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

(53 comments )

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

slightlygoostained Thu 28-Nov-13 05:14:53

You know, maybe there's an argument for MN to suggest to survey creators that they run their survey past a team of vipers for sanity-checking first. I'm sure they'd get much better data.

Onefewernow Thu 28-Nov-13 08:56:52

The underlying culture in many places is still family unfriendly.

The underlying culture in many households is women unfriendly- the buck stops with a woman. Eg if childcare is sick, or the child sick, or pickup times set, women have a disproportionate share of the burden.

Those two factors combined are responsible.

MarmiteNotVegemite Thu 28-Nov-13 09:09:13

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

This.

Well, I filled in the survey despite feeling totally alienated from it. I'm over 40 <shock> Women WORK AFTER 40!! We do not just drop off & die.

And I'm single & childless. And in many ways, have similar issues to women who are partnered & parents. It's about the shape of work being masculine.

Actually, thank you for realising how angry the assumption that all women are cosily partnered and harassed parents makes me. And that if you're not, then you have an easy life.

Thank you for reminding me just how INVISIBLE a woman like me is.

MarmiteNotVegemite Thu 28-Nov-13 09:12:39

Prob is, the assumptions they make are part of the problem, so how do they figure they're going to fix it

Thank you for actually calmly putting what made me so angry about the survey!

NotCitrus Thu 28-Nov-13 09:26:15

In my and friends experience, the killer isn't working part time, so much as lack of flexibility. I'm lucky in that my manager and team are fine with me working fewer than 5 days and on two days leaving early and then doing a couple hours at home late at night. A couple times a year I can even arrange to come to an event on a day off.

But what I can't do is stay an extra 20 minutes when there's children to be collected from childcare. Every childless person I know is shocked when I tell them nursery and after school club charge £10 per part of 15 or even 10 minutes after closing time. Funnily enough we do actually have an expenses code for emergency childcare but I don't know if it's ever been used.

Obviously I can't attend events in the evening either like I used to, without a couple weeks notice at least to sort out arrangements with DP.

I did do the survey but there wasn't actually much scope for comments like the above. Also a link needs to be made with effects of pregnancy - minor disabilities are much more common in women - the bus from station to office is 90% women, many clearly on it because they have some difficulty in walking a mile, and when I had an interview while on maternity leave my efforts to prepare were scuppered as my main worry was finding something to wear that fit. I ended up with a suit held together with safety pins on elastic and musing that my male competitors would never have this problem!

DP is great, looking after sick child most of the time It's needed, but result is his career is suffering too and we do need someone to pay the mortgage...

funnyvalentine Thu 28-Nov-13 09:35:57

slightlygoostained that's not what I was thinking of, but it does make the point really well. It's really difficult to spot subtle discrimination when it's the norm, you end up just thinking "it must be me, I'm just not as good at x, y and z".

bigkidsdidit Thu 28-Nov-13 10:52:36

I've filled it out, but I'm getting a bit fed up with surveys like this. I'm sciences, academic, and am on an Athena SWAN committee. There have been so many surveys, we've all thought about it ao much!

IMO nothing will get better until men step up to do 50% of parenting. Past the first year there's no reason a woman need do it all - but I know so many couples who are on the same level at 30, only for the woman to drop part time while the man won't. Fast forward twenty years and guess who will be the professors?

How we make this happen, though, I don't know.

The survey is lip service by a business lobby. That much is obvious. That it is on their agenda is a good start but it is yet to be a serious concern. Maybe it will get there but a long way to go.

I filled it out as I think it is important to document the situation today, under today's (yesterday's) assumptions.

My working reality is that having children will set back my career by at least 5 years - even assuming fairly minimal mat leave.

So far the impact on my career of DD1 has been:
2011 - I had a stellar review and big bonus. I was seen as a high performer
2012 - I left in May to have my DD and between Feb and May couldn't start new projects (6 months average time) - it's hard to drive new business when you are pregnant - no one wants to take you to meetings because it's very obvious to the client that you won't be involved in the project and you can't fly for the last couple of months. So I missed my targets and had no bonus or pay rise
2013 - I took 8 months off for Mat leave and came back to a standing start. All my clients were now with someone else and I had to start from scratch. I also supposedly have an extra 4 weeks holiday to take but this isn't adjusted for in what I am meant to deliver! I will just about make my targets and am expecting a good review but it's been a bloody hard slog.

I reckon even with fairly short mat leave having a baby takes 2 years out of your career progression - at a minimum and even with maximum commitment. Which let's face it is bloody hard when you are trying to operate on 4 hours sleep due to a small baby.

We are starting TTC DC2 and this will be at the back of my mind when I have the review with my boss about next year. If DC weren't an issue I would be pushing for a promotion (DP is pushing for promotion) but that would happen at the end of next year if I do a stellar job again. If I get pregnant and leave next year I won't be promoted before I go and would be back at the starting block when I return in 2015. It's just an exhausting prospect - all that hard work and effort effectively wasted because once you go on mat leave it is totally forgotten and you have to start again.

