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Women still face discrimination at work

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OfficesA survey has suggested that more than half of women have been discriminated against at work.

The campaign group Opportunity Now, which was founded in 1991 to improve working conditions for women, launched Project 28–40 to investigate women’s experience in the workplace.

Opportunity Now invited women between 28 and 40 years of age to take part in their survey as the gap between men and women’s progression in the workplace increases between these ages.

They also invited men to take part so that their answers could be compared to those from women.

The initial findings of the survey show that over a quarter of the women said a lack of promotion or training has stalled their career, and one in ten had faced sexual harassment at work.

Daisy Sands, Policy and Campaigns Manager at the Fawcett Society, said: “Today’s findings present a stark reminder of the raft of deep inequalities that women continue to face in the UK labour market, well into the 21st century.

“Women continue to dominate in low-paid and undervalued work – two-thirds of those in minimum-wage jobs are women.

“Conversely, women are sorely lacking at the top tables of power – only 25 per cent of senior managers in the UK are women.”

The initial findings of the survey also revealed that women struggle to balance work and having a family.

Eighty-one per cent of women surveyed believed that having children would affect their career progression, with 66 per cent feeling that work needs to be their priority in order to advance in their career.

Reflecting on this difficult child-career balancing act, Susan Himmelweit, Professor of Economics at the Open University, said: “Whenever there are pressures on people, as there are now – such as high unemployment – employers are in a better position to put more pressure on staff.

“Women with caring responsibilities have more difficulty with this. Very often they’ve juggled things just to work and it’s more difficult for them to respond to changes.

“If it is a competitive environment then employers will think it’s not worth bothering with them.”

Himmelweit believes that a solution lies in improving rights for women who work on a part-time or flexible basis.

“The legislation on flexible working needs to become tougher so that those who have to use it are not discriminated against,” Himmelweit said.

The initial findings of the Project 28–40 survey agreed with Himmelweit’s concerns about flexible working as 63 per cent of women believe that this kind of work still entails working long hours.

Opportunity Now hopes that the survey will enable them to “more accurately diagnose why women are not being promoted at the same rate as men”.

They plan to use the focus groups to ‘explore themes that emerge, seeking the reactions of younger women, older women, men and business leaders’.

The preliminary results also show that 89 per cent of women think that being a working mother makes them a good role model for their children, provides balance in their lives and enables them to provide a good life for their children.

The full findings of the survey will be published later in the year.

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