Flexibility And Pay Parity Key For Women

Less than six in 10 (58%) of Australian women believe the next generation will receive the flexibility and support needed to stay productive in the workforce for as long as men, with 76% of them urging businesses to drive this change.

The findings come from newly commissioned data by business improvement and global standards company, BSI, summarized in a report called Lifting the Second Glass Ceiling. As part of this global study, BSI surveyed 1,000 Australian women, exploring the Second Glass Ceiling (whereby women leave the workforce early and for reasons other than personal preference).

The research finds that 75% of Australian women say experienced female mentors can benefit the development of younger women, yet 40% say it remains uncommon to see women in leadership roles and a similar number have themselves lacked the opportunity to learn from such mentors. Close to seven in 10 Australian women say pay parity would also help women remain in the workplace longer.

The report explores the perceived barriers to organizations supporting the retention of experienced women and the economic and social benefits to be realized from addressing this. It concludes that this is, in fact, not only an issue for older women as male colleagues and different generations can also contribute to creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture of care.

It reveals a desire for action from organizations and policymakers, with 77% of Australian women saying greater flexibility would be valuable, and 72% wanting organizations to support women experiencing symptoms of menopause, something over a fifth (23%) specifically mentioned as a barrier to remaining in work. 76% say formal policies around this, difficult pregnancies, or miscarriage are helpful, but only 3% are aware of these being in place and over one in two (58%) said they would be uncomfortable raising this with an employer.

 Charlene Loo, Managing Director, BSI Australia, said: Taking action on workplace gender equality has been a growing topic in Australia, especially after the pandemic brought to light important issues that have not been fully addressed as yet. Lifting the Second Glass Ceiling (SGC) can offer many benefits in the country, from enhancing productivity to ensuring organizations retain talented people and providing mentors who can draw on their experience to guide newer staff members.

“As our research shows, there are many factors that can lock women out of the workforce – but there are also clear strategies to address this, from support for workers experiencing menopause to taking steps in other areas, such as working flexibly and breaking down stigma that could contribute to an enhanced work environment for all.

“Rather than see the considerations facing older Australian women as a challenge, we can gain by seeing this as an opportunity for investment in current and future generations, and an opportunity to boost growth, innovation and accelerate progress towards a sustainable nation.”

Asked about barriers to remaining in work, one in three Australian women (30%) specifically cited caring responsibilities – for parents or children, while over one quarter (26%) cited lack of flexibility, 20% cited lack of progression opportunities for women and the same proportion lack of pay parity.

In a sign the SGC could be lifted over the generations, 69% of Australian women aged 18–24 and 67% aged 25–34 were more optimistic that their generation of women will receive the flexibility and support needed to stay in the workforce as long as their male colleagues - compared with 55% of the over 55s.

The report makes a series of recommendations to lift the SGC, including:

  • Recognize the benefits of lifting the second glass ceiling. Rather than see this as a challenge, organizations can approach it as an opportunity to boost growth, innovation and accelerate progress towards a sustainable world.
  • Open the dialogue - ask women what they want – uncovering solutions that can reverse the trends and enable more women to thrive throughout their professional lives.
  • Ensure support is available and accessible, whether around menopause or other considerations
  • See flexibility as an asset and recognize that small adjustments where possible can help ensure an accommodating workplace
  • Institute a broader culture of care - prioritize people by promoting individual needs
  • Share best practice - collaboration across organizations, sectors and countries can drive progress

The research follows extensive work by BSI to help organizations meet the needs of employees experiencing menopause or menstruation. In May BSI published the Menstruation, menstrual health, and menopause in the workplace standard (BS 30416), setting out practical recommendations for workplace adjustments. Last year BSI published best practice guidance creating an age-inclusive workforce (BS ISO 25550:2022)[1]. BSI’s Prioritizing People© model also sets out a best practice framework for human high performance focused on culture, engagement and well-being over the career lifecycle.

As a purpose-driven organization, BSI is committed to partnering with organizations to advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals, making a positive impact for the benefit of everyone. Lifting the Second Glass Ceiling can help us all take steps to fulfil these goals, including Goal 5 (gender equality), Goal 8 (decent work and economic growth) and Goal 10 (reduced inequalities).