So to have 2 kids in quick succession will set my career back 5 years - even assuming 8 or 9 months mat leave each time.

and I am one of a women dominated leadership team!

Hogwash Thu 28-Nov-13 13:33:08

Previously worked for an organisation in top 10 of Times Top 100 Graduate Employers. It was spending huge amounts of money on a high profile flexible working initiative at the time I went off on maternity leave. However, it was well known that part-time work was not welcomed (not external client facing, so no particularly good reason for that) and no-one in my function was allowed to work less than a 4 day week (and in that time to cover the work of a 5 day week - so probably 12 hour days/week-ends).


YY MoreBeta.

*The underlying culture in many places is still family unfriendly.

The underlying culture in many households is women unfriendly- the buck stops with a woman. Eg if childcare is sick, or the child sick, or pickup times set, women have a disproportionate share of the burden.

Those two factors combined are responsible.*

Yes onefewernow this is absolutely it.

One other point - the 'special project'. How you get noticed, stay top of mind etc in order to be considered for the bigger roles is often the stuff you do IN ADDITION to your day job. This is hugely anti flexible working and work life balance.

You don't get ahead by being good at your job you get ahead by being noticed and this takes extra effort. If you are doing a 5 day a week job in 4 days you can barely keep your head above water - you are:

a) last to volunteer or be nominated for the flashy projects that raise your profile
b) don't have time to stop and chat and network constantly telling everyone about the great result you just had / big win / lovely feedback etc.

These two things are big drivers of getting ahead in my industry and it's the part timers and the leave at 5 for the school or nursery run folks who don't do this. Even when most of us log back on at 8 to finish off our days work......

Bramshott Thu 28-Nov-13 15:17:47

I found it a bit of a crap survey TBH - I am now self-employed (10 yrs) and doing fairly well, but it's not the career I would have had if I hadn't had kids. So I answered positively to the questions about whether my employer supported me to be flexible (doh!) but that isn't relevant to the employer who wasn't willing to negotiate any kind of flexibility at all when I was returning from ML 10 years ago.

HotheadPaisan Thu 28-Nov-13 16:22:16

Survey is far too long, sorry, gave up.

Wishihadabs Thu 28-Nov-13 18:42:32

I've done the survey. I work pt (3 days per week). My employers is reasonably flexible. I earn well enough (45k for 3 days). I do work bloody hard on my working g days (and some of my non working days too TBH. So I am relatively fortunate and also ambitious. Needless to say DH pulls his weight (self employed earns a bit more).

I realy just don't think about where I would be careerwise if I hadn't had dcs. I'm doing ok and still below 40 so will climb higher, but it is nothing to what I could have achieved pre-dcs.

Freya4114 Thu 28-Nov-13 19:03:41

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fossil971 Thu 28-Nov-13 19:43:33

Thinkaboutittomorrow - you are so right

I actually asked my manager why I was being passed over for promotion - he said I need to raise my profile, that means I "need" to basically write papers, give talks, go to evening meetings or be on BS committees - none of which are very realistic when I don't get my kids into bed until 9 and actually would rather spend the weekend with them than park them in front of the TV whilst I log on. Just doing your day job extremely well isn't enough. I am happy to do all those things in 10 years when the DC have left home, just not now.

Wishihadabs Thu 28-Nov-13 19:51:31

I've done the survey. I work pt (3 days per week). My employers is reasonably flexible. I earn well enough (45k for 3 days). I do work bloody hard on my working g days (and some of my non working days too TBH. So I am relatively fortunate and also ambitious. Needless to say DH pulls his weight (self employed earns a bit more).

I realy just don't think about where I would be careerwise if I hadn't had dcs. I'm doing ok and still below 40 so will climb higher, but it is nothing to what I could have achieved pre-dcs.

Wishihadabs Thu 28-Nov-13 19:53:28

I've done the survey. I work pt (3 days per week). My employers is reasonably flexible. I earn well enough (45k for 3 days). I do work bloody hard on my working g days (and some of my non working days too TBH. So I am relatively fortunate and also ambitious. Needless to say DH pulls his weight (self employed earns a bit more).

I realy just don't think about where I would be careerwise if I hadn't had dcs. I'm doing ok and still below 40 so will climb higher, but it is nothing to what I could have achieved pre-dcs.

The answer is absolutely simple, but the Men in Charge refuse to acknowledge it and so keep wringing their hands asking how to get more women to the top as pure lip service. Because they are asking how they can "fix" things by changing the situation for women, which will never work. As long as they're trying to change things only for women, we are still two distinct species with a vast chasm between us, both in terms of home and work expectations on our time and energy.

Nothing will change as long as the focus is on women. The focus needs to be on men. On pushing for men to take full paternity leave, and I mean the 6 months, not the 2 weeks. There needs to be a push for men to be encouraged to attend school plays and sports days, to stay home with sick children. For men be just as likely to need to run out of the door at 5:30 on the dot to make it to after-school club or nursery in time for pickup.

