Women more pessimistic about equality than men

The majority of women believe the glass ceiling preventing them from climbing to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder will still be firmly in place at the end of this decade, according to a new report published by Friends Life.

The report, entitled ‘Working Women’ and part of Friends Life’s Vision of Britain 2020 series, shows some 55% of women believe there will still be a significant pay gap between men and women in 2020, while 53% think women will still be struggling much more than men to secure senior roles. In contrast, men expect more equality between the sexes by 2020. Less than a third (31%) of men think there will still be a significant pay gap, and only 30% believe women will be at a disadvantage when applying for the top jobs.

Motherhood, and childcare pressures in particular, remain the biggest barriers for women, according to the report. Over half (51%) of working mothers who have taken maternity leave agree that childcare is so expensive that financially it is not worth returning to work. Some 24% of working women with children under five spend more than a quarter of their salary on childcare.

Of those who do choose to go back, the need for flexible working is almost universally recognised. Some 88% of working women believe they should be allowed to reduce their hours for the sake of their family without this affecting their career prospects.

The report found that a shorter working week, subsidised childcare and the ability to work from home are all offered far less than many working mothers would like.

Kim Clarke, Head of HR, Friends Life, said: “The glass ceiling preventing women from getting to the top is still a long way from being shattered. Britain also faces a lost army of mothers who are willing but unable to work because of the prohibitive cost of childcare, with serious implications for both the economy and family finances. The right flexible working policy and culture can help women in particular. Flexible working alongside mentoring can help foster a culture of understanding among senior management of the pressures facing women and can ultimately help both women and business prosper.”

Maggie Berry, Managing Director of womenintechnology.co.uk, added: “An employer’s willingness to offer flexible working often comes down to the attitude of individual managers. We need to move to a position where all employers, large or small and across all sectors, are prepared to help women struggling to juggle the demands of their work and home lives. However, women need to be realistic too. They must understand there will be compromise on both sides, and their employer may not be in a position to give them exactly what they ask for.”

Other key findings of the report include: – Women in their 20s are significantly more likely than average to be taking greater control of their personal finances, with the recession having driven this trend

– Home ownership aspirations are stronger among young women than among young men

– The majority of women in their 50s affected by the Pensions Bill plan to carry on working until they become eligible rather than retire at the age they originally intended

– Some 88% of working women in their 50s believe their age would make it difficult for them to find a new job if they were made redundant.

The Working Women report has been compiled on behalf of Friends Life by The Future Foundation. Copies of the report are available via www.visionsofbritain2020.co.uk/workingwomen.

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