Older employees don’t think race and gender hold women back

Older employees, according to a new study, think that gender, race, and ethnicity aren't holding women back from workplace progression

While gender bias is a popular topic, is it being taken seriously across organisations? A new study has found that men and women are more in agreement about the lack of women in senior roles; however, older employees are more likely to think that gender and race don’t play a part in holding women back.

Research by event speaker provider VBQ Speakers found that 51% of women and 47% of men in their survey said that women were underrepresented in senior management roles. Female representation was seen as less of an issue at junior levels, where only 38% said they were underrepresented.

Generational differences

Younger respondents thought various factors held women back from workplace progression, including age, race, religion, disability, gender identity, and sexual orientation (53% of 25-34-year-olds and 49% of 18-24-year-olds). Fewer older participants thought these were important (31% of 45-54-year-olds and 21% of over 55-year-olds).

As well as revealing a lack of understanding about intersectionality (how various identities in an individual such as race and gender can intersect and overlap), the statistics suggest that some older employees might not believe that gender bias or other forms of discrimination even exist in the workplace.

More positively, a majority of respondents (55%) said they would report discrimination against women compared with 18% that would not; yet more men (61%) than women (49%) would report it.

VBQ Speakers, founder and director Leo von Bülow-Quirk, said: “The survey suggests that UK businesses still have a lot of work to do on gender equality and diversity. Not only do they have to work harder to assure their employees that diverse groups are represented; they also need to foster constructive conservations between the different demographics in their organisation to ensure that the issue doesn’t fragment their workforce.”

What do these perceptions mean for D&I?

The research reveals perceptions about women in the workplace that could inhibit equality. The view that female representation in junior roles is not as big an issue as a lack of representation in senior roles is concerning, especially given industries such as tech and construction, where women are underrepresented at all levels. If women aren’t encouraged to enter these industries, fewer will become leaders.

While more men agree with women about the lack of female representation in leadership roles, which is good news for making changes, the fact that some older employees believe that gender and other factors, including race and ethnicity, don’t hold women back could hinder D&I initiatives.

Despite younger generations, who make up the future workforce, agreeing that these factors can work against professional women, if employees aren’t united in understanding what discrimination is and looks like, inclusion implementations for women and other groups won’t be successful. With age also being a crucial D&I category, it’s essential that organisations get older employees onboard.

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