Are family affairs holding back women's progress?

Family commitments hold women back from top jobs. According to women, that is. Men seem to disagree...

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
The biggest barrier to women getting senior jobs is the need to balance work and family responsibilities, according to the female respondents to a new survey. The research, ‘What Holds Women Back?’ comes courtesy of Opportunity Now, Business in the Community’s gender campaign, and asked over 850 line managers to pinpoint the barriers to women’s progress at work. It turns out the sexes disagree as to where the biggest hurdles lie.

Apparently 82% of female managers see family duties as the main barrier to female success, compared to 54% of male managers. And while 57% of women managers thought they were seen as less committed to work because of their role in the family, only 20% of male managers held the same view. As the Sky Sports debacle has shown, not all men take a terribly enlightened view towards women in the workplace.

Beyond the childcare issue, the barriers most cited in the survey were lack of senior or visibly successful role models (according to 52% of female respondents and 26% of male respondents), and stereotyping and preconceptions of women’s roles and abilities (cited by 49% of female respondents and 14% of male). Although missing the chance for topical specificity, the survey didn’t ask whether people felt a perceived failure to understand the offside rule harmed women’s chances.

By the looks of it, women consider their lot to be much more difficult than men seem to think it is. In fact, what the survey apparently fails to show is exactly why men think women are failing to progress to top roles: the chaps never agreed above 26% on any one factor.

According to BITC, very little has changed since the last time it ran the survey, back in 2005. ‘The stereotype of women taking care and men taking charge is still pervasive,’ said Helen Wells, Opportunity Now’s acting director. Which if true, is slightly depressing.

Of course, if you are sick of the persistence of these barriers, there is an alternative: jack in corporate life altogether and strike out on your own. One enthusiastic advocate of this approach is Krista Waddell, the ‘billionairess CEO’ of gold-party organizer Ounces to Pounds. She says ‘home’ is now the most popular place to start a business, with 1,400 home-based businesses launched every week. And mothers are apparently the most likely to take the plunge; Waddell reckons they represent a huge well of untapped talent, and has been talking up the potential opportunity for the likes of Avon, Body Shop, and, naturally, Ounces to Pounds.

These home-based entrepreneurs presumably find it much easier to juggle work and family life. But there’s no reason why the same shouldn’t be true of corporate types. Perhaps the drive to let dads play a greater role in childcare will start to balance things out a bit and change some of these perceptions?

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Books for the weekend: Daniel Goleman, Jack Welch, Nelson Mandela

Beaverbrooks CEO Anna Blackburn shares her reading list.

What happens next: COVID-19 lessons from Italian CEOs

Part I: Marco Alvera, chief executive of €15bn Lombardy-based energy firm Snam, on living with...

Coronavirus communications: Dos and don'ts

Uncertainty and isolation make it more important than ever to be seen, to be heard...

Leadership lessons: Mervyn Davies, former CEO of Standard Chartered and trade minister

"People talk about pressure – I worked 24 hours a day. There is more pressure...

How to reinvent your career through motherhood and midlife

Pay it Forward podcast: Former Marie Claire editor-in-chief Trish Halpin and BITE managing editor Nicky...