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Monday, 22 October, 2001, 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK
Women in the workplace: Can they break the glass ceiling?
Marjorie Scardino is still the only female chief executive of a FTSE-100 company, five years after her appointment at Pearson
Overall, only 2% of executive directors in the UK are female, and the figure is similar in the US
Even when women are promoted, their pay goes up by less than that of their male colleagues, according to a study by the University of Essex.
However, the situation is slowly improving, with the number of women holding management positions in the UK rising from 9% in 1990 to 25% today.
Are women being discriminated against in the workplace? What should be done to even the keel? Or are we expecting too much, too soon?
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I agree with the previous correspondent; to have a large percentage of women in "top jobs" now would have meant a large intake of women into those areas at least 20 years ago, to gain the relevant experience. This was not the case, as girls were not encouraged to set their sights so high back then. That is the case now, so the balance should slowly but surely even out. I do find, though, that as a man I am discriminated against. A colleague of mine recently went off for maternity leave. When she gets back, she will automatically get an increment to the next grade level, despite having missed out on at least 9 months experience. I find this unfair. I agree that women should not be left out because they go to have children, but that doesn't mean they should be handed things on a platter when they get back. So-called "positive discrimination" is still discrimination AGAINST someone and so is wrong. Treat all fairly; judge on whether, and how well, they can do the job required, regardless of sex (or anything else for that matter). That's the only way to get an equitable balance.
I am not bitter but I know the way the world works now, and choose to combat some injustices by working hard, increasing my skill set, and making myself indispensable. Assertiveness, intelligence, and a solid work ethic are not gender nor race based, and promotions SHOULD not be either. (Yes, I know it's idealistic) Most women do not want special favors, but we do demand to be rewarded when we accomplish positive results.
If we act as role models and mentors to women coming up in the company, let them know when they are on the right track AND when they are off course, and fight FOR high potentials when it comes to promotion time, we can eventually fill more executive positions with deserving women. We have to look out for each other to some degree. That is one advantage men have over women - they have been looking out for each other for centuries.
As a 25 year old woman, born under the reign of Thatcher, I never expected to face sexism in the work place, I thought we'd moved on from that and there really was equality - in fact as an economics graduate I was always the first to rationalise lower women's pay as being a matter of timing - most top positions being held by middle aged men whose female contempories didn't have the same opportunities that women of my generation did and that would change in time.
However, I face sexism on a daily basis. The source, the male ego. Time and time again I am seen as the work horse, the reliable one that will get the work done. I'm not a wallflower, I shout and scream with the best of them. Meanwhile, many of my male colleagues are chosen for new projects, are handled with kid gloves whereas I was demoted for not managing a team that I hadn't been told I was managing - I, without extensive management experience, was supposed to use stealth management techniques to save the pride of the men I would have been managing! While I am not thought to have an ego - those of my male colleagues are constantly pandered to. Ironically, the more incompetent the individual the more of an ego they tend to have and the more they seem to be considered! Men and women are different but shouldn't necessarily be treated differently - it disappoints me how many intelligent men are totally incapable of seeing this point!
The problem is that many men like to exercise an irrational power over women. This can range from constant derogatory references, to putting a threshold on women's promotion prospects. The latter is usually exercised through the "old boy network" of promotion committees and interview panels. It is self evident that men find it easier to get through this iniquitous cliquey set-up.
Men's psyche is littered with inconsistencies towards women, and this is just another of them. One thinks of wanting to marry a virgin, but expecting sex with every woman you meet. Or, older men chatting up young women, but trying to protect their daughters from such predators. The whole family benefits from women getting true financial reward and recognition for their services. How many men act to deny women promotion, yet complain when their own wife or daughter suffers from such behaviour? Men should try looking at things always from the viewpoint of a father or husband of the woman concerned. Would you like your wife or daughter to be treated this way? It's a simple issue of respect.
