4 Obstacles Firms Face When Hiring Women

In the United Kingdom, women account for 57% of all undergraduate degree recipients. So why are the academic achievements of women not translating into higher workforce participation and subsequently more women in leadership positions? And how do we correct the problem? Women face real obstacles in the professional world that prevent them from reaching the top, including;

1) Sexism. Sexism in the workplace is not necessarily obvious. One such example of very subtle sexism is that women are expected to prove themselves to a far greater extent than men. For example; a 2011 McKinsey study noted that men are promoted on potential and women are promoted on past accomplishments.

2) Discrimination. Pregnancy discrimination remains prevalent. According to the EHRC, up to 54,000 women could be forced to leave their jobs early each year as a result of being fired, made redundant or poor treatment following pregnancy or giving birth.

3) Unequal caring responsibilities. In order to empower women in the workplace, we must empower men at home. Women still provide the majority of unpaid work in the home and are more likely to be carers for family member who are not their partners.

4) A lack of female role models and mentors. It is much easier for men to find mentors and sponsors which is invaluable to career progression. If there are fewer women in leadership positions, young women have no clearly defined path for career progression. Female executives and leaders are seen more as outliers than the norm.

In addition to external barriers enforced by society, women are also hindered by internal barriers. A lack of self-confidence causes us to undervalue ourselves, not take risks or accept more responsibility, not ask for that promotion, and back down in salary negotiations. Compared to men, fewer women aspire to leadership positions. Women compromise on their career goals in favour of starting a family because they feel they can’t do both. If there were more women in leadership positions serving as role models for young women and giving a voice to women in the workforce, women would not have to sacrifice their careers for family or vice-versa.

So, how do we encourage and empower more women to aspire to leadership roles? In her book ‘Lean In’, Sheryl Sandberg describes this as the ultimate chicken-and-egg situation. The chicken: women will tear down external barriers once they achieve leadership roles. The egg: we need to eliminate those external barriers to get women into those leadership roles in the first place. In addition, overcoming the internal barriers women place on themselves is critical to getting to the top. We need to wage battle on both fronts.

Gender inequality is not immediately obvious. I’ll admit that I wasn’t aware of many of the inequalities and challenges facing women until I saw them first hand. I wasn’t aware of the internal barriers I held within myself until someone told me. So let’s talk about it. Let’s identify the problems and brainstorm solutions. Let’s offer help and guidance. Let’s get people involved. I can’t wait 50 years for a world where men and women are equal. So let’s make it happen now.