How much of a glass ceiling is left in the corporate world?
A recent study among 501 Canadian female business leaders suggests that many of the key inhibitors to female progression are not easily identifiable factors that can be addressed by corporate policies or workplace procedures, because wider societal perceptions of women and the complexities of male and female interactions are at play.
Personal Appearance Affects Promotion
When asked if personal image, including appearance, can impact career progression, 90 per cent of respondents said that they believe that overall image, including looks, have a substantial impact on a woman’s career progression, while only 37 per cent believe image can have the same effect on a man’s career.
“While this is a sensitive issue, marked differences in opinion between those women over 55 and those under 35 suggest that there may be progress underway,” said Gina Ibghy, Chief People Officer, Randstad Canada, adding that while 55 per cent of older workers are the most likely to say that image plays a very large factor in a women’s career, only 42 per cent of younger women say the same. In fact, 33 per cent of those respondents under the age of 35 feel image plays no factor at all.
The study also asked Canada’s female business leaders if having a male or female boss can affect career progression. Based on the responses, Canadian women are divided in their opinions, with half stating that the gender of a superior does not impact a woman’s chance to obtain a managerial or executive position and half say that it does. Interestingly, those stating that gender plays a role feel that a female boss is more likely to inhibit their progression than a male superior. This is surprising because of the common perception that women support other women in the workplace and another aspect of the study identified that mentorship and advocate programs for women by women are considered important for career advancement.
Respondents Say Women Are Better Leaders Than Men
The study also investigated another hot topic of debate – the question of whether men or women make better leaders. Sixty-five percent of the respondents say that women are better leaders, citing enhanced communication, empathy, flexibility and organizational skills as contributing to this belief. But 77 per cent say that women have to work longer hours and harder than a male counterpart to attain these positions.
When asked about more traditional workplace challenges three in five women say managing work and family as the most challenging obstacle that women face, at 61 per cent reflecting a slight increase from 60 per cent when asked the same question a year ago. Taking this question a step further, when asked if they think that companies take women’s personal commitments outside work into consideration, almost half at 49 per cent, say that companies fear absences among female employees due to family commitments and that this has impact on career progression. Women also cite the potential for maternity leave as a large “fear factor”, with 24 per cent having experienced this as an impediment to promotion.
What helps women advance in the workplace?
The study respondents say that it is those women leaders themselves who are demanding equal opportunities that continue to be the biggest influence on making executive positions more obtainable for women.
Other interesting insights from the study include:
- Women continue to see a substantial perceived divide between men and women when it comes to salary (78 per cent), promotions (72 per cent), getting the best tasks and projects (70 per cent), influencing important decisions (67 per cent), travel opportunities (57 per cent.)
- More flexible working arrangements continues to be the area which respondents feel an improvement would help benefit the ability for females to obtain managerial/executive positions at 60 per cent, a slight decline from 2012.
- Training and Development Programs for Women are becoming a greater priority, with a 7per cent increase overall in the past year.
- At 16 per cent, there has been no gain in the number of respondents that have been provided with a sponsor/mentor since 2012 and substantially fewer respondents from Quebec have been provided with a mentor/sponsor year over year. One in five women in business in Ontario and BC have a sponsor/mentor.
- As in 2012, 52 per cent expect to see more women coming into management roles, although Quebec respondents are substantially more optimistic about the prospects for more women in managerial/executive this year than last, with a 6 per cent increase in expectations and younger respondents (under 34) are slightly more optimistic than those 35 and above/
- 65 per cent overall agree that significant efforts have been made in encouraging greater female managerial/executive representation in non-traditional fields such as oil and gas, IT and construction, although there are regional differences with 72 per cent of Ontario respondents agreeing, while only 56 per cent of Quebecers feel significant efforts have been made in these sectors