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WORKS NEWS

BREAKING: It still sucks to be a woman in the workplace

As studies find that female representation has barely improved in the US, and the BBC is still failing women over equal pay, Lily Peschardt asks why we’re moving so slowly

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By Lily Peschardt on

LeanIn.org has released its fourth annual Women In The Workplace survey, and it’s not exactly the feminist manifesto many of us were hoping for. Instead, after interviewing 64,000 employees in the US, the survey found that companies have “made almost no progress improving women's representation” since the study was first conducted in 2015.

“Almost no progress..."

In fact, the proportion of women at every level in corporate America has hardly changed. While the number of female CEOs and CFOs has risen by 5% since 2015 (to a measly 22%), for every other rung, the rates have remained almost exactly the same.

Essentially, we have been sitting in a traffic jam this whole time. We have been crawling forward, inches at a time, certain that the traffic was moments away from clearing and the wide open road would appear before us and we could speed away, Thelma and Louise-style, into equality.

But (spoiler) Thelma and Louise drove off a cliff. And the situation, as it currently stands, isn’t much better for equal pay. Companies have waxed lyrical about how they are committed to gender equality, the media has been relentless with its coverage and yet, little has actually changed when it comes to female representation and the gender pay gap. In hindsight, we should have known if they weren’t actually going to pay up for Claire Foy, they weren’t going to pay up for any of us mere mortals.

Despite the fact that women earn more bachelor's degrees (and have for years), they’re less likely to be hired for entry-level jobs. If you want to be proactive, you can go out and get yourself a master’s degree, but, be warned, even women with master’s degrees are often paid less than men with undergraduate degrees – meaning, women have to put themselves further into debt if they want to try and level the playing field.

Even when you finally get your foot on the first rung of the career ladder, it is likely to be pulled out from underneath you at any moment – not only are women less likely to be hired into manager-level jobs, but they are also far less likely to be promoted into them. For every 100 men promoted to manager, just 79 women reach the same role. The higher you climb, the worse it seems to get. Only about one-in-five senior leaders is a woman, and an abysmal one-in-25 is a woman of colour. Oh, yeah, and this year, the number of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies fell 25% from 2017. In the FTSE 100, there are more CEOs called David than there are women. In fact, there are also more CEOs called Steve than there are women. STEVE.

It’s all a bit like the guy on Bumble who declares himself a feminist, but then gets annoyed when he finds out you earn more than him

It would be nice to believe that the worst of this situation was confined to America, along with insane gun laws and marshmallow-flavoured vodka, but the gender pay gap continues to be a prevailing issue in most major UK companies. On Thursday, a group of MPs released a report that condemned the BBC for failing to admit they have an ongoing problem with equal pay. The report, published by an influential committee, showed that women are still (still!) being paid less than their male counterparts and given fewer opportunities for advancement.

Director general, Tony Hall, tried to deny the situation, saying: “[Our gender pay gap] has come down in the last year by 20%, and we're the only organisation in the UK who's committed to getting our gender pay gap down to equal by the end of 2020.”

But they’re still a long way off achieving that goal. The new report gathered evidence from dozens of employees, and found that while some women were given pay rises after referencing equal pay, others’ petitions were ignored. And management would use euphemisms such as: “fair pay”, “oversights” and “pay revisions” rather than actually attempt to deal with the underlying issues.  

It’s a disappointing outcome, but it’s not just the BBC who are guilty of all talk and no action when it comes to equality. As LeanIn’s report demonstrates, most companies have yet to show any real action. The whole situation is a bit like the guy on Bumble who declares himself a feminist in his profile, but then gets annoyed when he finds out you earn more than he does.

But there is some positive news, too. This week, The New York Times reported that almost half of the men who have been toppled by the #MeToo movement have been replaced by women, which is a bittersweet sort of victory. Arguably, it shouldn’t take a man being ousted as a sexual predator for companies to realise the value of having women in senior positions, but in 2018 we’ve got to take all the good-news stories we can get.

It’s not just in the upper echelons where women are seizing whatever power they can get – LeanIn’s study found that more women were asking their employers for promotions and pay rises. Women have heard the statistics, they’ve read the think pieces, they’ve checked their bank accounts and, now, they are doing everything in their power to try to close the pay gap.

It’s well past time for companies to back them up on this.

@LilyPesch

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