Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Progress for women in the workplace stagnating in four key areas, global study reveals

Around 60% of women do not feel able to switch off from their work.

Around 60% of women do not feel able to switch off from their work. Image: Getty Images

Emma Codd
Global Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, Deloitte
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  • A new report looking at women's experiences in the workplace across ten countries suggests there is cause for concern.
  • Mental health, unbalanced domestic responsibilities and non-inclusive behaviours are current red flags.
  • More organizations must graduate to becoming 'Gender Equality Leaders'.

Despite much talk about the importance of gender equality in the workplace, many women are facing mounting pressures at work and in their personal lives, according to Deloitte’s Women @ Work 2024: A Global Outlook annual report, the fourth in the series.

The report gathers insights from 5,000 women in 10 countries about their views and experiences in the workplace and examines the societal factors that may be impacting their careers.

Across the countries surveyed (Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Japan, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States), a clear trend emerges: Despite widespread cultural and contextual differences, many women around the world are experiencing similar challenges in and out of the workplace. At best, workplace progress when it comes to gender equality appears to be stagnating.

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    1. Stress and long working hours take a toll on mental health

    Half of women say their stress levels are higher than they were a year ago, and a similar number say they’re concerned or very concerned about their mental health. Mental health is among the top concerns for women globally, with an average of 48% of women citing this as their top concern, falling only behind their financial security (51%) and women’s rights (50%). Around half of women do not believe that their employer provides adequate support for their mental health at work.

    Amid a number of potential factors behind this concerning picture on mental health is an inability to disconnect from work. Around 60% of women do not feel able to switch off from their work, a trend that holds true across countries. While half of women who typically just work their contracted hours describe their mental health as good, this declines to just 23% for those who regularly work extra hours.

    2. Household responsibilities affect women’s careers

    Women are feeling the weight of misbalanced caregiving and domestic responsibilities. Notably, 50% of women globally who live with a partner and have children say they take the most responsibility for childcare – up from 46% in 2023, with only 12% saying this falls to their partner. This year also saw a concerning increase in women taking the greatest responsibility for caring for another adult: 57% said they are primarily responsible for this, while only 6% say this falls to their partner. This imbalance continues even for those women who are the primary household earners.

    The result of this disproportionate allocation of responsibilities not only makes it more challenging for women professionally but also potentially creates a vicious cycle reinforcing the gender pay gap. Only 27% of women who bear the most significant responsibility at home say they can disconnect from their personal lives and focus on their careers. And many women are prioritizing their partners’ careers over their own, mainly because their partner earns more.

    Meanwhile, fewer than half of women feel supported by their employers in balancing their work responsibilities with commitments outside work. Nearly all women (95%) believe that requesting or taking advantage of flexible work opportunities will negatively affect their chances of promotion. Notably, a lack of flexible working hours is among the top reasons women have changed jobs over the past year.

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    3. Many women experience threats and non-inclusive behaviours at work

    Nearly half of the women say they are worried about their personal safety at work or when commuting or travelling for work. Once again, while there are varying degrees of concern among respondents in the countries surveyed, the trend is largely consistent across markets.

    These concerns may be founded on actual incidents: One in 10 women who are concerned about their personal safety say they have been harassed while commuting or travelling for work; 16% deal with customers or clients who have harassed them or behaved in a way that has made them feel uncomfortable. Nearly one in 10 have been harassed by a colleague, and a quarter of women say that people in senior positions have made inappropriate comments or actions towards them.

    More than four in 10 (43%) survey respondents report having experienced either micro-aggressions or harassment (or both) at work in the past 12 months. Despite this, only one in 10 women think they can make a complaint to their employer about non-inclusive behaviours without affecting their career.

    4. More 'Gender Equality Leaders' are needed

    As with previous years, our research found a small number of women who work for organizations that enable inclusion, support work/life balance and focus on meaningful career development – we refer to these organizations as the Gender Equality Leaders.

    Women who work for these organizations report higher levels of loyalty toward their employer and productivity, feel safer, are more comfortable talking about their mental health at work, and can work flexibly without damaging their careers. However, Gender Equality Leaders remain few and far between: Only 6% of women across all countries surveyed work for these organizations—only a one percentage point increase over last year.

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    What's the World Economic Forum doing about diversity, equity and inclusion?

    The data from this year’s survey provides insight into the challenges that women face both within and outside the workplace—and it provides data-driven insight into solutions. These can include recognizing the importance of normalizing conversations around mental health in the workplace, understanding and addressing the causes of workplace stress, embedding family-friendly policies and enabling work/life balance, understanding and addressing women’s workplace safety concerns, or addressing non-inclusive behaviours and enabling women to feel able to speak up without concern.

    It is clear that now is the time to act if we are to see meaningful and sustained change.

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    June 12, 2024

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