Women at work: the road we are on…

In this article I look at some of the markers of progress women have made in the workplace. I consider the road we are on and where we may be heading.

It is over 100 years since women were able to vote in the UK and were able to enter professions such as law and accountancy. We have seen equal pay and sex discrimination legislation and much has changed for women at work.  I look at statistics to illustrate where we are now in the UK. I then consider what may develop in the future. We have all experienced changes in the last year living with Covid-19 and some of these may last.

Where are we now?

The Global Gender Gap Report shows the UK is 21st out of 144 countries in terms of overall gender equality.  We are 58th for the economic participation and opportunity gap. These positions reflect disparity of earnings and low representation of women among legislators, senior officials and managers.

In 2019 the overall gender pay gap between men and women was 17.3% for all employees. The 2020 reporting on the gender pay gap has been deferred. Given the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on women’s work and earnings the gap is likely to have widened rather than narrowed.

In 1999 just 7% of FTSE 100 directors were women. The Female FTSE Board Report 2020 from Cranfield University shows that in June 2020 34.5% of FTSE 100 directors were female. This is great progress and there is still more work to do.  When we dig a little deeper the statistics show that only 13.2% of the directors of FTSE 100 companies were female Executive Directors. The majority of female FTSE 100 directors are Non-Executive Directors. The report concludes that this is insufficient to drive real change in gender diversity. Women need to be in roles with more status and ability to influence.

Currently the FTSE 100 companies have just 5 female CEOs. This level has not changed since 2014. There is a lot of ground to cover to meet the target of 25 women CEOs by 2025.

Looking at the accountancy and law professions then the picture shows progress and a need for more work. In both professions there are equal numbers of women and men who are qualified. 45% of all qualified accountants and over 50% of practising solicitors are female. At the very senior level though only 20% of partners in accountancy firms and 30% of partners in legal private practice are women.

These statistics illustrate there is much still to do in achieving gender equality in the UK.

Where we may be heading

I found more positive news for women at work when I considered what could happen in the future. The McKinsey report, The Future of Work after Covid-19 published in February 2021 identifies three trends affecting our work:

  1. Remote work and virtual interactions
  2. E-commerce and digital transactions
  3. Deployment of automation and AI

These trends are likely to persist and result in significant change.

  • More than 100million workers across China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Spain, UK and USA may need to switch occupations.
  • There may be bigger gaps in the skills required.
  • 1 in 16 people in these countries may need to find a different occupation by 2030.


There are opportunities within this level of change. I think women can be prepared and take advantage of the opportunities.

In the last year many workplaces have used more agile and collaborative approaches to make changes. Often these have led to greater productivity. In the future this approach can create new career pathways.

Empathy and support have been key in helping other people work well during the last year. Building connections even when we have been working remotely. These and other social and emotional skills will be in greater demand going forward.

A December 2020 Harvard Business Review Research paper ‘Women are better leaders during a crisis’ by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman gives positive news. It provides evidence to show that women are rated higher than men by those who work for them in many critical leadership competencies such as inspiring and motivating others, building relationships, communication and collaboration and teamwork. Employee engagement is also reported as higher from those who worked for women.

The future trends and the highlighted competencies sit together.  I believe they provide women with more opportunity in the future. This is a positive to cling on to in the face of the news that the Covid-19 pandemic will have set back women in the workplace more than men.

Good employers will be actively seeking ways to reset this, or they may face losing more incredibly talented women.

I wonder if it provides an opportunity to change the rules and accepted norms for women at work?

What can I do?

All of the above statistics come from individual stories. Each one of us makes a positive difference in our own unique way.

Our responsibility is to keep on doing what we do, in ways that work for us. We can have those tough conversations where needed.  Each step we take makes it easier for those who come after us.

The final lines from Amanda Gorman’s Inaugural poem ‘The Hill We Climb’ seem appropriate to finish with:


‘For there is always light

If only we’re brave enough to see it

If only we’re brave enough to be it.’


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