New IWD report reveals what has to change for women at work

08 March, 2018

PwC have released a new report – Time to talk: what has to change for women at work – to mark International Women's Day 2018.

The report reveals that less than half of Irish women surveyed said that employers are doing enough to improve gender diversity. 66% feel nervous about the impact of starting a family might have on their careers. A third feel that taking advantage of work-life balance and flexibility programmes at work has negative consequences in their careers.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Aoife Flood, the Dublin-based PwC Global Diversity Programme Officer and lead researcher of this report, said: “The survey suggests that women in Ireland are more career ambitious than ever before. They are also more financially independent, more likely to be part of a dual career-couple, and older and more career established when starting a family. And they expect more from their employer."

The report identifies three key areas for organisations to address: transparency, support and flexibility.

The report sought the opinions of 3,627 female professionals, around the world, with over 100 Irish women providing their insights. The survey included respondents from employers in 27 industry sectors and from over 60 countries.

Transparency and diversity

The report reveals that while women are confident and ambitious in their professional lives, many do not trust what their employers are telling them about career development and promotion.

40% of Irish women surveyed believe diversity can be a barrier to career progression. Only 47% of women feel their employers are doing enough to improve gender diversity.

Although CEOs recognise the importance of being transparent about their diversity and inclusion programmes to build trust, the message isn’t universal and strong enough. 58% of women around the world identified greater transparency as the critical step employers can take to address this problem.

To improve career opportunities, women identified greater clarity as a critical step employers can take. This means offering staff a clear understanding of the expectations on both sides of the employment equation. It also includes providing information about career progression and success, as well as open conversations with employees what is expected of them to advance.

Speaking at the launch of the report, PwC Ireland's Managing Partner Feargal O’Rourke said: “Leaders should focus on creating an environment where women and men can have open conversations and clarity on what it takes to progress. This will benefit everyone and will lead to better results.

"This greater transparency is just one piece of the puzzle. More actions are needed to drive change. It must go hand in hand with efforts to mitigate any unconscious biases and gender stereotypes. These have affected career success and progression in workplaces around the world.”

"It is really encouraging to see that more and more women are speaking up and proactively going after their career goals."

Susan Kilty People Partner, PwC Ireland

The power of negotiation

Women, traditionally, are not self-promoters although when they speak up they get results. The survey shows that more women are recognising the need for and power of advocating for themselves, with over half actively pursuing and negotiating for promotions, pay raises, and the career enhancing experiences so critical for advancement.

Of the 41% of women who had been promoted in the past two years, 63% negotiated for a promotion. And of the 53% and 52% of women who had been given a high visibility project or stretch assignment in the past two years, 91% and 86% respectively negotiated for these opportunities. Self-advocacy pays off and a move to greater transparency combined with workplace and personal support will act to bolster this further.

Susan Kilty, People Partner, PwC Ireland, said: “It is really encouraging to see that more and more women are speaking up and proactively going after their career goals. Organisations can do a lot to help women progress and reach leadership positions, for example by encouraging more open career conversations, mitigating the impact of any potential unconscious biases in decisions related to career progression, and explicitly setting uniform and transparent criteria by which employees are assessed."

The motherhood and flexibility penalty

Almost all women globally and in Ireland said that working in a job they enjoy (97% globally and in Ireland) and having flexibility to balance the demands of their career and personal/family life was important to them. Getting to the top of their career is important to 75% of women (both globally and in Ireland), while 82% are confident in their ability to fulfil their career aspirations. Female confidence levels in Ireland (77%) are rising, but have not yet reached global confidence levels. Meanwhile, 86% of women in Ireland who are in a relationship, are part of a dual-career couple and 58% of those earn more than or equal to their partner or spouse.

But women feel nervous about the impact starting a family might have on their career (42%), with this concern higher for women pursuing careers in Ireland (66%). Yet, while 48% of new mothers globally felt overlooked for promotions and special projects upon their return to work, new mothers in Ireland said they fair better in this regard (35%).

Meanwhile, 38% of all women in our survey feel that taking advantage of work life balance and flexibility programmes has negative career consequences at their workplace, dropping to 34% for Irish women. There is a clear concern over what women see as a motherhood and flexibility penalty.

On this topic, Aoife Flood said: "This research shows concern over the motherhood penalty is very much alive and real in Ireland. Employers must address flexibility and motherhood concerns or risk losing highly skilled talent. A culture shift that recognises performance over presence and overcomes outdated assumptions that women want to step back or opt out of their career when they become mothers is absolutely critical.” 

The three things that need to change 

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 won’t only benefit women, it will foster a more inclusive environment which gives women and men greater opportunities to fulfil their potential.

Strategic support

Women need 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 don’t take leave or care furloughs precisely because they believe it will hurt their careers.

Employers must recognise that everyone is making flexibility demands – it’s not a life-stage or gender-only issue – and help and encourage their people to take advantage of the programmes in place.

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Contact us

Susan Kilty

Partner, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Tel: +353 1 792 6740

Aoife Flood

Senior Manager, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Tel: +353 1 792 6459

Johanna Dehaene

Corporate Communications, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Tel: +353 1 792 6547

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