Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, labor experts and equality advocates have honed in on the virus’ effect on the future of work in particular regard to women. But coronavirus isn’t only to blame. Childcare-related attrition from the workforce — and complications therein — have long existed. The lasting effects of this gender-specific burden were spotlighted in research firm British Standards Institute “Lifting the Second Glass Ceiling” survey.
The secondary glass ceiling refers to the “broken middle rung” many women and marginalized people face when working their way up to the C-suite. Gender roles and related responsibilities often get in the way of success.
The report encompasses the view of 5,000 workers; BSI polled women in the U.K., U.S., Australia, China and Japan. While some respondents said they see women in leadership roles, 42% agreed it was "uncommon" to see older women in leadership positions. BSI said this further indicates "a second glass ceiling" is in place.
Not seeing older women in leadership was slightly more common in HR; IT; arts and culture; manufacturing; utilities and finance than it was in healthcare and legal professions.
Incomplete benefits packages ‘rob’ workplaces of talent
Along with flexibility to support child-rearing, BSI researchers further encouraged employers to consider many women’s lived experiences and need for reproductive health care.
“When women leave the workforce early or before they have the opportunity to reach senior positions — whether because of caring responsibilities, structural factors or because their presence is not valued — this can contribute to significant productivity losses, rob organizations of talented people, and remove mentors who can draw on their experience to guide newer members of staff,” Anne Hayes, director of sectors at BSI, said in the report.
Beyond a moral imperative, BSI suggested that bridging the gendered benefit gap “is an opportunity to boost growth, enhance innovation and accelerate progress towards a sustainable world.”
Buck gender roles and ‘ask women what they want’
The solution? “Ask women what they want and act on it,” researchers said.
“Given historical gender roles, it is generally accepted that the overall workplace experience was designed by men for men,” researchers said.
Acknowledging that this is not unanimously the case for all, researchers underscored that “evidence suggests women are looking for cultures in which they can be comfortable emotionally, socially, and physically.”
How employers address (peri)menopause is undeniably important
Support for women with menopause was a key factor discussed in this report: 73% of respondents said that they want their employers to have policies around reproductive health, including difficult pregnancies, miscarriage and menopause.
Similar numbers said that they want their organization to support workers experiencing perimenopausal or menopausal symptoms. However, more than half of respondents said that they are uncomfortable bringing this up with an employer.
Notably, the discomfort reaches across gender lines: 62% said that they are uncomfortable bringing personal health issues to a male employer and 26% of respondents said the same of female employers.
A twofold solution for increasing comfort and ensuring that workers can take advantage of healthcare benefits is to increase education around the benefits of the organization offers, BSI said. Beyond flexibility, the literal, tangible benefits are instrumental to helping women, and eventually older women, succeed in the workplace.
“Employers can partner with employees to embed a supportive culture,” researchers said.