Supporting our clients, 24/7
Delivering world-class admin support

The Glass Ceiling and the Gender Pay Gap

The Glass Ceiling and the Gender Pay Gap

Will they ever be consigned to history?


In light of the UK legislative changes concerning the rights of employees to request flexible working arrangements coming into effect in April 2024, and the potential impact this has on women in the workplace, we felt this was a good time to take a deep dive into the current climate for women in the workplace.  

In this article, we cast a critical eye over the future of hybrid working and examine the prospects of finally removing two infamous workplace barriers - the ‘glass ceiling’ and the gender pay gap.  

The IWG Report: Hybrid Working Empowering Women 

IWG’s 2023 report “Cracking the glass ceiling: How the hybrid model is empowering women” was of great interest to us all at SmartPA. After all, we’re a business committed to accelerating the success of organisations by delivering impactful virtual admin and business support. What’s more, our vision is to support young people and women around the world to become business role models.  

As it turned out, many of the report findings were particularly eye-catching, with some providing cautious ground for optimism:  

  • “53% of women believe hybrid working has empowered them to apply for a more senior role within their organisation.” 
  • “72% of women said they would look for another role if their employer no longer offered a hybrid schedule.” 

Another IWG insight within the report also caught our eye, with Francesca Peters, Chief Talent Officer at IWG, saying that “hybrid working is more likely to help level the playing field if male and female employees are encouraged to take up the offer equally.”  


The McKinsey Report: Myths Debunked 

A further valuable insight into the state of the infamous ‘glass ceiling’ came with the publication of the Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey, in partnership with LeanIn.Org. 

This US report has uncovered some positive progress, with research revealing that “women’s representation in the C-suite at the highest it has ever been”. Indeed, it finds that “since 2015, the number of women in the C-suite has increased from 17 to 28 percent.” 


4 Key Myths 

Most intriguingly, the report examines what they describe as “four common myths” about women in the workplace: 

Myth 1. “Women are becoming less ambitious” 

Not surprisingly - at least not to us - the report finds that women are more ambitious than before. And this growth in ambition is being fuelled by flexibility.  

      • “Roughly 80% of women want to be promoted to the next level, compared with 70% in 2019.” 
      • “Flexibility is allowing women to pursue their ambitions: overall, 1 in 5 women say flexibility has helped them
        stay in their job or avoid reducing their hours” 
      • “A large number of women who work hybrid or remotely point to feeling less fatigued and burned out as a primary benefit.” 
      • “A majority of women report having more focused time to get their work done when they work remotely.” 

So, it appears that changes in working patterns forced on us by the pandemic may have helped to convince women that a new balanced paradigm for work and life is possible, supporting them to take greater steps to prioritise their personal lives without any cost to their career ambitions.  

Myth 2. “The biggest barrier to women’s advancement is the glass ceiling” 

Less encouragingly, the report suggests that the greatest challenge for women in the workplace lies not at the traditional glass ceiling level, but at the lower rungs of the ladder.  

Analysis shows slow progress at manager and director levels, with female representation there having grown only by 3 and 4 percentage points respectively. The report suggests its analysis has uncovered “a weak middle in the pipeline for employees who represent the vast majority of women in corporate America”. What the analysis also shows is that director-level women are leaving at a higher rate than previously, and at a notably higher rate than men at the same level.  

To reinforce this point, this is the ninth consecutive year that this annual report has found that American women face their biggest hurdle at that first critical step up to manager. “This year, for every 100 men promoted from entry level to manager, 87 women were promoted”, it says. And the figures are, sadly, even less encouraging for women of colour. 

As a result of what the reports describe as this “broken rung” at the lower end of the career ladder, women fall behind and can’t catch up. 

Myth 3. “Microaggressions have a ‘micro’ impact” 

Microaggressions are a type of everyday indirect discrimination regularly rooted in bias. They include both actions and comments (even subtle ones that may not be overly harmful in isolation) that are likely to demean or dismiss someone based on their gender. Not only do they convey disrespect, but they also lead to stress, which can negatively impact a woman’s career and health. 

To nobody’s surprise, the myth of minimal impact is swiftly debunked in the report: “Women who experience microaggressions—and self-shield to deflect them—are three times more likely to think about quitting their jobs and four times more likely to almost always be burned out. By leaving microaggressions unchecked, companies miss out on everything women have to oer and risk losing talented employees.” 

