This International Women’s Day, it’s important to ask: why haven’t we made more progress towards gender equality?
The finding that there are more men named John or David running big companies than all women highlights the extent of the issue. Of the entire S&P 1500 companies, an analysis identified that 5.3% of CEOs were called John, 4.5% David, and only 4.1% were women. Clearly, something is not right, and many organisations have started trying to right these wrongs.
The introduction of the gender pay gap has highlighted that collectively, the average hourly earnings for women in the UK is significantly lower than for men. ONS analysis reveals that this is mainly due to the fact that women are less likely to occupy the higher paying roles of ‘managers, directors or senior officials’. (1) But why?
Why are women less likely to have higher paying roles?
Gendered views of leadership
Gendered views of leadership are likely to be a significant part of the problem. Effective leaders are typically considered to be strong, assertive, decisive, agentic; characteristics stereotypically associated with men. Of course, women can be strong, assertive, decisive, and agentic, but when they demonstrate these characteristics, they’re judged more negatively by both men and women compared to male professionals demonstrating the same behaviours. (2) A double-bind is created for women, whereby to be seen as an effective leader they have to demonstrate these agentic traits, yet when they do they face social and economic penalties for behaving counter-stereotypically.
Fewer role models
Women also have fewer role models to look up to and learn from. Organisational hierarchies in which men predominate not only provide few role models for women but also tend to perpetuate implicit beliefs that equate leadership with behaviours believed to be more common or appropriate in men. Lack of role models also often leaves women grappling with these dilemmas alone and subconsciously – it can be helpful to share your experiences, to make these dilemmas explicit as well as normalising these experiences.
Lack of internal sponsorship
Women also tend to lack internal sponsorship. Sponsorship involves senior leaders informally supporting and keeping an eye out for a more junior colleague, helping them navigate the organization, putting a good word in for them in discussions with other senior leaders, or putting their name forwards for key opportunities, for example. Whilst both mentoring and sponsorship are important for a person’s development, sponsorship is particularly critical for progression, and women tend to receive less of it. Women are less likely to have someone advocating for them within the business than men. Instead, male and female mentors tend to offer development to women, rather than advocacy. Critically, it’s the advocacy that women tend to miss out on.
Women are less likely to succeed in negotiating a pay-rise
The double bind can play out for women in more specific ways too. Women are also statistically less likely than men to succeed in negotiating a pay-rise (3), potentially because it requires self-advocacy which contrasts with the stereotype of women as communal, concerned less about themselves than others. Research shows that mindful of the potential backlash they may receive, women hedge their assertiveness, use fewer competing tactics and get less. In contrast, when vouching for others, women achieve better outcomes as they don’t expect a clash with gender norms, so don’t engage in hedging. (4)
More women have flexible working arrangements
More women work part-time, many changing their working patterns after becoming mothers (38% of mothers work part-time compared to only 7% of fathers (5)), which often comes at a cost to progression. Many part-time women are dissatisfied with their quality of work and promotion prospects and feel they’re working below their potential. Almost a quarter report no chance of promotion. (6) On average, part-time workers’ negligible wage increases year on year are far below what would be expected in proportion to their full-time equivalents. (7) Importantly, it’s not the time mothers spend out of employment on maternity leave, but more what happens when they re-join the workforce part-time that explains the widening pay gap. (8) The pay gap between mothers and fathers continues to increase for years after maternity leave, reaching a difference of 21% by a child’s 20th birthday. (9)