Research shows gender gap in career progression attitudes

Gender gap

by Simon Andrew, insight and engagement director

We recently conducted research into what people regard as important when looking for a new job. When we looked at the gender gap, the results were quite interesting. Did I say ‘quite’? I mean, very.

Gender pay gap
The BBC reported on the first FTSE100 company to go public with pay differences, and it showed that fixed pay for women was on average 33% lower than their male counterparts – pretty shocking. But a lack of women in senior roles was cited as a reason for this, which is not thought to be uncommon.

Our research offers some insight that could help address this. Could it be that our senior roles are built with gender bias – intentionally or not?

New job priorities
When looking for a new job, both genders share some similar priorities. We both have a similar interest in learning and development. We would both quite like the opportunity to work with interesting people. We even both prioritise the company vision and mission in the same way, all be it a little low down in the ranking.

But it’s the differences that are interesting. Did we see a modern reflection of a complex workforce or did we see reflection of the stereotypical views we are moving away from?

The research

  • We collected responses from 225 participants, 54% female and 46% male. We provided a category of ‘other’, but no one selected this option.
  • Input was provided across a wide selection of pay grades, ages, marital status and length of service – reflecting a cross-section of society as best we can.
  • Respondents ranked the top five priorities when choosing a new job.

Flexibility and reputation high for women
The areas that our female participants rated more highly than the males centred around pride and flexibility. The most important factors for our female participants were as follows:

  • Flexible working hours
  • A convenient location
  • A good company reputation
  • Working for a brand to be proud of
  • Convenient parking
  • A job role that you love
Gender gap

We considered these results against the flexibility required for a family. While flexible working hours has a high correlation with respondents saying they have kids (we asked this too) – the other ratings do not. We even asked if people were planning on having kids, and that doesn’t explain it either. Our research found that women just value flexibility and convenience in a job role more than men. What’s more, brand and reputation are of high value too. Could it be that women are more job proud? Quite possibly.

Autonomy and remuneration important for men
If women are after a company to be proud of and a flexible lifestyle, what are men after? Lots of money and a boss that leaves them alone? No, really.

Our male participants ranked these areas as their highest priorities:

  • A market-leading company
  • Freedom/autonomy in your role
  • A strong company culture
  • Salary and benefits
  • Clear career progression (the biggest differentiator – with 50% for men and just 39% for women)

So, men care more about salary and benefits, a market-leading company, and clear career progression. But what does that say? Well, research has regularly shown men to be more selfish, with women being more empathetic. In tests, women are more likely to divide a pot of money fairly with a partner than men are.

Men are more driven by financial factors – the assumption being that clear career progression and a market leading company are just means to the same end. A good role for a good company should mean more money. But then when you take autonomy and culture into account, again more important for the males, maybe there is more reward than the just the financial side.

Gender gap 2

The top five most important factors when considering a new job
The overall top five rankings for each gender show the differences we’ve discussed. This is considering not only the frequency with which they were chosen but also the ranking they were given (first carrying more weight than second and so on). For our participants, career progression is a higher priority for men, not even coming in the female top five. Instead we saw higher ratings of a convenient location and flexible working hours.

Rank Male Female
1 Salary and benefits Salary and benefits
2 A job role that you love A job role that you love
3 Clear career progression A convenient location
4 A convenient location Flexible working hours
5 Learning and development opportunities Learning and development opportunities

That gender pay gap again
If the problem with the gender pay gap evolves around the lack of women in senior roles – then do we need to look at the shape of these roles?

If career progression is more important to men, then we can assume they will do what it takes to get these positions. Remember, they rated salary and benefits in the top five factors more frequently than women. So, this attainment of a senior role would bring with it the things they rate highly.

Convenience and flexibility is important to women – more so than progression. So, if these roles don’t fit with their needs, then it just may not be viable.

What do senior roles offer? Higher pay? A career milestone?

After searching several senior jobs, it’s clear that these positions come with lots of responsibility, often travel and we would assume – long hours. All elements that you would say are not conducive of the female priorities we have seen.

So, is the secret to the gender pay gap reshaping senior roles to fit gender priorities? It feels like we need to start acknowledging the different needs of each gender if we are to make some good progress. Surely the options are change and improve, or do nothing and hope it will go away.

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The future of this debate? Don’t let me put you off reviewing these roles, but we can only expect this topic to get more complex. While no one in our research categorised themselves as ‘other’ – we only need to look at the gender diversity in schools to realise that the idea of a male/female divide is going to become archaic, very quickly.

Understanding the values that people hold dear is just one of the ways to get a better understanding of the modern employee. By understanding employees better, we can build a stronger experience and shape our workplaces to engage, motivate and retain our people.