Myth 4. “It’s mostly women who want flexible work” 

The report actually showed that both women and men see flexibility as a ‘top 3’ employee benefit. 

Overall, a majority of employees reported that opportunities to work remotely and have control over their schedules are top company benefits, second only to healthcare. Indeed, workplace flexibility ranked above benefits such as parental leave and childcare. 

While the report points out that women continue to value flexibility more (probably because they still carry out a disproportionate amount of childcare and household work) hybrid and remote work are now delivering important benefits to the majority of employees regardless of gender. 

So, what does this increase in attraction to flexible working across genders mean for women. Will this increasing pressure for flexible and hybrid working arrangements from men in the workplace make it easier for women to negotiate more flexible working arrangements? Will this momentum shift finally help to deliver not only the greater balance that women seek in their working arrangements but also increased protection from many of the challenges they face in the traditional workplace? As the report highlights: “For women, hybrid or remote work is about a lot more than flexibility. When women work remotely, they face fewer microaggressions and have higher levels of psychological safety.”  


SmartPA Team Members Emma, Patsy and Bailey

The Women in Work 2024 Report: Unmasking Inequalities and Delving Deeper into the Gender Pay Gap 

Finally, we reviewed the much anticipated annual PwC Women in Work report, published in early 2024. Unfortunately, from a female perspective, some of the headline findings are not particularly positive.  

For example, the report found that the gender pay gap in 20 of the 33 OECD countries, including the UK, widened between 2021 and 2022, with the average gap across the OECD increasing from 13.2% to 13.5%. Indeed, the UK experienced the largest annual fall on the Women In Work Index of any OECD country, dropping four places from 13th to 17th place, with the UK’s gender pay gap widening from 14.3% to 14.5% in 12 months. 

Examining the UK’s “persistently high gender pay gap” the report finds that “biases and structural inequalities in the workplace play a significant role in driving gender pay disparities”. 

“For every £1 earned by a man in the UK, an equally-qualified woman with a similar personal and professional background earns 90p on average.” 

While searching for positives within the report, as a global company with our Head Office based in Edinburgh, we were pleased to see that Scotland took top spot in the Women in Work UK Regional Index, ahead of the South West in second place: 

“Scotland’s strong performance was driven by an improvement across most indicators, including an increase in the female labour force participation rate from 73.2% in 2021 to 74.9% in 2022. This also led to Scotland recording the lowest gap in participation rates between men and women across the UK at 4.4%.” 

The report as a whole also finds that women continue to face larger pay penalties as they age “likely driven by the unequal distribution of unpaid care work and the workplace implications of women’s health issues.”  More flexible work policies are cited as one strategy that could help ameliorate this contributor to the gender pay gap, together with more affordable childcare provision, more progressive leave policies and improved health and wellbeing support in the workplace.  

The importance of flexible working arrangements is also reflected in the fact that women working in manufacturing and public services – sectors with limited potential for flexible working arrangements - experience the largest pay penalties. 


What does the future hold? 

According to a recent CIPD report 83% of organisations have a hybrid working model in place” suggesting that this potentially seismic shift in working patterns is here to stay. This has potentially profound implications for business working models and, in fact, the PwC Future of the Office Survey found that “77% of UK organisations plan to reconfigure their existing office space”, while 50% think they will reduce the size of their office portfolio. 

So, while many companies will look to the potential cost savings associated with either promoting more hybrid working or outsourcing aspects of their activities to remote suppliers, it remains to be seen what part hybrid working will ultimately play in supporting women. Will it help them to climb every rung of the career ladder, and will it support businesses to finally close that gender pay gap? 


About SmartPA

SmartPA is a pioneer of remote, outsourced admin and business support, providing individual SmartPAs, multi-skilled cross-functional teams, and full lift and drop admin process outsourcing. Working with more than 5,000 businesses of all sizes world-wide, SmartPA draws on a global talent pool of accredited SmartPAs, with a Centre of Excellence based in the UK, near shore hubs in South Africa and Uganda, and an offshore hub in Malaysia.

Find out more

Click here to find out more about how partnering with SmartPA can help your organisation improve profitability and resilience by outsourcing non-core business support or administration services to SmartPA. Alternatively, contact us directly to discuss your requirements.


Get in touch

Sign up for our business news where we share growth, productivity and cost saving news.