Real workplace challenges for women remain

While women have made progress in recent years to break through the glass ceiling, much more still needs to be done to establish them in companies' senior positions, according to the head of one of the UK's biggest business organisations.

In remarks to coincide with International Women's Day, Sarah Howard, a software company founder who chairs the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), urged successful businesswomen to talk more about their work to inspire others.As data from the UN's International Labour Organisation (ILO) showed that women globally had suffered more economically than men in the past year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Ms Howard said that "the world has moved on" since she started her but that challenges still remained."There is still much to be done to champion the role of women in the workplace and to make sure that all businesses have better female representation across the board to improve diversity, and ultimately to improve business outcomes," she said."I think it is the responsibility of every woman in a high-profile role to talk about their work and to encourage others to take on the challenge.“This is something that businesses should be considering every single day of the year but it’s great that we have this day to fully focus upon it."To mark  International Women’s Day, the BCC surveyed its network of 123 business chambers and business groups across its network. It found that 48 per cent of the organisations comprised more than 70 per cent women and that just under 40 per cent had a female CEO or director-general.However, another survey to mark International Women’s Day found that, among UK fastest growing tech companies, only four per cent (11 out of 251) had female founders.Aude Barral, co-founder of developer recruitment platform CodinGame, which conducted the research, said: “On the day that women’s achievements are being celebrated across the globe and gender inequality is being challenged, our research should shame the tech sector.
“The UK tech sector is booming, investors are clambering over each other to invest in the hottest tech companies, and yet just four percent of the UK’s fastest growing tech companies have a female founder.“It’s simply absurd to say that the low number of female founders is due to women having no interest in launching tech businesses. There are many talented women out there who have the skills, vision, drive and determination, but for whatever reasons founding a tech company continues to be dominated by men."Meanwhile, the ILO data showed that, across the world, about five per cent of women lost their jobs last year because of the pandemic, compared to 3.9 per cent of men.“Gender inequalities have increased dramatically in the past year, as women bear the brunt of school closures and working from home,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

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In the US, Voice of America (VOA) reported on Monday that black and Latino women faced more layoffs in 2020 and have seen slower gains in recent months than their white counterparts.According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 8.9 per cent of black women and 8.5 per cent of Latino women were unemployed in February, compared to 5.2 per cent of white women.“It's easy for us to make general sweeping statements of Covid-19 is affecting women in the workplace, but it's affecting different groups of women disproportionately,” Minda Harts, an author and advocate for black women in the workplace, told VOA.“Hospitality, leisure — some of those industries have a very high concentration of black and brown women. And so in 2020, we realised that a lot of those industries were heavily affected."Pointing out that this year's theme for International Women’s Day was 'Choose to Challenge', VOA commented: "For many women around the world amid the pandemic, the immediate challenge may be staying afloat economically."

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Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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