culture, there are countless barriers facing women at work.

Analysis by professional training company Roar Training highlights 10 of the most common issues holding back female employees in the workplace.

Unhelpful stereotypes

An academic study earlier this year found almost three-quarters (74%) of female employees feel their workplace culture makes it more challenging for women to advance their careers than men – and 42% of men agreed.

This has been known for a while now. In 2015, researchers told the Independent female board members were tied to unrealistic expectations based on unhelpful stereotypes.

One study suggested women were more likely to be referred to as “bitchy”, “emotional” and “bossy” than their male colleagues.

A survey of 1,000 female and 500 male small business owners showed more than half of respondents heard female bosses referred to as “bitchy” and “emotional,” compared with just one in eight male counterparts.

And less than a quarter of men had been described as “bossy”, compared with almost 40% of women.

Ambition seen as a bad thing

Attributes displayed by men are often viewed differently when displayed by women, stopping countless hard-working women getting ahead in their careers.

Psychology research has also found an issue with “likeability” in the workplace.

Female workers who do not posses the qualities typically associated with women – “descriptive biases” such as being “caring”, “warm” and “deferential” – can be penalised and punished.

Women who display more “masculine” traits like assertiveness and ambition are labelled as “bitchy”, “unfeminine” and “aggressive”, and so generally disliked.

On the other hand, women who are not assertive and fit the gender stereotype of being gentle and kind are more liked in the workplace – but not considered for leadership roles.

READ MORE: Many workers find themselves too far away from the right jobs

Differing views on satisfaction between genders

Satisfaction at work can mean a variety of things, as a highly personal issue. However, views on satisfaction in a job role also differ between genders.

Research shows men tend to take chief satisfaction from financial reward and position, whereas women want to enjoy the quality of their days at work. A one-size-fits-all approach therefore may not cater for everyone when it comes to attracting and retaining staff.

Unconscious bias

Research suggests an unconscious gender bias affects workplace feedback and advancement. In an interview environment, women tend to be judged on their experience, whereas men are more likely to be judged on their potential.

And interviewers are more to likely question women about their ability to balance life and work than men.

In fact, a survey of 4,010 young mothers aged 18 to 30 showed almost two in five (39%) had been illegally asked in job interviews how being a mother would impact their ability to work.

Unequal pay structure

The gender gap shows no sign of equalising any time soon. Many women are paid considerably less money than their male counterparts with the same skill-set and experience.

A recent report by the BBC revealed just how unequal pay structure is in the UK. In fact, further analysis shows nearly eight in 10 (78%) firms have a pay gap in favour of men, while only 8% of companies reported no pay gap at all.

Data from the National Business Research Institute shows talking to your employer about salary, in most cases, won’t increase your salary.

However, sharing evidence such as your experience, improvements in performance and examples of increased knowledge have a higher chance of landing a pay rise.

READ MORE: Older workers could soon find it easier to prove age discrimination

Working hours

In a recent survey of 1,000 employees by Adler, almost half (48%) listed flexible working as their most-desired workplace perk.

Brits work some of the longest hours in Europe. You could be forgiven for thinking this was to deal with peak periods or emergencies.

However, research shows a high percentage of UK workers work more than 10 hours over their contracted hours on a regular basis.

The result is exhausted employees. Studies show that when employees exceed more than 55 hours a week cognitive performance – emotional intelligence, problem-solving and capacity to reason – and work engagement levels decline.

Company culture

Studies show more than half (53%) of employees feel the culture of their workplace is holding them back from doing their job more effectively.

In fact, a further 53% stated that they would consider moving jobs unless their organisation changes.

A lack of career progression

Studies show women are more likely to be promoted by other women than men. This has been put down to issues such as inherent bias.

A year-long study by Cambridge University of 5,814 UK employees – 54% men and 47% women – found that workplace culture was creating a barrier to career advancement for women.

In fact it was shown to be a bigger issue than balancing work and family life.

READ MORE: UK workers “should be guaranteed 16 hours of work a week”

Minimal training and support

Many employees are struggling to advance at work because companies are failing to prioritise the right training.

A study by The Hartford showed the training that employers were looking for most in millenials was written and oral communication skills, yet this training was one of the subjects being neglected the most.

Lack of role models

Without role models in the workplace, many employees can feel directionless and without the proper support. This is the case for many women.

Only 297 of FTSE 100 board members are female, and only 13 CEOs and 21 Chairs in the FTSE 350 are women.

It therefore falls to senior men and women to champion the inclusion of role models at work, including policies such as childcare and flexible working practices for both men and women.