Sunday, April 14, 2024

What Working Women REALLY Want: Introducing Our New Series Delving Into Everything Career

Sarah Lang dives into a new series about what we want at work.

At Capsule, we’ve written a lot of stories about women at work. We’ve noticed that many of these topics are very much intertwined: pushing back against hustle culture, why perpetual striving might not make us happier, working-mum guilt, letting go of perfectionism, battling burnout, juggling work with the mental load and SO many more.

Then we got to wondering about what working women really want. As in, what do we actually want – rather than what are we ‘meant’ to want because, for instance, we’ve internalised social pressure to climb the corporate ladder or earn a certain income. Also, are there things that we don’t yet know we want, but might realise we want if we find out more? And are there more things we could ask our employers for?

Welcome to our new series What Working Women REALLY Want. We’ll be covering topics including the alleged death of ambition, the campaign for a four-day working week, workplaces bringing in consultants to support employees facing personal challenges, the potential pitfalls of being an overachiever, women sacrificing pay for flexibility, ‘career cushioning’ (always looking for another job), the ‘glass cliff’ (women being handed the reins at difficult times) – and more.

If you have any story ideas, or are keen to be interviewed for a piece, please email us at [email protected]!

Report card

We think a good place to start is the second ‘Watch Wāhine Win’ report recently released by ANZ Bank; the first one, in 2021, was called ‘Watch Women Win’.

This year’s research was conducted by the firm Talbot Mills, with 2171 participants: 1484 identified as female and 682 as male.

The report says that “when we called out inequality in ‘Watch Women Win’, we noted the progress, but also the huge amount of work to be done to find ways that enable, empower and encourage women to fulfil their professional or personal aspirations. We also noted the lack of New Zealand-based research with the ability to deliver to identify the roadblocks and propose solutions to the common barriers to success cited by women”.

Here are some questions we’d like the report to answer: what’s going on for us at work? Are we achieving what we want to? What are the barriers to advancement? Do we even want to advance? What’s keeping us loyal to our employers? Are our jobs meeting our financial needs? Where are we seeing good progress in workplace initiatives, and where are we seeing too few? And what do respondents actually want for themselves?

Key findings

We’ve pulled out some key findings from the report. There’s a lot we can’t cover, and summarising is necessary, so we’re focusing on women as an overall group, rather than men and ethnic groups. (Do consider reading the full report.)

I’ll also note my thoughts as they pop up, particularly regarding potential articles (remember to email us your thoughts at [email protected]!)

We’re people people:

The report shows that ‘people’ – including colleagues and clients – rank right up there with pay in what defines a good job. Women (34%) were more likely than men (22%) to say that “people” are the best thing about their jobs. “For them,” the report reads, “‘people’ meant being part of a like-minded team, having a supportive boss and senior staff who looked out for their people. Being trusted to work from home was another positive for women. But the message is ‘thanks for the flexibility, but don’t forget the money’. Pay and workload were by far the worst aspects of the workplace, according to respondents.”

Advancement:

Most respondents aren’t always scanning job listings. “Just under half (49%) of respondents said that they are generally satisfied and expecting to stay in their job for the next two years.” The other 51% of respondents were less satisfied.

What’s keeping people loyal? Thirty-seven percent cited job satisfaction as the main reason, with 16% citing pay and job stability as the main reason. Another 9% cited flexibility and work-life balance as the main reason.

Fifty-five percent of Gen Zers (born between 1997 and 2012) and 54% of millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) are keen or very keen to advance in the workplace, compared to 38% of Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980 and 27% of Baby Boomers (born between 1955 and 1964). That doesn’t mean, for example, that 45% of Gen Zers aren’t keen to advance, just that they’re less keen. But, I wonder, why aren’t more people all that keen to advance? Are they simply happy with where they’re at?

Barriers:

When it came to barriers to advancement, most respondents cited “business structure” as a key barrier, followed by “not worth the hassle”, “being focused on other things”, “confidence” and “lack of management support”.

The report adds that “some women felt the biggest barrier was attitude, as their upbringing had not set them up to aim high – or have a clear direction for their future.” Is this something we should write about?

The report adds that “some [working women] did not view their career as a priority. They preferred to focus more on family and friends than chase promotions.” I mean, fair enough – but also, if men did more at home, might we have more appetite and energy for our careers?

Fifteen percent of men and women can’t see themselves in a senior position. The report sees this as concerning, but hey, maybe some of these people just don’t want to be leaders?

Age was considered a significant barrier to advancement by 41% of women and 43% of men – more so than ethnicity or gender. Is ageism at work worth a story?

Getting Ahead:

What do women want from their employers to help them get ahead? “Equal pay and more opportunities would help. So would some cost-of-living support, or funding for courses and professional development.” Financial-literacy programmes, and accessible role models or mentors, were other requests. Seems very reasonable to me!

Culture and diversity:

More than half of respondents recognised the efforts made by employers to encourage diversity in the workplace. as genuine. However, almost a fifth of respondents also believe there is more their employer could do to promote cultural diversity.” So, more to do here.

“Overall, 27% of women identified cultural diversity as a strength at work, in comparison to men at 23%, none more so than Māori (50%) and Pasifika (47%) wāhine who were double the national average.” So, pretty good, or a long way to go?  

Money:

When it comes to finances, the news isn’t great for women. “Forty-seven percent of men are satisfied their job meets their financial needs vs only 36% of women.” I mean, maybe not surprisingly, given the gender pay gap (argh!) and inflation, for starters.

Also, more than half of respondents expect the economy to get worse in the year ahead, and a third expect their personal finances to get worse. Given a potential recession looming, that’s perhaps not surprising.

Our selves:

Sixty-two percent of women agree or strongly agree that they can really be themselves at work. But 13% said they can’t. I wonder whether some women feel the need to put on a front at work? Do we feel we have to adopt ‘typically male’ working styles or leadership qualities?

Where to from here?

The report notes that many employers have made positive steps forward, but it also sets out some next steps. “What we wanted to do was discuss the usefulness of some initiatives with the people they aim to support. Having described what is holding them back, our respondents were very clear on what would help them to go forward.”

Here they are, in order of importance to respondents:

  • Cost-of-living support like employer-paid health insurance to free up time and money to train
  • Funding courses to build confidence and highlight career-advancement pathways
  • Paid professional-advancement opportunities
  • More role models and mentors
  • Ensure a robust complaints process to address discrimination and racism
  • An increased employer focus on diversity and inclusion in the workplace
  • Recruit and promote staff with more diversity at all levels in the workplace as a specific goal
  • More safe spaces and networks to help people ‘be themselves’ at work
  • More funding and support from employers to network with external groups

So, if you’re thinking about a new job, or weighing keeping your current job, perhaps ask your current or potential employer about their position on these things, and any initiatives in place or planned.

Look out for the second instalment in our series, ‘Is Ambition Dead?’, coming soon!

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