Professional women in today’s workplace
In February 2023, we conducted our second annual in-depth study on “Women professionals in the modern workplace.” We wanted to see how two remarkable years of balancing life and work through the pandemic and a third year fraught with layoffs, record inflation, and a looming global recession have affected professional women around the world.
We aimed to learn more about women’s perspectives on their places of work and how these extraordinary times of tumultuous change have impacted them.
In both studies, we interviewed 3,000 professional women: 1,000 in the United States, 1,000 in the United Kingdom, and 1,000 in Australia. All of our respondents were 25 and older and worked full-time hybrid, remote, or on-site throughout the last three years (2020-2022).
Women’s confidence in performance thrives when nurtured
Last year, it was gratifying to see that the majority of women felt confident in their performance (91 percent in the UK and 78 percent in the US). In this year’s survey, women in both countries felt even more confident, with 92 percent in the UK and 86 percent in the US reporting that they feel confident in their performance. However, women’s confidence fell from 57 to 52 percent in Australia.
We also asked our respondents whether a colleague had ever made them feel uncomfortable or less qualified in the workplace because they are women. In the UK and US, the results were good, but definitely have room for improvement. The good news is that things improved in these countries.
In last year’s survey, 74 percent of respondents in the UK reported that they had never been made to feel uncomfortable or less qualified in the workplace because of their gender. In this year’s survey, 77 percent reported the same.
In the US, 65 percent of respondents in last year’s survey reported that they’d never been made to feel uncomfortable or less qualified, and this jumped to 68 percent in this year’s survey.
In Australia, though, the numbers fell from 56 to 55 percent of respondents reporting that they’ve never been made to feel uncomfortable or less qualified in the workplace because of their gender.
Considering years past, things are improving, but we still have a long way to go. The goal to eliminate this lies in building healthy company cultures that encourage equity and equality for everyone. As it stands, 32 percent of women in the US, 23 percent in the UK, and 45 percent in Australia still say they’ve been made uncomfortable in the workplace just because they are women.
Professional women and turnover trends
During the pandemic, the Great Resignation saw record quit rates across all industries worldwide. Almost 50.5 million Americans voluntarily resigned from their jobs in 2022, breaking the record of 47 million set in 2021. We were interested in seeing if this trend is set to continue among professional women in 2023, so we asked them.
In 2021, 27 percent of professional women in the US left their jobs and started a new one (15 percent quit, and 12 percent were fired or let go). In the UK, these numbers were much lower—only 15 percent of women changed jobs. Of those, 13 percent quit, and 2 percent were fired or let go. The change was more acute in Australia, with 39 percent of women changing jobs. To compare, 22 percent quit their jobs, and 17 percent were fired or let go.
What does this mean? According to the data, professional women in the UK had a significantly more stable 2021 than women in the US and Australia who underwent major changes in their professional lives.
For the most part, things stayed the same in 2022, with 15 percent of respondents in the UK again reporting that they left their jobs (12 percent quit voluntarily, and 3 percent were fired or let go), 23 percent in the US (13 percent quit and 10 percent were fired or let go), and 43 percent (23 percent quit and 20 percent were fired or let go) in Australia.
Paying close attention to women planning a career move is good business practice. Looking forward into 2023, we found that some women are still planning on leaving their jobs this year (10 percent in the UK and US and a whopping 21 percent in Australia), despite the economic turmoil battering global markets.
The effect of the economic downturn on women’s concerns about their job security
The tumultuous economy has everyone worried about the stability of their positions. The downturn during COVID had a disproportionate effect on women, and “led to more job losses among women than among men.” To get a better understanding of how the current economic downturn is affecting women and their economic outlook, we asked them how worried they are about being let go.
Almost 60 percent (57) of women in Australia are worried about being let go from their jobs, followed by 47 percent in the UK and 39 percent in the US.
In addition to anxiety over job security, we asked our respondents in the UK how worries about their job security have impacted their decisions when it comes to parenthood and family. Here, the responses are surprising. Despite high levels of anxiety over job security, 33 percent of women in the UK said that they’re not fearful of losing their jobs with regard to getting pregnant or starting a family. Additionally, 25 percent said that job security is not something they have considered with regard to getting pregnant or starting a family.
This points to a positive trend: Professional women in the UK are confident in their performance and aren’t delaying starting a family due to concerns about job security.
Over in the US, we asked respondents if they thought the economic downturn would impact how companies prioritize the promotion of women. Almost 30 percent (29) reported that they thought the economic downturn will somewhat impact prioritizing the promotion of women, and 23 percent said they thought the economic downturn would not impact prioritizing the promotion of women at all.
During the rounds of layoffs in late 2022 and early 2023, DE&I initiatives have been the first companies cut from the budget. It would be unfortunate to see women’s advancements decline due to these cuts, especially when the data states that commitment to DE&I isn’t just good for culture but good for business.
But, economic downturn or not, we’re very interested in gender equality.
Who was promoted over the last two years?
In particular, we wanted to know how women feel they’re being treated when it comes to promotions and pay.