In my 5 year working life I've yet to see a single case where a women has been discriminated against and am thoroughly sick of hearing this issue come up again and again. The money and jobs go to whoever has the necessary skills, experience and commitment, regardless of sex, which is as it should be. As long as it is mainly women that have children and take time off to rear them, they are going to earn less than men who mainly work all the way through their lives instead. If a woman and her husband agree that he stays home with the kids then her career prospers, his suffers, so it is not a sexist issue. Blame biology and the fact that in most families it is women who end up looking after the kids. Please stop making an issue of nothing!
We are talking about woman in the UK/US/Europe not Afghanistan?
Could have fooled me!
All jobs should be done by women, men after should be able to retire at 21. Quite the opposite of how things have been done in the past.
The facts speak for themselves - I have experience of my job for over 5 years and I am female. Last year my company employed a male with no experience who was just 1 year older than me, to do the same job. I know he was on over £1k more than me. Maybe not a lot of money to most people, but this shows just how biased the workplace is.
Please don't forget that this isn't just an issue for top managers. Women face discrimination in pay and job security at all levels, especially the lowest paid. Happily, more and more low-paid women are joining unions and organising to get a better deal.
If you read the comments from Liz UK, THIS will tell you why they get discriminated against. Women seem to want to be something they simply are not.
It is a sad fact that in this new century women are still faced with the egotistical male who refuses to acknowledge women in the workplace as intelligent and skilful individuals. I believe it comes down to basic insecurity and jealousy when woman prove time and again that they are intelligent and have far better organisation skills than men, and sadly the chauvinistic does not have the ability to handle this fact.
Wow, How did she get out of the kitchen for long enough to achieve that?
I've always worked in male dominated industries and never had a problem and have always done extremely well. It's primarily a matter of confidence and talent. That said, there are always problems that women face that are unique to women. And most of these are down to narrowminded people with attitudes like Simon, Mike and Charles on this very forum. It's a real challenge to get past that, but, oh, what satisfaction when we do! Fact is, women do many things much better than men and that's not limited to having children, boys. Some of you need to grow up or you'll find yourself being left way behind.
Dave Dunbar, Aberdeen, Scotland
I recently became the head of my department and managed in 6 months to transfer all the women out to other departments. I now have the best quarterly results in my field in the whole multinational company. I think that answers it all really.
I work in a male dominated industry but have never had a problem with discrimination. Maybe that's because I just get my head down and work hard. Some people have made comments about women being less friendly or bad at managing others. Grow up! There are idiots of both sexes and one of the worst managers I had was a man who treated all his employees badly, not just me. I also wish people would stop grouping women with mothers. Not all women have maternal or domestic instincts, just as I suspect there are many men who would love to stay at home in the kitchen. The best thing is that we get a choice.
If I were employing somebody expensive, would I go for someone who will work continuously, or will I go for somebody who will have a number of 9 month and breaks, which I will still have to pay for, and cover the absence with a second salary? I wonder.
John Tarrant, UK
It is men who are now being discriminated against. My workplace has had a review of its staff recently and of course a percentage of the management structure are women. Unfortunately the women put into the roles are as much use as a chocolate poker but the company had to be seen to be doing 'something'. PS - the males put into management positions are also useless!
I can't believe the amount of bickering and suspicion on this forum. Perhaps if we stopped treating the opposite sex like the enemy and more like people then we would all be a lot happier!
With women in most of the world, let alone the poorer parts of the West, suffering deprivation that is really barbaric, I find it hard to get fired up about a few upper-middle class brats who can't get to be CEO because of the old boys network.
Kath Owen, Leeds, UK
If a man fails it's because he's not good enough. If a woman fails it's because she's been discriminated against. Something slightly strange here? People should be promoted into jobs that they are actually capable of carrying out, not put there to make up quotas.
I accepted a job as a PA as a stepping stone into programming because that is what the Director promised me at the interview. However, one and a half years on, even though I had financed myself through Java and Visual Basic courses in my own time, he refused to "let me out". It was extremely demoralising that the promises he had made had been just empty words. He would always tell everyone I was studying in my own time and he would make it sound as if I were a circus animal doing a magnificent trick.
