If a new survey is to be believed, more educated young women are leaving the workplace on account of male-dominated environments that do not cater to their needs.
According to the survey conducted by Harvard Business School, personal choices are not alone responsible for a woman’s perpetual struggle to strike a work-life balance. The study showed that women who chose to leave the workplace after having children did so because they felt they had little chance of advancing in their careers.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that the number of women aged 20 and older not in the labour pool has soared from 40 million in 2000 to nearly 49 million in 2013. The participation of women in the workplace has dropped from a high of 60.7% in 1999 to 58.8% in 2013.
Speaking at the first Annual Women in Justice Conference in Johannesburg, Tanya Woker, a professor of law at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said that a current worldwide trend is that there is not enough support given to women in the working world.
“Highly intelligent and well-trained women between the ages of 30 and 40 are starting to give up,” says Woker.
She explained that most career trajectories are based on male models, where there is a lack of support and understanding of the issues that women face. Due to this, the system does not retain young talented women.
“A lot of money and time spent on training young women for the workplace is being wasted. We’re losing a lot of talented women because we’re not addressing these challenges,” says Woker.
“A key to understanding this is not formal education, but speaking to men in our environment and explaining the situation to them. Women don’t tell them about the challenges we’re facing, we just assume that they know.”
However, Woker believes that the female mind-set needs to change first.
“Often, we are the lone voice in the boardroom among men so it’s easier to buy into a man’s mind-set and assume that they will do a better job. But we need to change this mind-set and adapt it so we can bring in a woman’s values.
“We have to change ourselves, the world out there is not just going to evolve and change. It is up to us to make those changes and explain why we want those changes. Don’t sit back and expect men to lead.”
Another issue is that women in senior roles are often isolated and given no opportunities to have values and norms validated through interaction with other women. This needs to change.
“If we want change, we have to educate men and point out that there’s an alternative way of doing things,” says Woker.
Yet another challenge is that in the workplace, women tend to gravitate towards administrative and social responsibility duties whilst men focus on advancing their careers.
“When extra duties crop up in the office that makes the workplace more collegial such as pro bono work, training interns or planning social functions, women tend to organize these things while men are very good at doing things that matter for their career,” she explains.
Woker advises that women should focus less on social responsibilities because it is often overlooked when companies promote employees to higher positions.
She therefore proposes that in order to change the workplace, women should establish networks and support systems where they can share their experiences as well as learn and inspire each other.
“You need to source out the people in your life who can further your career, whether it be a man or a woman. Your career doesn’t just happen, know what your goals are and plan for them.
“It’s not easy, it’s going to be hard and you’re going to knock heads with some people but at least you’re getting ahead.”