In last year’s survey, 63 percent of women in the UK said they received either a pay raise, more benefits, a promotion, or a combination of the three. Additionally, 64 percent said the same in the US. For women in the UK and US, things improved: 65 percent of respondents in the UK said they received a raise, more benefits, a promotion, or a combination in 2022; 66 percent said the same in the US.
In Australia, though, only 50 percent of the women reported receiving any of the three in 2022 versus 55 percent in 2021.
In general, things are on an upward trend when it comes to women’s perceptions about being promoted equally to men. When we asked respondents if they feel women are promoted equally compared to men within their company, 57 percent of women in the UK said yes last year and this year.
In the US, 54 percent answered “yes” in this year’s survey compared to 53 percent last year. And in Australia, 41 percent of respondents said they feel women are promoted equally compared to men within their company this year versus only 37 percent last year. The ultimate goal for modern workplaces is for all women to feel that they are promoted equally compared to men within their company and that the reasons for promotion are not related to gender at all.
Examining the gender pay gap
Looking at the pay gap has always been a direct and uncompromising way of gauging where professional women stand. Examining workplace advancement through the prism of pay, many women today believe their company pays men and women equally for the same role.
In this year’s survey, 55 percent of women in the UK said they feel that men and women are paid equally for the same role at their company compared to 53 percent last year. In the US, sentiment stayed relatively the same, with 49 percent saying they feel they’re paid equally to men for the same role versus 53 percent last year.
Australian respondents reported the largest improvement, with 35 percent of respondents this year saying they feel men and women are paid equally for the same role at their company compared to just 32 percent last year.
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Women’s leadership in the workplace
To accurately understand the position of women in a company, we must look at the proportion of women in leadership positions, and company policies designed to promote equity and equality.
When we asked about the balance in female-to-male leadership, respondents reported incredibly significant improvements between last year and this year in the UK, US, and Australia.
A full 55 percent of respondents from the UK in 2023’s survey said they believe their company has made a visible commitment to developing more women leaders in the last year compared to just 32 percent last year. Almost 50 percent of respondents in the US reported the same compared to just 31 percent last year.
Significant gains were also reported in Australia, with 35 percent saying they believe their company has made a visible commitment to developing more women leaders in the last year versus just 28 percent in the previous year’s survey.
This shows that, overall, roughly half of the companies that employ women are aware of the importance of balancing the ratio of men and women in leadership roles. It also shows that these companies are taking action to bring more equality to their organizations.
True commitment to equality means creating a culture where everyone feels they’re treated equally, and where women and men don’t feel negatively called out due to their gender. Our research showed clearly that a company’s attitude towards women is reflected in its culture and values. We asked our respondents about how company attitudes towards women affect how they feel about their workplace.
There’s still a lot of work to be done here. In this year’s survey, a low percentage of respondents reported that they do not experience a particular attitude towards women at their company (33 percent in the UK, 25 percent in the US, and 29 percent in Australia).
Women-specific benefits reflect an organization’s commitment to inclusivity. Professionals around the globe respect it. Our research showed that women worldwide believe paternity and shared parental leave benefits are essential to achieving gender equality in the workplace.
When we asked if companies offered shared parental or paternity leave, the percentages everywhere were low.
In Australia, only 26 percent of respondents said their company offers shared parental or paternity leave (although that’s up 10 percent from 16 percent last year). In the UK, 38 percent said their company offers the benefit, up from 36 percent last year. In the US, 32 percent of respondents said their company offers shared parental or paternity leave in this year’s survey compared to 33 percent last year.
While shared parental and paternity are critical, especially in the modern world, this benefit isn’t the only one companies can offer to improve gender equity and equality in the workplace.
Women-specific benefits help overcome the unique challenges women face due to their sex. These challenges include overcoming absenteeism because of pregnancy and birth-related health issues, fertility treatments, and the additional complexities of caring for children. Providing women and men with flexibility and expanding women-specific benefits is key to helping all modern professionals achieve work-life balance and perform their best work at peak performance.
Flexible schedules and benefits like extended paid maternity leave, childcare subsidies, fertility treatments, pumping rooms or breastfeeding space, and time off or flexible working hours during menopause are particularly valuable for people with young children, caregiving responsibilities, and a variety medical concerns—but companies in all three countries surveyed can invest much more in benefits like these.
When we asked, only 24 percent of professional women in Australia, 30 percent in the US, and 32 percent in the UK said their employer offers extended paid maternity leave.
Today’s professional women are thriving
International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate women’s professional achievements around the world and gauge how far companies need to go to achieve true and lasting gender equity and equality. While companies still have a long way to go, we can’t ignore the significant progress achieved by the global workplace in recent years.
In the post-COVID world, companies are more flexible and accommodating, and women have enjoyed more benefits and equality than ever before. Widespread flexibility at work has leveled the playing field for professional women and men, allowing families to better balance responsibilities at work and their personal lives. The bottom line? Women are thriving professionally, equal pay and promotions are on the rise, and women are set to make even more headway in gaining leadership roles and career success.