At the time, I thought it was because in his head, he had categorised me as a "dumb secretary". Then I thought it was because I was female while everyone in IT was mostly male. Either way, it made me feel insignificant and after trying for ages to get the role I had been promised, I left the company. Now, I know that he was not sexist - he was just a bad boss, plain and simple.
Women should stick to making dinner in the kitchen. The workplace is friendlier without women.
Liz, the IT goddess from the UK claims that men simply insult women because of their gender and then goes on to tell us that she is far more intelligent than any man she works with. Liz, if a guy started telling us all how much more intelligent he was than the rest of us, we'd probably insult him too.
During the times I have been working for women I have found out that women fail to understand the difference between been assertive and being aggressive. I know where I stand with a male boss and am quite confident that he is not going to flip out at something trivial. For example the old double standard of a group of men being reprimanded for having a ten minute chat about the football on a Monday morning and the office women being allowed to stand around all morning cooing at some ex-employee's brand new offspring that is being paraded around the office. Another double standard is the fact that the men have to wear suits and look respectable whilst you should see some of the tat some of the women turn up in, track suit bottoms (urgh!) with gaudy t-shirts, and they expect promotion?
The women who whine about discrimination are put to shame by those who, rather than relying on a perceived prejudice, work hard and make huge personal sacrifices (particularly with regard to having a family) to make it to the top. We have equality, we have the choice. Anyone suggesting that women are being discriminated against because they choose to leave work and have children at some point in their career should not be surprised if they are accused of wanting to 'have their cake...'
Scott Myatt, Texas, USA
Simon- You just contradicted yourself, saying "They should stick at what they are good at: running charities and having children." It takes the same amount of skill and "team player" attitude to run a charity as a for-profit business. Charities have presidents, CEOs, million-dollar-budgets, etc. If a woman can run a charity she can surely run a business. Of course, improving the lives of others probably has more personal satisfaction than making the best shoes.
I hate working for a woman. It's like having a girlfriend but not being able to escape when she starts flapping. Women are not designed to be team players - that's why they don't play football. They should stick at what they are good at: running charities and having children.
I wonder exactly what Sharon B. means when she advocates women banding together for promotion rather then searching for individual promotion. Why on earth would you do that in the first place? Are women on one team and men on the oppossing team in the game of life? That is awfully un-egalitarian. Would you push for a woman to get a top job over a man just because she was a woman as part of your solidarity campaign? If you would, that would be discrimination pure and simple as well as sexist. If you would not select equally qualified women over men for promotion, then what would be the point of this suppossed collective action?
However the reason we are still kept down is because of a) our mind set and b) our lack of co-operation and support for our female colleagues. Women only push for their individual success. If we pushed collectively we would go further. However the fact that we still have such a minority representaion in the workplace is down to us as much as it is to the discrimination of men.
Jenna Wilhelm, USA
When I was 18 I went for a job interview and was asked if I planned to get married or have children in the near future. That was only four years ago. I wonder how many men are asked these same questions? If managers in this day and age still have these prejudices, what hope is there?
I was the same grade/pay as my male peers until I had children. After that I did not have a grade rise for over 8 years even though my work was normally given to someone at least a grade higher if not two. I believe it was due to my manager not approving of 'working mothers'.
I work for a large investment bank and all the problems we have to deal with originate from women and their childish behaviour with each other. And they say men need to grow up?
I am tired of being told that women's failure to progress is due to the fact that they have children. I do not have children, yet I have suffered discrimination at every stage of my career. At Oxford I was barred from studying at most of the colleges, which were male only (this is post the Sex Discrimination Act). At work (as a commercial lawyer) I have been told by male colleagues that I am "odd" and "strange" for studying for qualifications and wanting a career. Some prospective male employers have reacted very negatively to the fact that I have much better academic results than they do. One employer sacked me after one month and was unable to give me any good reasons - but I later discovered that none of their female employees lasted long.