In a nutshell, the business world needs to start having exactly the same expectations of men and women when it comes to family responsibilities. As long as it's women taking a year out for each baby instead of couples taking 6 months each, as long as women are the ones having to leave on time each day, as long as women are the ones staying home with sick babies, of course they're going to be discriminated against at work.

But as soon as it's equally likely that men aged 25-40 are going to be off for 6 months with a new baby and to want to return to part-time work with flexible hours, as soon as it's just as likely that men will have to rush home to pick up a sick child from school and just as likely to have to leave at a set time to collect from nursery. Then, and only then, will there be no reason left for corporations to promote men over women.

Stop trying to change things for women by focussing on women. There's nothing more you can do for us until you change the fundamental expectations society has of men when it comes to domestic responsibility. The Men in Charge know this, despite their protestations. But they don't want to face it or act on it because it means that they themselves will have to change, both in terms of behaviour (ie taking equal responsibility for their children) and expectations (ie not just allowing, but actively encouraging their male employees to work flexibly).

slightlygoostained Fri 29-Nov-13 00:58:07

AnnieLobeseder Yes yes yes to all the above!

Re: raising profile, the occasional talk or carefully selected evening meeting can have a disproportionately large effect - i.e. you don't need to be there all the time, as long as you make sure to talk to people and then follow up afterwards. But yes, it is a lot easier for those without children, and men seem a lot readier to go out to these things and expect wife to look after kids than women are.

UptheChimney Fri 29-Nov-13 08:46:25

Yes, AnnieLobeseder There's some interesting academic work which switches the debate around to identify - name and make visible - masculine advantage rather than focussing on female disadvantage.

If you think about it, it's quite liberating. And note, I write "masculine" not male -- because we all know that the current system is not fair to a lot of people, low paid single men (and women) particularly -- where class disadvantage intersects with gender advantage ...

So, let's start identifying and making visible masculine advantage, and the pressures that puts on women to be "like men."

Indeed. If everyone is in the workplace, as in, both partners in most families, then ipso facto, the children will be in paid childcare, and neither partner has a SAH someone to deal with childcare issues.

The current commerical setup is designed around employees not having childcare considerations. This needs to change.

How many of you recognise this scenario.

Both of you work, have good careers, you may earn about the same or differently, but both plan to go far.

Then you have children, and you stay home on maternity leave while your DP carries on working, perhaps putting in longer hours to provide for his new family, and gets promoted or even just gets his annual pay rise.

Your maternity leave ends, but you go back part time because your child is young and full-time nursery doesn't sit right. So now you're earning less than your partner, and even then, most pay goes on childcare. Yes, it's a "joint expense", but at the end of the day, financially it makes very little difference to the family pot whether you're in work or not. This is quite dispiriting but you recognise the long-term benefits of keeping your career going.

After a while, you notice that you're not being taken nearly as seriously in your job, and even though you're compressing pretty much a full day's work into your reduced hours, and catching up in the evenings, you get snide "part timer" comments from your co-workers and you're pretty much treading water to keep you career just afloat, never mind progressing. Plus you have the stress of rushing home in time for nursery pick-up each day. Because the nursery run is all your responsibility.

You decide the situation needs to change. You realise you need to put in more hours and that your DP will need to pick up the slack and reduce his hours or work more flexibly to facilitate this.

So you speak to your DP. You explain that your career is suffering as you aren't able to work enough hours or "raise your profile" as was discussed upthread.

He says that if he works reduced hours or flexibly, he won't be taken as seriously and his career will suffer. You say you realise that, because that's what's happening to you. He points out that because you are now earning so little, he can't risk his career by doing this.

So you are stuck being the one with the constant pressure all day long to get your work done in time to manage the childcare rush while he can take his time.

You are also stuck being the one with the flagging career while his goes from strength to strength and the gap between you only increases.

Now, if he did agree your request to reduce his hours etc so yours could increase, indeed he might not progress as fast and earn less. But, you would be progressing faster and your pay increases should counterbalance this.

I say "should" though. There's no guarantee. And with the cost of living as high as it is, and jobs so hard to find, it's not surprising that many man/families decide it's too much of a risk to take.

Annie you are sadly totally right.

I think there is something else though - I think that women end up with men who earn more than them. It's weird but even amongst the high flying women I know the man is the higher earner in all bar 2 cases. I don't know if it's social expectation or evolution (and don't shoot me down for that as I appreciate I am on shaky ground).

DP and I both earn 6 figures but even before DD he was earning 30% more than me (couple of years older, couple of silly career decisions I made). So even though I went back full time and we fill the gap with paid childcare more has fallen to me. DP travels a lot so although he tries very hard when he is here there are just too many nights he is away and the whole thing falls to me.

Basically I totally agree with your scenario Annie but I think it applies even if you don't go back part time and lose out that way.

Yes, pre children the gap between men and women's earnings is narrowing but is that true couple by couple? Would be interested if anyone had any research on it.

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