One in seven HR leaders think men are better suited to management jobs, research reveals

Report also finds one in five senior people professionals would be reluctant to hire a woman they think might go on to start a family

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Fifteen per cent of HR decision makers believe men are better suited to top-level jobs than women, a new report by the Young Women’s Trust has revealed.

The research – part of the charity’s annual survey looking at the employment experiences of young women – also found that one in five (19 per cent) of the almost 1,000 HR leaders surveyed said they would be reluctant to hire a female employee whom they thought might go on to have children. 

Additionally, more than a third of HR decision makers said they were aware of instances of young women being discriminated against, and that sexist behaviour still existed in their organisation. 

Alesha De-Freitas, director of policy at the Fawcett Society, told the Guardian: “It is shocking that HR managers still believe that men are better suited to senior management than 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.”

The report also surveyed 4,000 young women aged 18-30 and found that, in the past year, 50 per cent had experienced discrimination in the workplace. And this discrimination is on the rise, with just two in five (42 per cent) reporting they had experienced sexism at work the previous year.

In addition, a quarter (23 per cent) of young women said they were being paid less than their male peers for the same work – a practice that is against the law.

The research comes as a separate study released to mark Equal Pay Day last week (22 November) found women in their forties would not see gender pay equity in their working lifetime, with parity not expected until 2051.

Claire McCartney, senior inclusion adviser at the CIPD, said it was also "concerning" that around a quarter of 18 to 40-year-old UK HR managers surveyed agreed that men were better suited to senior management jobs than women.

"While we have made positive strides towards gender equality and addressing barriers, this finding shows that we have much further to go," she added.

Sunita Harley, inclusion and professional development consultant at Collective Insight, told People Management this discrimination can take many forms, some “indirect and more subtle” and others “direct and more overt”.

She said: “Some young women at the start of their careers could feel restricted in speaking up about any non-inclusive behaviours depending on whether their manager has built trust with them, or the level of hierarchy or power dynamics in their team.”

The report also found that half (49 per cent) of young women were worried about not having enough opportunity to progress at work, rising to almost three in five (57 per cent) racially minoritised young women. 

More than a quarter (28 per cent) of HR decision makers agreed that it was harder for women to progress in their organisations than men. 

“It is important that all employees and managers are educated about how discrimination can show up in workspaces, whether it’s online or in-person environments,” Harley said.

She emphasised the importance of young women feeling able to be open about their experiences of discrimination. “It is key that HR professionals work closely with managers, diversity and inclusion teams and networks to create safe spaces for early career employees to share any concerns or examples that have negatively impacted their careers, progression or personal confidence,” Harley explained.

Salaries were found to be often left open to negotiation, which disadvantages women and other vulnerable groups, according to the Young Women’s Trust.

The charity found that 46 per cent of employers regularly advertised jobs without a salary, while half asked applicants about their current salary during the application process.

Despite the barriers faced by young women, the Young Women’s Trust reported that some progress was being made within organisations – more than half (57 per cent) of employers offer programmes to support the development of young women, an increase from 51 per cent last year.

Flexible working is now offered by 80 per cent of employers, according to the charity, something that 84 per cent of women said was important to them.

Diane Watson, founder of She Can Prosper, said: “Women have shared with me that they have been blatantly passed over for promotion in favour of a male colleague or have not been given opportunities for specific tasks or projects after returning from maternity leave.

“There are still disparities in pay between genders, which contribute to discrimination, with women often earning less than their male counterparts for the same work.”

Watson said HR has a “critical” role in addressing and preventing discrimination against young women in the workplace by implementing inclusive policies, fostering a supportive culture and actively working to eliminate biases.

Click here to read the CIPD's view on gender equality in the workplace, and its recommendations for employers