The use of so-called performance related pay often gives employers an excuse to pay men more. I worked long hours doing demanding work for one employer, yet a male colleague who rarely put in a full day's work and whose work was careless and sloppy was rated 20% higher than I was, and got a much higher pay rise!
Question is, how many women actually want to break the glass ceiling? Long hours, backbiting colleagues (possibly men who moan you got there due to positive discrimination) and excessive stress... thanks, but I'll stick to my fairly lowly but very rewarding and civilised job. Seems to me that breaking glass ceilings is likely in many cases to cause lacerations.
I worked in England for 18 months and of course in the USA for the remainder of my 15 years in sales and sales management. My opinion is that women are still very much being held back or looked over. Women have to work twice as hard and twice as smart to get the same jobs at the same pay! I guess it will take another 50 years to become equal citizens.
I have absolutely no problem with female bosses. The ones I've had have been nothing less than superb. The only things I want my boss to be are up to the job and professional at all times. Other than that, they can be whatever sex or race they like, I couldn't care less. I think that the stats would suggest that women are being deliberately held back. I hope it doesn't stay like that.
People should be promoted and paid according to their competence and experience, not so the maths of the politically correct brigade adds up. But I would say that wouldn't I? Being male I don't have an equal opportunities tribunal backing me up.
I am afraid that, other than in isolated cases, we can never expect to see women heading up any sizeable proportion of the top jobs. That is quite simply because all other things being equal, a large percentage of them take great swathes of time away from the workplace to attend to their maternal instincts. Nothing wrong with that, I'd be more worried if the trend ever went the other way. Let's just resign ourselves to the irrefutable fact that our responsibilities vis à vis propagating the species will always override career aspirations, and that adversely affects women much more than men.
Women are discriminated against in today's workplace? Utter rubbish. If anything, women are promoted much more quickly than like-qualified men because of political pressures. How can you expect 50% of CEOs to be women now? That would require that working conditions were equal 30-50 years ago.
First of all, there is no good reason why such a statistic should ever be an actual goal. If it happens through fair practices, so be it. But only nuts ignore the fact that many women have priorities other than business. That will obviously mean many women leaving the workplace, either temporarily or permantently, before they get to a position where they might be qualified for top jobs. In that respect, 50/50 is an absurdly arbitrary quota to strive for.
We have an extremely un-family friendly working culture that affects all women, including those who don't even have families. If men and women shared parenting (I mean really share, not just the odd, token gesture) we would all have a fair chance...
I'm sorry but I can't believe all this tripe about 'are women discriminated against'. I work for the Open University and most of my bosses have all been women. Sometimes it's hard to see a man around the place. The fact remains that in order for people to hold senior management positions, they need to work hard and gain a great deal of experience over many years. This takes long-term commitment. I suppose some women think that they should leave school or college and walk straight into a senior management role or walk back into the workplace after taking five years out to raise a child and expect to receive a pay award.
I have never in my 20 years of working, been in a situation where I have been paid more than a woman who has been performing the same level of work. It has often been however, quite the reverse, where many a woman has been paid a higher salary than me when quite clearly her skills were not as broad as mine. Did anyone ever stick up for me or cry sex discrimination? No! I am a firm believer of equality. This means equal pay for equal work, not the right to be promoted just because you are a woman.
Mike - despite being better at my job than the majority of my male colleagues, I have recently discovered I get paid £5,000 less. My boss argues that my role is different - hence the pay - when in reality it is exactly the same. We are not asking to fall into jobs, or to be promoted just because we're women. We're asking for the recognition that we rightly deserve. Those that claim this problem doesn't exist are living in cloud cuckoo land.
Well done Mike UK for telling how it really is. It must be great to be a woman and have the ultimate fall back should things not go your way 'its men to blame'. Grow up girls.
Of course women are being discriminated against. I would've thought that much was obvious. What we need to examine are the reasons why and what we can do about it.
Don't forget, a lot of companies or organisations, especially in the city or the civil service, are just old boy's networks, despite what they might like us to believe.
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