MumsnetGuestBlogs (MNHQ) Wed 27-Nov-13 13:04:19

It's time to listen to women about their workplace experience

Despite equality laws, women are still under-represented at senior levels in British workplaces. Opportunity Now, the gender equality campaign from Business in the Community, have embarked on a nationwide research project to gather the workplace experiences of 100,000 women, with the aim of understanding why women’s career progression doesn't match that of men. Here Helena Morrisey OBE explains why the project is so necessary - and how you can help to kickstart change.

Read the blog, and if you can spare the time do sign up for the survey - and please let us know what you think on the thread below.

Helena Morrisey

Project 28-40

Posted on: Wed 27-Nov-13 13:04:19


Lead photo

Project 28-40 aims to discover the cause of ongoing workplace equality.

Many organisations have been trying for years to address the issue of ‘lost women’ in the workplace, but these efforts have gone largely unrewarded. While the boardroom is becoming more balanced, women are still under-represented at almost all management levels across almost all companies.

First used by Lord Davies in his 2011 report into the representation of women on corporate boards, the term ‘lost women’ refers to those who drop out of the workplace or don’t fulfil early career potential. The problem is a persistent one, and I struggle to explain why. Of course, many women have children just as career opportunities are opening up, but maternity is only part of the story. Women without children also miss out on promotion compared to male colleagues, while some women with children have hugely successful careers. We need a deeper understanding of barriers to women’s success at work - and must then adjust or even scrap what we’re doing if it’s wide of the mark.

Earlier this year, I became Chair of Opportunity Now, the Business in the Community campaign that’s been driving towards gender equality at work for over 20 years. In this role, I am involved in Project 28-40, calling for 100,000 women in the UK and Ireland to tell their stories on a scale never attempted before.

Women without children also miss out on promotion compared to male colleagues, while some women with children have hugely successful careers. We need a deeper understanding of barriers to women's success at work - and must then scrap what we're doing if it's wide of the mark.

We have designed the project to allow women to give candid feedback: we want to hear both good and bad experiences of workplace culture. The campaign will focus on women in the 28-40 age range as this is the ‘danger zone’, when career progression typically slows down relative to male peers. However, Project 28-40 is keen to hear from other groups too: older and younger women and women who have already left the workplace, as well as men. We want to know about the issues that affect your careers, the nature (not just the level) of your ambition, your experiences around maternity, and societal attitudes you have encountered. If you decided not to return to work, we'd like to know your reasons - and whether you'd like to resume your career at some point. If so, what could companies do to make that possible?

This survey’s unprecedented scale will enable us to draw a complete and nuanced picture of life at work for women today and highlight interventions that would trigger genuine change. It’s vital that those recommendations are then acted upon. I’ve been greatly encouraged by the overwhelmingly positive response of organisations who are members of Opportunity Now. More than 75 companies and public sector bodies, including some of the biggest employers of women in the country, are actively promoting the survey to their workforce.

The timescale for the project is aggressive: after twenty years of effort based on what we already understand, we’re in a hurry to improve that understanding and accelerate the pace of change. This is an opportunity for women to say what they would like to see improved – so please do sign up. It takes just 15 minutes to complete the basic questions (though feel free to spend longer if you have suggestions that you think would have real impact). The survey, found online here, is open for a month, closing Sunday 15th December. We will launch a report of the headline findings and recommendations in April 2014.

Please spare any time you can to participate - only through your feedback can we better understand the barriers women face and the way to push these aside once and for all.

By Helena Morrisey

Twitter: @opportunitynow1

ShreddedHoops Wed 27-Nov-13 14:42:36

I started to complete the survey, but gave up. The reason being I don't want to and can't say whether my career or children is more important. If it were as simple as saying 'career no1' and 'children no2' or vice versa, my life would be a lot easier. They are both equally valid parts of my life.

I think it seems a rather male view on life, a very narrow and one-dimensional focus on 'the top' of a career, too. This has always baffled me in articles about the glass ceiling.

I couldn't select 'getting to the top of my chosen career' or 'getting as far as I can in my chosen career, but not necessarily the top' because it's such a binary view. I'm ambitious for my life - I have held my dream job, the job I always wanted. I'm now at home raising children whilst being self employed, doing something slightly different to my previous job - it isn't as well paid, but it's in some ways more rewarding and right now it's my ideal job. In the future, I'll undoubtedly do other jobs and probably go back to doing my dream job again. It's not an uphill trek to the 'top'. I'm not aiming for 'the top' - in my career, it's my career, no-one else's, so who defines where 'the top' is?! Right now, I have more experience than I used to - I did a well paid day of consultancy yesterday - but I earn less per year. Who decides for me where I should be aiming, exactly? Finding my perfect work/life balance, doing work I enjoy that stimulates me and contributes to society, whilst also remaining my children's number one carer and avoiding using too much formal childcare, they are my aims and aren't able to be divided into work vs family, I can't drag and drop one to the top and put the other one neatly underneath. If only life were that simple, years and years wouldn't need to be spent by men in a men's world trying to understand why women won't fit into a man-shaped career path.

keeponjuggling Wed 27-Nov-13 15:55:50

just to let you know the link doesn't seem to be working in google chrome, but seems ok in explorer.

