Women continue to face barriers in recruitment and progression

21 March 2017 Consultancy.uk 8 min. read

Women remain chronically underrepresented throughout the corporate world, with the top of the business world remaining a male dominated arena. In a new report, professionals and employers express their views on a number of issues that are perceived as limiting the opportunities of women to achieve their goals in business, as well as the kinds of practices businesses are implementing to reduce the stubbornly wide gulf. 

PwC has released a new study into the representation of women across the corporate business world. The report is based on a survey of 328 respondents representing organisations headquartered in 18 difference countries and a survey among 4,792 employees from 70 countries – 82% of the respondents were female and are currently employed or about to start their first job. 

Women are underrepresented at every level in the corporate pipeline

According to the data, women seeking employment within the corporate world are considerably less likely to find themselves in the higher echelons of the business world. At entry level there is a discrepancy of 4% on parity in favour of men, this reaches 13% by managerial level, 17% by senior manager/director level, 21% at vice president level and 26% at senior vice president level. When it comes to boardroom positions, the discrepancy at the C-suite stands at 31%.

The discrepancy, even at the start of the corporate ladder, creates pipeline issues which lead into subsequent employment challenges within organisations. The current issues within businesses more widely, particularly in terms of attracting and retaining skills whose automation remains too difficult, means that retaining and developing talented people – has become more important than ever. The current trend within the corporate realm, which considerably favours men, means that talented women are finding their skill sets and potential underutilised or left to wither.

Gender discrimination in hiring process

While there is a 4% discrepancy at the start of the pipeline, which becomes increasingly skewed towards men, the reasons for the discrepancy are not themselves clear. One area of concern is that there is discrimination and implicit biases at play in the recruitment process, which may correlate with lower levels of entry in both the hiring process, but also during promotion cycles.

The research itself identified that women (21% versus 5%) are more likely to have personally felt gender discrimination during the hiring process. Differences exist at different stages in respondents’ careers. 19% of career starters, for instance, noted discrimination, while for job hunters, it stood at 22% – job movers, however, noted the highest level of perceived discrimination at 25% of female respondents. At the senior hire level 27% of female respondents say that they do not believe that they have the same chances as men.

The research also noted differences between generations and geographic regions. 28% of female millennials, for instance, expressed the belief that employers are biased in favour of male candidates – which has increased from 16% in 2011 – and is slightly under the 30% of all women surveyed. The problem is more severely perceived in a number of countries, including in Switzerland (46%), Brazil, Ireland, the US (40%) and the UK (38%).

Most significant barriers to increased levels of female experienced hires

Other barriers

While discrimination is likely to play a role in the wider phenomenon of female underrepresentation in business, other barriers too may be in place. The study asked employers and male and female respondents to note other points within the wider hiring process that may affect the level of experienced hires at businesses.

As noted above, the structural decline in pipelines between levels within the business, means that for employers there are fewer and fewer women to select for promotion. In total, 38% employer respondents say that there is a lack of sufficient candidates in the pool. Another barrier noted by respondents, 24% of employers, by 22% of males and 14% of females, is that the industry sector is not viewed as attractive to women. One area in which there was relative agreement between the three groups, employers at 21%, males at 30% and females at 29%, is that women do not pursue career opportunities as aggressively as men do.

One area in which a large group of women (45%) point out key concerns, and something with which a third of men agree, is the impact of gender stereotypes/assumptions in the recruitment process. Concerns over the cost and impact of maternity leave, follow as a key concern for 42% of women – particularly women in the US face challenges – while 16% of business respondents themselves see it as a barrier.

Has your organisation introduced any of the following diversity practices?

While the problem persists, companies, in recent years, have begun to explore ways to reduce the discrepancy, with the business case for increased female representation, among others, driving businesses forward.

The top most cited diversity practice implemented at businesses is to ‘train our recruitment professionals so they are equipped to focus on driving more inclusive recruitment efforts’, implemented at 49% of organisations, followed by 25% of respondents that are exploring the practice. 52% of respondents say that they ensure diversity of interview panel/interviewers throughout the interviewing process, with a further 21% saying that they are exploring the approach.

Other areas in which large numbers of businesses, 40% to 50%, are active include ‘reviewing role descriptions to ensure use of inclusive language’, ‘training all of our interviewers in unconscious bias’ and ‘we leverage our in-house diversity employee resource/affinity groups to support with more diverse recruitment’. The practices the fewer businesses have implemented include ‘offering head hunters/recruitment agencies enhanced commission for diverse hires', at 26% of respondents, the 'introduction of ‘"blind’ applications’, cited by 27% of respondents, and ‘leveraging diversity associations to access diverse talent segments’, cited by 36% of respondents.

Which of the following factors do you believe make an organisation an attractive employer?

What makes an attractive employer

The research also asked employees and potential employees what factors they believe makes an employer attractive. The number one cited response for career starters is ‘opportunities for career progression’, the factor comes second for job hunter, third for job mover and forth for career returner.

‘Competitive wages and other financial benefits’ comes third for career starts and job hunters, and second for job movers and career returners. Flexible work arrangements and a culture of work-life balance comes second for career starters, but first for job hunter, job mover and career returners.

Says Bob Moritz, Global Chairman of PwC comments, “When you look at what drives job satisfaction, people clearly seek opportunities for career progression. Putting in place formal career progression plans is one way of making sure employees remain motivated and committed to the organisation. Career progression plans aren’t simply a process – they’re there to help each employee reach its full potential. Looking forward, this will be increasingly important as CEOs work to attract and retain the best talent in a highly competitive world. Having this mindset will help CEOs tap into the complete talent market as opposed to half of it.”

Related: 'Women aspiring executive roles face structural barriers' and '5 tactics to cultivate a pipeline of qualified female executives'.