A significant minority of human resources executives believe men are better suited to senior management than women, according to the results of a “shocking” poll.
Nearly one in seven HR decision-makers rate men as better for top jobs and nearly one in five admitted they were reluctant to hire women they thought might go on to start families, the survey of personnel managers in England and Wales for the charity Young Women’s Trust (YWT) found.
It said the figures were a “travesty” and showed England and Wales were “living in the dark ages”.
British Telecom, ITV and GlaxoSmithKline all operate under female chief executives in the UK, a country that has elected more female leaders than Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the US, and Japan combined.
The findings also indicated that younger HR managers were more likely than their older counterparts to be prejudiced against women’s capacity to tackle the biggest roles.
“It is shocking that HR managers still believe that men are better suited to senior management than women,” said Alesha De-Freitas, the head of policy at the Fawcett Society, who said the figures showed businesses were systematically and illegally discriminating against women. “This then funnels through to all of women’s experiences at work, from pay discrimination to unfair treatment around contracts. No wonder there is no prospect of the gender pay gap closing for at least another 28 years.”
Claire Reindorp, YWT’s chief executive, said: “You might think views like this died with the dinosaurs but they’re still alive and having a very real and lasting effect.
“We know it’s hard for young women to get the jobs that they want because of barriers such as a lack of flexible working and affordable childcare, but then when they do enter the workplace, discrimination and a lack of support to progress creates this broken rung on the career ladder,” she said.
“It’s a travesty that in 2023 young women still aren’t being given the same chances in life as young men.”
The charity commissioned market researchers to ask 907 human resources sole or joint decision-makers to what extent they agreed or disagreed that “men are better suited to senior management jobs than women”. Fifteen per cent agreed, 79% disagreed and the rest didn’t know.
It emerged separately that nearly a third of male managers think companies are putting too much effort into achieving gender balance in the workplace. The figure, shared with the Guardian from a regular tracking survey by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), suggests workplace gender equality faces continuing headwinds.
Last year, the CMI estimated that if the UK workplace was to be representative of the wider working population, there would need to be 560,000 more female managers.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, which represents HR managers, admitted the results of the survey were “concerning” and said they showed “we have much further to go”.
“There needs to be a much stronger focus now on increasing the number of women in executive committee roles and their direct reports to build a strong pipeline of female talent for the future,” said Claire McCartney, the senior inclusion and resourcing adviser for the CIPD, which also called for continuing education of decision-makers “on the importance of gender equality at every level and take active steps to address gender stereotypes and biases head-on”.
Young Women’s Trust also polled 4,000 young women and found almost one in four have been paid less than young men for the same work. Half are worried about not having enough opportunities to progress and 28% of HR decision-makers agreed that it was harder for women to progress in their organisation than men.
The Department for Business and Trade, which is led by Kemi Badenoch, who is also the minister for women and equalities, declined to comment.