JeanSeberg Wed 27-Nov-13 16:28:08

The fact that people still have to conduct surveys to understand why women aren't represented at senior level makes me want to give up and go home. Did the 'powers that be' still not get it? Really?

The whole thing above smacks of lip service to me.

eurochick Wed 27-Nov-13 16:36:34

Oh FFS. I just spent 15 minutes getting 90% of the way through, tried to go back as I had clicked the wrong box and it's dumped me out of it and told me to restart. Helpful!

One thing I noted is that one of the questions asks whether your ambition equals your partners. If I were to say no, I wonder whether it would assume I was unambitious. In fact, he is quite laid back about his career and I am the more ambitious one.

And also it's fewer not less.

oopsadaisyme Wed 27-Nov-13 16:48:06

I worked for the NHS, as a 'management secretary', supporting senior managers and Consultants in a particular department -

Thee workload was immense, as they cut three other people when I took on the role (they were going through a PCT change at the time also) -

It was ridiculous to be expected to do what was asked of me, my ds1 was 5 at the time, I worked 40 hours plus a week, and the first time I was called by his school to collect him because he was sick, the NHS manager(s) I worked for acted like I had just shot somebody!! (Isn't there anyone else who could get him, you do realise there is an important meeting you are to take minutes for this afternoon!!!!??)

I could rant for hours about the people I worked for, but when I became pregnant with ds2, lets just say I was 'quietly demoted' to a point where I just gave up and quit -

I'd never work for the NHS again, the most thankless job in the world, which is very sad

oopsadaisyme Wed 27-Nov-13 17:03:33

That's why women cant progress, I was brilliant (i'd like to think, lol) at my job, but I had home commitments also - there was just no understanding or compensating for that in my particular workplace (and that's the NHS! not even a private company!) - I was expected to stay late if a meeting ran late, and just couldn't because of childcare! Again, was 'told off' for leaving!!

It's difficult to discuss equality, because of course it's easier to employ a man in an important role, it's usually up to the 'mum' to juggle everything if she wants a career!

Unless your totally lucky and can do it, in which case I'd love to hear how???

eurochick Wed 27-Nov-13 17:19:32

Or it's up to men to take responsibility for the juggling too.

I'm the higher earner, so the shared parental leave is of interest to us. My husband also has more regular hours than I do so it will probably be easier for him to do things like nursery pick ups. My husband is fully on board with the responsibility being shared (and perhaps even falling slightly more on him) but I see from MN that he is in the minority.

oopsadaisyme Wed 27-Nov-13 17:46:32

euro I totally agree with you, and it's just unfortunate you are in the minority x

I had total career plans, I was working for a large advertising company before I became pregnant with Ds1, then moved away from the city to be closer to parents (I was on my own, other half left me), but got a job as project co-ordinator for the council and worked until I was 8 months pregnant -

After having Ds1, I tried everything to get back to work, I was totally on my own, but after all my savings were gone, I had to claim income support -

And from someone who has worked hard for everything, the embarrassment of having to have an 'interview' and ask for help was dire -

oopsadaisyme Wed 27-Nov-13 17:53:14

Childcare was the issue for me, my parents worked full time and I seemed to be an 'unknown quantity' to the people I talked to in the jobcentre -

I was a lone parent, I wanted to work, but needed childcare for an 'under one', with somebody I would like to meet beforehand and trust my little to be in the care of -

They had no idea how to help me!??

MyBachisworsethanmybite Wed 27-Nov-13 18:21:20

This was a very backward-looking survey that made massive assumptions that:

- child care is a woman's responsibility
- every woman has a partner (though there was a "no partner" option several questions made no sense for single women)
- disability is not an issue. (sigh about it remaining invisible)
- every person must be ambitious and that progress up the organisational hierarchy is the only measure of professional success.

No doubt it will reach the same conclusions as the other million previous surveys looking at the same question, because it covers exactly the same ground.

A missed opportunity.

WaitingForPeterWimsey Wed 27-Nov-13 19:35:14

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

fossil971 Wed 27-Nov-13 20:17:06

I think on another thread these relevant points were raised:

1. Fathers (where in a couple), and employers of fathers, need to take their share of the flexible working so it is not all down to the mum.

2. Companies are very proud of their great maternity leave provisions, but have no idea how to cope with women returners who are not going back to a full time, no restrictions role.

Our company is making lots of noise ATM about diversity and lack of senior women. I attended a brainstorming session where a bright young middle manager and new father was asked why he didn't go for flexible working - "But it would have been career suicide" he said with admirable frankness. "I don't want other people messing with my projects on my day off!". He will end up getting promoted with that attitude as to what consititutes "proper work" in his head.

LovelyMarchHare Wed 27-Nov-13 21:03:08

Completed this at work today. It was signposted from our Intranet site.

wonderstuff Wed 27-Nov-13 21:09:07

Done, but not convinced that the survey will reach valuable conclusions, it made lots of assumptions and contained duel clause questions so I don't see how anyone will be able to interpret it?

