How to support women in business and shatter the glass ceiling

Women in business

Do women in business have equality? It's the question that is being discussed more and more. In law women in business should be equal, since it is illegal for employers to give preferential treatment to workers on the basis of their gender. But the evidence suggests there is some way to go to create a level playing field for all UK employees.

Latest official figures reveal the gender pay gap has widened in London, with men paid 13.2 per cent more than women on average in 2013. For each pound paid to male professionals per hour, women received 86.8p - down from 89.1p 12 months earlier.

And in research conducted by Robert Half, more than a third of women in business surveyed said they have experienced barriers to professional development and advancement in their career. More than four-in-ten (42 per cent) women aged 18-34 said they have personally faced a gender barrier, followed by 34 per cent of those aged 35-54 and 26 per cent in the 55 and over category.

Of those who feel they have been held back by their gender, 35 per cent believe male colleagues working at the same level earn more money than they do. Overall, three-quarters of respondents said they think a 'glass ceiling' exists for women, making it difficult for them to make the career progress they desire.

Why is there a glass ceiling?

So what causes women in business to be held back and not progressing at the rate they should be? Almost three-quarters (73 per cent) of employees surveyed by Robert Half said the societal perception of a woman’s role and/or career path is a major constraint on their professional development and advancement.

Respondents cited a number of other causes of inequality of work, including managerial style (29 per cent), a lack of workplace visibility (24 per cent), and a shortage of confidence within the business (22 per cent). But what can be done to overcome these perceived difficulties, ensuring women are given every chance to progress to the appropriate level, based upon their skills, talent and experience?

How can employers help women in business?

What can employers do to help shatter the 'glass ceiling' and support the development of women in business? One of the first ways they can potentially help is by offering more remote and flexible working opportunities to their staff. Many female professionals see their development stall when they decide to start a family and take parental leave.

Allowing professionals to customise their working hours, and balance their childcare and work commitments, can potentially help women progress. Some 48 per cent of employees surveyed by Robert Half said they thought a more flexible approach from organisations could help overcome inequality.

Another possible way to break down gender barriers is to review pay grades, as cited by 43 per cent of survey respondents. Organisations should assess how much their staff are earning, and look for discrepancies between individuals operating at a similar level. Just because an employee took maternity leave a few years ago, this should not see them left behind in the salary stakes.

Around a quarter of employees (23 per cent) identified a need for more training and development opportunities for female professionals. By arranging workshops and other skills-focused sessions, employers can build employees' confidence and help prepare them for management. The better-equipped and prepared professionals are when they undertake job interviews, the more likely they will be offered senior roles.

Faster progress needed

Estelle James, director of Robert Half UK, said business leaders are taking steps to level the playing field between men and women in business. However, these inroads are often not being felt by the employees themselves, meaning further progress is required.

"Businesses need to eradicate the ‘old boys club’ mentality and allocate adequate resources to ensure the 'glass ceiling' becomes the 'glass elevator'," Ms James stated. "Offering the right career pathing and development opportunities coupled with more flexible working options will result in a larger pool of women ready to take their rightful seat at the boardroom table."