The professional challenges of women in the workplace

The professional challenges of women in the workplace

In the 21st century, the workplace has evolved significantly, with greater strides towards gender equality being taken every year. However, women still face various professional challenges that hinder their career advancement and impact their quality of life.

It is crucial for employers to actively break down barriers for women in the workplace, not only as a matter of social responsibility but also for the benefit of their organisations. Diverse and inclusive workplaces foster innovation, creativity, and a broader range of perspectives, ultimately enhancing decision-making processes and problem-solving capabilities. By dismantling barriers that hinder women's professional growth, employers unlock a wealth of untapped talent, contributing to a more skilled and dynamic workforce.

Exactly how the challenges facing women in the workplace can be minimised and the benefits that supported and inspired women can bring to organisations can be enjoyed is something that industry leaders and government departments are grappling with. The APPG on Modernising Employment is holding a meeting to gather views and experiences from people working in the industry and draw up actions to put before Parliament to break these barriers.

What are the professional challenges faced by women in the modern workplace?

The Gender Pay Gap

Despite increased awareness and advocacy for equal pay, the gender pay gap persists. On average, women continue to earn less than their male counterparts overall, and while it is illegal for a company to pay men and women different salaries for the same job, the pay gap indicates that there are fewer women in higher-paying roles.

According to the Office for National Statistics, in the UK in 2023 the gender pay gap among full-time employees stood at 7.7%. Among the highest earners, this gap is considerably more.

This discrepancy not only affects individual women but contributes to broader economic inequalities. Closing the gender pay gap requires concerted efforts from organisations to reevaluate their compensation structures, promote transparency, and ensure fair pay for all employees.

The Glass Ceiling and the Broken Rung

The glass ceiling is an invisible barrier that limits women's upward mobility in the workplace. Although women have made significant progress in entering various professions, reaching top executive roles remains a challenge.

There are arguments to suggest that women’s inability to reach higher levels of employment is more significantly due to “broken rungs” rather than glass ceilings, meaning that stumbling blocks at the beginning of careers are preventing women from being promoted to more senior levels. According to McKinsey’s Women and the Workplace report, in 2023 in the UK, for every 100 men promoted from entry-level to manager positions, only 87 women were promoted (and women of colour are held back the most, with only 73 promoted for every 100 men).

Breaking the glass ceiling and fixing the broken rung necessitates dismantling ingrained stereotypes, promoting diversity in leadership, and providing mentorship and sponsorship opportunities for women to advance in their careers.

Work-Life Balance

Balancing professional and personal responsibilities is a persistent challenge for women in the workplace. Societal expectations often place a disproportionate burden on women to manage both career and family life.

According to the TUC, 1.46 million women are kept out of the labour market because of their caring responsibilities and are 7 times more likely to leave their work for caring responsibilities than men.

Companies can support work-life balance by implementing flexible work arrangements, parental leave policies, and fostering a culture that values employees' well-being. Recognising the importance of work-life balance benefits not only women but contributes to a more productive and satisfied workforce.

Representation in Leadership

A lack of representation in leadership roles is a significant barrier for women. According to the same McKinsey Women in the Workplace report, women represent roughly 1 in 4 C-suite leaders, and women of colour just 1 in 16.

Companies should actively promote gender diversity at all levels of the organisation, ensuring that women have equal opportunities to take on leadership roles. Encouraging mentorship programs, leadership training, and creating inclusive environments can help pave the way for more women to ascend to leadership positions.


Recognising that gender intersects with other identities is crucial in addressing workplace challenges. Women of colour, LGBTQ+ women, and women with disabilities often face compounded biases and discrimination. An inclusive approach that considers intersectionality in organisational policies, practices, and initiatives is essential for creating an equitable workplace for all women.

How to Adapt Hiring Practices

Diversity and Inclusion Training

Incorporate diversity and inclusion training into the onboarding process for all employees. This helps create awareness of biases and fosters an inclusive culture.

Anonymous Recruitment

Implement blind recruitment practices, where identifying information is removed from resumes during the initial stages of hiring. This minimises the impact of unconscious biases in the selection process.

Flexible Work Policies

Offer flexible work arrangements to accommodate diverse needs, recognising that one size does not fit all. This can attract a more diverse talent pool and contribute to a more inclusive workplace.

Inclusive Leadership Development Programs

Develop leadership programs that specifically target and support the advancement of women. Provide mentorship opportunities and sponsorship programs to help women navigate the path to leadership positions.

How can Reed Screening help?

Addressing the professional challenges faced by women in the workplace requires a multifaceted approach. Organisations must commit to dismantling systemic barriers, promoting diversity and inclusion, and adapting hiring practices to create an equitable and supportive environment for women to thrive in their careers.

Whatever the make-up of your team, when hiring it’s important to ensure that risk is minimised through thorough screening. With over 60 years of experience in recruitment, and over 9 years of experience as screening specialists, Reed Screening is ideally placed to advise your business on the best way to ensure that new hires are a boost to your company’s performance.