To mark International Women’s Day (Thursday, March 8), PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) surveyed over 3 600 professional women, aged 28 to 40, to find out about their career development experiences and aspirations.
The survey included respondents from employers across 27 industry sectors and from over 60 countries worldwide. These women are at the point in their working lives where the gap between men’s and women’s progression begins to widen significantly and the challenges of combining careers and personal priorities increase.
The report, Time to talk: what has to change for women at work – reveals that women are confident, ambitious and ready for what is next, but many do not trust what their employers are telling them about career development and promotion; or what helps or hurts their career.
The collective voice of women, speaking up about their experiences in the workplace, has never been stronger. There is a new fearlessness and urgency to address the challenges women face, including, but not limited to, the possibility of discrimination, and the slow progress in bridging the gender gap.
Although CEOs recognised the importance of being transparent about their diversity and inclusion programmes to build trust, the message is not universal and strong enough. About 45 percent of women (of 53 percent are in South Africa) believe an employee’s diversity status (gender, ethnicity, age, sexual preference) can be a barrier to career progression in their organisation, and only 51 percent of women agree that employers are doing enough to progress gender diversity.
Dion Shango, CEO for PwC southern Africa says: “The quality of women’s talent and leadership is vitally important to business; the skills and experience they bring, including experience gained outside of the workplace, has proven to be essential in strategic decision-making and in ethical sustainable enterprise.
“Business leaders need to focus on creating a more transparent working environment where women – and men – can have open conversations on performance and progression benchmarks. Greater transparency won’t benefit only women; it will foster more inclusive environments, which give everyone greater opportunities to fulfill their potential.”
According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2017 Global Gender Gap report, which measures the participation gap, the remuneration gap and the advancement gap, women lag men by 58 percent overall and are further behind in developing countries. This is a systemic issue that cannot be attributed to individual circumstances; it is endemic to organisational structures, cultures and practices.
Of the 41 percent of women who had been promoted in the past two years, 63 percent negotiated for a promotion. In South Africa, 53 percent of women stated they had received an increase in pay over the past two years. In addition, of the 53 percent and 52 percent of women who had been given a high visibility project or stretch assignment in the past two years, 91 percent and 86 percent had negotiated for these opportunities. Self-advocacy pays off, a move to greater transparency combined with workplace, and personal support will act to bolster this further.
The report puts forward three essential elements that leaders must focus on to help women advance their career:
- Transparency and trust: women need to know where they stand so they can make their own case successfully and trust the feedback they get. Greater transparency will not only benefit women, it will foster a more inclusive environment, which gives women and men greater opportunities to fulfill their potential.
- Strategic support: women need the proactive networks of leaders and peers who will develop, promote and champion them as they pursue their career aspirations, both at home and in the workplace. Women need dedicated sponsors and role models of both genders – lack of support from male colleagues will stall progress. This blend of workplace and personal support will also work to underpin the self-advocacy women need to advance and succeed.
- Life, family care and work: Women need employers to rethink their approach to helping talent balance work, life parenthood and family care, to prevent potential biases, and to provide organisational solutions that work. There is a move to redesign maternity and paternity leaves and re-entry programmes, but these efforts should be expanded and promoted, and best practices must be communicated more broadly. Flexibility alone is not the issue: many people do not take leave or care furloughs because they believe it will hurt their careers. Employers must recognise that everyone is making flexibility demands – it is not a life-stage or gender-only issue – and help and encourage their people to take advantage of the programmes in place.