Barriers to women's career progression

Too many able and well-qualified women will continue to be under-promoted and underpaid unless more men are prepared to work part-time and accept sideways career moves, according to a leading expert on workforce development.

Evidence suggests that women have overtaken men academically, and also spend more time in adult education and training than men do. However, they still earn considerably less than men, on average, and climb fewer rungs on the career ladder.

Many women are consequently working below their true level of competence – a social phenomenon that Dr Tom Schuller, a visiting professor at the Institute of Education, University of London, has termed the 'Paula Principle'. It is the opposite of the Peter Principle, the 1960s management theory that employees (at that time, usually men) are generally promoted to their level of incompetence.

Dr Schuller believes that there are several reasons why many women do not progress as far as they should at work. Some simply choose not to seek promotion but others are held back by:

  • Discrimination – either covert or overt
  • Caring responsibilities – for their parents as well as their children
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Insufficient contact with managers who can mentor them.

He argues that the underutilisation of women's talents is not only unfair but economically damaging for the UK and many other developed nations.

To address this, Dr Schuller says that stronger anti-discrimination measures are needed. Affordable childcare and more career mentoring for women are also required.

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