'A travesty' | 1 in 7 HR leaders say men better suited to senior roles than women

1 in 7 HR leaders say men better suited to senior roles than women

More than a third of HR leaders admit they’re aware of young women being discriminated against in the workplace, while around one in seven HR chiefs say men are better suited to senior management jobs than women, according to a new study.

Nearly a fifth even admit they would be reluctant to hire a woman who they thought might go on to start a family.

The revelations came as part of new research from the charity Young Women’s Trust, which lays bare the increasing numbers of young women being discriminated against at work. 

Half of respondents said they had faced some sort of discrimination, compared to just over two fifths last year (42%).  

Worryingly, over a third (34%) of HR decision makers confirmed that they were also aware of instances of young women being discriminated against in the past year. The same number agreed that sexist behaviour still exists within their organisation. 

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In the charity’s latest annual survey, which spoke to 4000 young women, 1000 young men and nearly 1000 HR decision makers, almost a quarter (23%) of young women said that they are being paid less than their male peers even for the same work, despite this being illegal. They also said that when instances of discrimination do occur, they feel less able to challenge or report it (25%) compared to young men (17%).    

Employers still have a long way to go to support young women and rid workplaces of outdated and discriminatory views. The survey found that almost 3 in 10 (28%) HR decision makers agreed that it is harder for women to progress in their organisation than men. 

Furthermore, 15% agreed that men are better suited to senior management jobs than women, and 19% said that they would be reluctant to hire a woman who they thought might go on to start a family. Only 13% of HR professionals said the same for a man. 

The survey also showed the progression and job security is a big cause of concern: 

  • Almost half of young women are worried about not having enough opportunities to progress (49%) – a small increase on last year (47%).  

  • Over a third (36%) of young women are worried about job security, up from 33% last year.  

  • Young women are more likely than young men to have been offered a zero hours contract – 42% compared to 33%. 

Discrimination is just one of the factors that means young women earn £4000 less than young men each year, alongside young women being funnelled into lower paid jobs and working less hours due to taking on more responsibilities at home1. This income gap kicks in right at the start of working life and it’s preventing young women from having an equal chance to thrive and reach their potential.

Low pay is a huge worry for young women with over half (56%) of young women saying their financial situation was uncomfortable compared to 40% of young men. Over half (55%) of young women are worried about how much their job pays, while almost a quarter (23%) have been paid less than the minimum wage they were entitled to, compared to 20% of young men. 

Sarah (whose name has been changed to protect her identity) from London spoke about her experiences of discrimination, saying: “My manager would make inappropriate comments based on my gender and my nationality. 

“I was told I was “emotional” or “dramatic” when I raised concerns about projects in meetings. I was left off key documents on projects that I initiated and when asked to lead meetings, had management disrupt and take over. During meetings I would get stomach aches and my chest was very heavy. For me, it felt very close to a panic attack. 

“I would come home venting my frustrations to my partner and this negatively impacted our relationship. Eventually I felt I needed to see my GP since it was such a difficult time which lasted several months – I lost my confidence and started second guessing myself. But I know it wasn’t me and when I finally raised my concerns with management, my team saw these issues too.” 

Racially minoritised young women face discrimination on multiple levels, and as a result are much more likely to be worried about how much their job pays (60% compared to an average of 55%), job security (46% compared to 36% on average) and lacking opportunities to progress (57% compared to 49%). 

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The charity has worked with young women to create a manifesto for an equal world of work, and is calling for government and employers to step in and make changes that will level  the playing field by: 

  • Ensuring fair and equal pay with salary transparency; action to tackle pay gaps; and a fairer labour market which values the work that typically women choose to do. 

  • Removing unfair barriers to work with more flexible working; inclusive recruitment processes; improved benefits and employment support; and a childcare system that works. 

  • Support young women to progress with clear pathways and internal schemes and training. 

  • Better job security with a limit on zero hours contracts and a right to predictable hours. 

  • End discrimination for good through better reporting processes, more accountability for employers and improved support for people experiencing discrimination.  

Claire Reindorp, Chief Executive at Young Women’s Trust said: “Just a couple of months ago we reported on the rising cost of living having a disproportionate impact on young women’s lives – and these latest figures show why that’s happening, with deep-rooted and widespread discrimination driving income inequality.  

“We know it’s hard for young women to get the jobs that they want because of barriers such as a lack of flexible working and affordable childcare, but then when they do enter the workplace, discrimination and a lack of support to progress creates this broken rung on the career ladder. It’s a travesty that in 2023 young women still aren’t being given the same chances in life as young men.

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“There’s so much more than politicians and employers can do to make a difference and – and much of it is not that hard. Let’s stop living in the dark ages and realise the true potential that young women can bring to society and our economy. We’ve got an entire workforce’s talents that could be unlocked.” 

The Young Women’s Trust campaign is being supported by Grace Rose Gwynne, one of the youngest female barristers in the UK who has spoken out about the sexism and ageism she has faced at the Bar. She said: “As a young woman, with a Birmingham accent, in a male-dominated profession, I’m regularly asked if I’m a student, an assistant, or even if I’m lost.

"I have to constantly fight to prove myself. And looking to my future, I can see that while there are a lot of female junior barristers, only a very small percentage at the most senior level are women.

"The Young Women’s Trust research shows that this pattern isn’t unique to the law – young women everywhere face discrimination which holds them back. This isn’t fair and it isn’t right.” 

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