Can't remember too many examples now - there was a question asking if your partners career ambitions were similar - no distinction can be made between whether a negative answer means they are more or less ambitious.

For me part of the answer has to be quality part time work, unless fathers are able to take an active part in childcare mothers will struggle to maintain a career.

I also think we are very anti positive discrimination to get women into positions of power, but informal positive discrimination happens in education because we see the importance of children having male role models. In all sectors I think women have to be better than men to progress.

wonderstuff Wed 27-Nov-13 21:18:49

I work part time because I'm a specialist in a difficult to recruit area, my employers had little choice I was the only credible applicant and I insisted on 4 days, there is no one to do my job on my day off, I check emails and pickup stuff on return. My DH asked for a 4 day a week, he was given it, but only for 6 months, for 6 months after he returns full time I'm going to rely on friends to do playgroup run for my son until I can access wrap-around care when he starts school.

I have no idea how people cope with school holidays when they work outside education.

oopsadaisyme Wed 27-Nov-13 21:41:10

wonderstuff I paid over £100 a week to try and get through the summer holidays, because (apparently) I earnt just 'over the threashold' to get any help -

That was what I got told, apparently I could have, so if anyone knows how I could claim that money back, would be appreciated

MoreBeta Wed 27-Nov-13 21:41:44

I know this survey is not aimed at me. I am a bloke but I have worked in the sort of places that pay extremely high levels of pay and bonus (ie City trading desks, the big consultancy firms).

Women are extremely under represented in those jobs and frankly it is because they get selected out by male managers. Lets stop pretending it is anything other than that.

I have been in meetings where it happened. First of all women get passed over for promotion, then they get less good clients given to them, smaller bonuses follow and all sorts of subtle discrimination and road blocks in their career path and then eventually the woman has to have children before it is too late and she is already falling behind her male peers anyway.

When she tries to go back to work after having children it is made patently clear she will have to start at the bottom and all her former clients are now being run by a man paid many times more than what she is being offered. She goes back anyway, swallows her pride and gets paid a lot less than younger men around her with less experience and then she figures that the cost of childcare and the sheer effort of juggling a career and the lack of respect and reward just isn't worth it and she quits.

I have many female friends who this happened to. A totally wasted resource of really talented women scrambling around trying to earn pin money being school secretaries or doing bits of part time work and taking children to and from school when they should be senior managers in large corporations earning top salaries like men in their peer group. These women didn't want to give up work, they want to work in full time jobs, they want to earn big salaries.

They just can't get into the jobs they are qualified for and it is too late when you are 40 to get back in and start again.

oopsadaisyme Wed 27-Nov-13 21:53:41

Morebeta are you really a bloke lol??

You have been totally correct in you post, and maybe the OP should pick you up on that, good for you in posting a very correct and understanding 'point of view' x

ShreddedHoops Wed 27-Nov-13 22:05:49

Excellent post MoreBeta. I have a friend who worked in finance to whom exactly what you describe happened. Offered excellent redundancy when she became pregnant, alternative was a lower paid role working under people she trained and mentored. She didn't fight it.

I want to make the point that 'childcare' is a real thing. People have children, those children are important and deserve good care. Ideally that's a parent, usually it's the mum because fathers haven't bothered stepping up to take on any real responsibility. So women have the choice of using nurseries, childminders or perhaps grandparents and all the hassle and guilt that goes with it. That bloke described above who doesn't want someone else handling his projects while he works flexibly? That's precisely how I feel about DS. I don't want someone else fucking him up that's the job of his parents

ShreddedHoops Wed 27-Nov-13 22:06:14

I mean 'it's time to listen to women' - condescending, much? hmm

MyBachisworsethanmybite Wed 27-Nov-13 22:13:55

Actually MoreBeta they want responses from men too.
See this document.

But the blog doesn't mention this, for some reason.

MoreBeta Wed 27-Nov-13 22:48:54

MyBach - thanks for letting me know. I filled it in.

Some questions were obviously oriented to women and not gender neutral which was a bit odd given the objective of the survey and I have an unusual job that didn't really fit that well with the questions but still an interesting thing to do.

funnyvalentine Wed 27-Nov-13 22:59:08

I filled in the survey, but I don't think I did a great job of it. I found the options available didn't quite cover what I really meant, and it seemed to assume a traditional setup where both parties were steadily progressing in their careers. Whereas my husband and I have been through periods with different focuses, some of which have been ambitious and financially rewarding, some not.

Besides, I'm not sure that you can really find out what's going on by asking the women in the thick of it. I read an interesting paper recently that essentially said women being subtly (or not so subtly) discriminated against didn't recognise it as such, I think it was about women in the sciences.

Despite that, I think it'd be interesting to see some figures, and I'm curious about what the study will conclude and whether it'll uncover anything new. I think the people behind it really are interested in how to solve the issues

slightlygoostained Thu 28-Nov-13 05:09:50

funnyvalentine Sounds like the MIT women?

Early in career they all thought discrimination was a thing of the past, career slowed down as they got more senior, each thought it was just them - then they compared notes?

Agreed with the comments above about the focus of the survey assuming A LOT. Prob is, the assumptions they make are part of the problem, so how do they figure they're going to fix it?

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