The Changing Landscape for Women in the Workplace

On this International Women’s Day, we look at some of the ways in which the environment for women in the workplace has changed in the last five years.

Firstly, there has been slow but positive progress in gender diversity in senior leadership roles over that time.  In 2018, the proportion of senior roles held by women globally was 24%, in 2021 that figure has risen to 31%[i]. Even more encouraging is the increase in businesses having at least one woman in their senior management teams from just 66% in 2017, to 90% in 2021.

Alongside that increase is the shift from women predominantly having people-based roles such as HR, into more operational and strategic roles. As the Women in Business report points out, the shift to strategic roles is at least partially the result of an increased awareness of gender imbalances at board level.  This recognition has, in turn, influenced both recruitment and promotional decisions, which are now bearing fruit. The wider societal shift in the perception of women in leadership is also encouraging more women to aspire to these roles and their goals are being enabled by the willingness of partners to assume more responsibility for family obligations such as childcare, which may previously have limited their career aspirations.

Of course, it’s not only a shift in the potential for promotion that has been apparent in recent times.  We are also seeing a move towards more flexible working practices, which will primarily benefit women in business.  Things like juggling childcare and other family commitments such as caring for older family members, has long been at the forefront of reasons why women have sought a working environment that was more flexible than the traditional office-based, 9 to 5.  For this shift, they undoubtedly have the global pandemic to thank.  While there were many challenges to deal with, such as repeated lockdowns, self-isolation rules, social distancing guidelines and home schooling, one of the positive outcomes was an increased willingness for many businesses to embrace a more flexible working situation. Having shied away from off-site or hybrid working choices before the pandemic, like many other adaptations, businesses had to accept it for their very survival.  The result of this, now that staff are beginning to return to the office environment more regularly, is an increase in the provision of hybrid or fully remote working options. As we continue to move out of the pandemic, I see this as one part of the “new normal” which will hopefully mean a much improved work life balance for all, not just women.

Like many other organisations, Simbec-Orion has adapted as it has grown; out of a global workforce of more than 400, around 64% are women and our leadership team is comprised 48% female, 52% male, well above the global average.  Colleagues I have spoken to are enthusiastic about their roles in encouraging women to reach their full potential in the workplace.  Mike Fudge, Director of Laboratory Services is keen to stress that promotion should always be based on ability to perform the job not gender, but also noted that often it is lack of confidence, not ability, that prevents women from pushing themselves forward for a promotion. He sees his role as one of mentor and advocate, as being part of the solution.

Hopefully, this continuing trend for more women in leadership roles will set a strong example for the next generation to follow, giving them the confidence to, not only realise their own full potential, but also to pull their sisters up behind them.

[i] Grant Thornton, Women in Business 2021,at%20least%20one%20female%20leader Accessed Mar 2022

Karen McCusker, Associate Director, Marketing

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