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Why Women Are Becoming Increasingly Dissatisfied With Their Workplace Over Time

Mar 6, 2017
By Julia Malacoff, Bri + Co

When you accept a job offer, it can be tough to know exactly what you’re getting into. You’ll never know what it’s really like to work somewhere until you’re actually doing it. Sometimes things work out amazingly (yay!), but other times you end up with a boss who hates you, coworkers who interrupt you constantly, or just the overall feeling of being bored or unhappy at work. Some of these issues stem from toxic company culture, differences in communication styles, or a poor personality fit — but the truth is that, no matter how woman-friendly your organization claims to be, ideas about gender are hard to get around. More than 30 years after the term was coined, the “glass ceiling” is still causing problems for a lot of women in the workplace.

That’s exactly why workplace insight websites kununu and InHerSight teamed up to do research on gender equality in professional settings. Though their survey of over 5,000 employees from a wide array of companies had many important findings, a central observation was its confirmation that men are overall more satisfied in the workplace than women. What’s more, as women gain experience, they become significantly less satisfied with everything from their representation in senior management to overall leadership opportunities for women. The results indicate that women are generally more optimistic about what they can achieve and the conditions that will allow them to meet their goals early in their careers — but as they move up through the ranks, their outlooks get decidedly more dismal.

For example, the study found that 43 percent of early-career women are satisfied with their access to equal opportunities, whereas only 27 percent of senior level women are. While it’s worrying that more than half of those just starting out are already seeing barriers, the even steeper drop over time has us asking: Why are senior-level women so unhappy with their opportunities at work? According to Ursula Mead, CEO and founder of women-focused InHerSight, it has everything to do with what happens to women in the workplace over the course of their careers. “One of the things I find most interesting about our findings when we looked at satisfaction by career level is that when women first enter the workplace they feel even more optimistic than men about their access to equal opportunities,” she shares. “But over time, what they see happening to other women and what they experience themselves has a clear (and clearly negative) impact on their belief that they have the same opportunities as men, as well as their satisfaction with their access to management opportunities and their representation in leadership.” Oof, this is definitely what we would call a less-than-ideal situation.

Mead says that, based on the insights from the survey, it’s clear that women see other women who are as qualified as their male counterparts get passed over for promotions, have maternity leaves change their career trajectories, get left out of important conversations, and be pushed into support roles instead of leadership ones. “We started InHerSight because we kept hearing this, and it was time to start measuring and understanding it,” she explains. And thank goodness they did, because it’s obvious that people need to be talking about these results and even more research needs to be done.

The cause of the gap is more complex than a single point of failure. “There are likely many factors contributing to men’s higher satisfaction with their workplaces in general, and perhaps more importantly their overestimation of their workplaces’ support for women specifically,” agrees Mead. The study found that men believe women have a much higher level of support at work than they actually do — and with so many more men in leadership positions, their misperception makes it even harder to fix the problem.” Many of the policies and initiatives that companies have in place are a result of male-oriented and -dominated conditions,” Mead asserts. “That’s why it’s so important when companies challenge the old status quo of male-focused workplaces and make a deliberate effort to evolve and respond to the changing demographics and needs of their workforce.”

Here’s the good news: It’s very possible to fix this. Organizations that want to truly prioritize equal opportunities for women need to first do some serious introspection and self-evaluation. “It starts with knowing your company and knowing what you’re getting right and wrong,” stresses Mead. “Everything can look great on paper — you can have the perfect ratios, policies, and initiatives — but the key is understanding the reality of your workplace, what those policies and cultures actually mean for the women who are experiencing them.” Anonymous surveys, meetings with employees to get feedback, and brainstorming sessions are all ways companies can begin this process.

Moritz Kothe, CEO of kununu US, also notes that the very beginning of an employee’s journey with a company matters when it comes to their workplace experience. “Tackle the opportunity upstream with hiring,” he suggests. “While we value the strength that women bring to our organizations, people naturally gravitate to applicants who are most like themselves. Push to recruit, interview, and hire female candidates.” The more women are employed by a company — across all levels — the higher the chance of all women’s voices being equally heard. Here’s hoping more businesses will take notice of this kind of data and start making changes to ensure that all employees, regardless of gender, have access to the opportunities they deserve.

Are you seeing the same opportunities as the men in your organization? Tell us about it @BritandCo!