Women in Business – Does Inequality Still Exist?

Women in Business – Does Inequality Still Exist?

Women in Business – Does Inequality Still Exist? – Sexual discrimination in the workplace has been against the law for four decades.  However inequalities still continue to exist.  Women are still suffering from sexual harassment and discrimination in their place of work.  Research from 2017 indicates that four in ten women have experience of unwanted sexual behaviour towards them in their workplace.  Additionally one in nine mothers (11%) stated that they were either dismissed, made redundant (where others weren’t), or treated so badly they felt they had no choice but to leave their job.

The Equality Act of 2010 prohibits unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation; protects employees from poor treatment; and encourages a fair and more equal workplace. 

One of the causes for depression and anxiety among other problems at work is experiencing bullying, harassment or not being valued by managers and seniors, this provokes a desire to resign by employees. It is vital that all employees feel safe at work, and confident that their employers will enforce a zero-tolerance policy towards harassment and discrimination of any type.

The gender pay gap

The gender pay gap in the UK stands at 17.3% however this is primarily for women over 40.  For the younger generation the gap has shrunk to zero, according to the ONS.  But it remains stubbornly high for those over 50.  The reasons for the gap are complex and interrelated, including economic, cultural, societal and educational factors:

  • A lack of flexible working options – women often shoulder the responsibility for looking after children so need to fit work around this
  • Women are often the main providers of unpaid caring responsibilities
  • Occupational differences – women are still more likely to occupy lower paid admin and secretarial roles
  • The undervaluing of women’s work
  • Pay discrimination.

Research has found that there is a ‘motherhood penalty’, where working mothers face problems in the workplace regarding assessment of their competence, dedication and aspiration. 

Management roles

Men still outnumber women in the most senior management roles.  Britain’s top FTSE 100 companies have made some progress on encouraging women but still don’t have enough women in the top leadership positions, a report has found.  The research, by Cranfield School of Management, found that the number of women on FTSE 100 boards was at an all-time high, but came to the conclusion that there are still not enough female chairs, chief executives and chief financial officers. A proof of this is when we look at the 100UK CEOs list in the UK, only 8 are women. However this is the highest number of FTSE board executives since it the report was first published in 1999.

Although there has been progress in the number of women at the top of organisations, there’s still a long way to go until there is equality of opportunity in career progression. Despite some progress spurred on by the Hampton-Alexander Review and its forerunner, the Davies Review, there is still a lack of women in executive positions compared to non-executive roles, meaning that they are still underrepresented in important managerial roles, so they don’t have as much influence as men on making key decisions in UK businesses.

There are just 1 in 3 women who are entrepreneurs in the UK, this percentage is far away smaller than in men, being only 5.6% of women in the UK who run their businesses, compared with a 15% in Canada, 11% in the US and more than 9% in Australia and the Netherlands. If as many women ran their own businesses as men it would add up to £250 billion to the UK economy. (Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship, HM Treasury 2019)

Recommendations for Employers

  • All employers should make every effort to ensure that women are paid and treated as equal to men in the workplace, and encourage make all forms of discrimination and harassment unacceptable.
  • Senior managers should allow, and positively encourage, flexible working practices.
  • Make sure that you communicate a clear policy on dignity and respect in the workplace.
  • All managers should lead by example, take steps to stamp out inappropriate workplace behaviour, and resort to formal disciplinary action if required.
  • Look at the data: are there the same number of women applying for jobs as men?  What could be done to attract and retain more women.
  • Make sure your policies on flexible working and parental leave are published on your website to show how you support parents.
  • Encourage staff to take paternity leave and shared parental leave, make sure the working environment facilitates this.

Companies that take these responsibilities seriously will reap rewards in terms of lower staff turnover and happier employees.  Exhibition stand contractor, Quadrant2Design, tries to adopt these principles. MD Alan Jenkins said “We think flexible working is key, especially for women, and making sure there’s a job progression. All our managers are trained to treat people equally and we are proud to have women in senior positions.”


Although improvements have been made in recent years, there is still significant inequality between the genders in many workplaces.  Some companies are making good progress, however the government needs to encourage all businesses to adopt policies that enable women to work effectively and progress as far and fast as men.

Poppy Watt

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