Supporting women’s progression in the workplace

A discussion at a meeting on women’s career progression covered issues ranging from flexible working to biased feedback.

Career Progression


Giving women the capacity to work flexi hours and do some homeworking can cut by half their chances of reducing their hours or dropping out of the workforce, a leading academic told a meeting on gender equality earlier this week.

Dr Heejung Chung from the University of Kent was speaking at a Government Equalities Office event on Supporting Women’s Progression in the Workplace and Family Friendly Policies at London’s Guildhall on Wednesday.

She said research showed that if women reduced their hours they were likely to be downgraded or never get promoted. “Flexi time and teleworking offer relatively better career prospects,” she said.

However, she added that there can also be drawbacks to homeworking, citing a recent German study which shows women who work from home do significantly more childcare.

It was therefore important to ensure dads were encouraged from an early age to do more flexible working and share the childcare more, said Dr Chung. Senior male role models were needed as was a change in attitudes towards long hours. She stated that that involved talking to middle managers about what productivity means and getting them to open conversations with dads in particular about flexible working and parental leave.

Different feedback for men and women

Dr Elena Doldor from Queen Mary University of London spoke about how men and women are given feedback in different ways at work. There were no real performance differences between the men and women that she studied. However, the language used in feedback was different, she said.  Managers used more positive, enthusiastic language to discuss men’s potential, for instance, while the language used about women was more localised and specific. One man was told that he “had CEO stamped on his forehead”, for instance. “Managers still have a hard time recognising female potential,” she said.

Men were encouraged to develop more wide-ranging visionary skills and advised to be proactive about office politics; women were advised to develop technical and specialised knowledge and were told to toughen up about office politics. The feedback for men was more proactive and for women it was more defensive. It did not encourage women to develop the kind of skills they needed to progress.

Dr Doldor also spoke about research into the career pathways to FTSE executive committees. Women were more likely to be in functional role such as head of HR than in operational ones, she said. A quick win to get more women on executive committees would be to get more functional heads onto committees. However, CEOs tended to prefer operational directors and did not understand the added value of, for instance, an HR director sitting on the executive committee and tended to say they did not have the right commercial experience even though many did. It was a waste of potential, said Dr Doldor, “we need to talk about how the committees are formed,” she stated.

Other speakers included Rukasana Bhaijee, Diversity & Inclusion Senior Manager at professional services firm EY. She spoke about how EY had removed information about schools and universities during the recruitment process to ensure candidates did not all come from the same institutions; how it was focusing on potential and individual strengths at interview; how it was looking at who gets the best projects, how teams are put together and why; how it is using inclusive leadership training and setting targets that drive actions; and how it can build an environment where everyone feels they belong and feels they have a voice.

Cindy Mahoney, chief executive of City HR, spoke about the need to promote flexible working, set targets and measure them and spread news about what works to promote gender equality.

Speakers also called for four-day weeks, an outcomes-based strategy, a reduction in long hours and greater focus on eliminating sexual harassment.


The discussion, hosted by Catherine McGuinness, Chair of Policy and Resources at the City of London Corporation, followed the launch of the Government Equalities Office’s employer toolkits on family friendly policies and women’s progression in the workplace. The latter involved tackling work culture, sharing caring and addressing segregation in jobs and sectors. Other issues included flexible working – offering senior flexible jobs, advertising flexible jobs, designing flexible jobs and promoting senior people working flexibly as role models.

Family friendly policies included enhancing shared parental leave, clearly communicating parental leave policies, ensuring information and support for parents is available and encouraging dads to take parental leave. Other ways of tackling the gender pay gap included a transparent recruitment process based on skills, debiasing structures and systems and measuring and evaluating talent development policies.

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