Same difference? Perceptions of workplace cultureTwo years ago, the Babraham Institute took part in a study exploring how people perceive workplace culture. Jill Armstrong’s team from Murray Edwards College, Cambridge recently published the survey outcomes and spoke at the Institute presenting our data from 133 people and how it compares to those consulted from many sectors (5,814 people from academia, STEM industry, and professional services). Strikingly, women and men experience the same culture, yet perceive it very differently. Here we share our results – some encouraging signs, areas to tackle, and how to address these.
In the whole dataset of the majority of women (74%) think that the culture of their workplace leads to women encountering more challenges than men in advancing their careers. 42% of men feel that women face these challenges. Comparatively, only 54% of women and 34% of men at the Institute feel that way (see figure top right).
Since our involvement with the Athena SWAN charter in 2013, we’ve put a range of measures into place to support women’s careers. When we ask staff what the main impacts of our equality4success programme are, the most common answers are raising awareness of issues and promoting flexible working. Other successes we are most proud of include the increasing number of women applying for and being successful at promotion, increasing the visibility of role models through our My Life in Science lectures, and making excellent leadership courses available locally. We think these initiatives have helped us to not only level the playing field so that women face fewer obstacles, but also raise men’s awareness and understanding of these issues.
The survey also demonstrated what we need to improve: both men and women at the Institute think that double standards are a problem. In fact, almost two thirds of women (64%) at the Institute said they had personally been judged more negatively for behaving in the same way as men in the last 12 months. This is compared to 43% of women in the whole data set. Yet only 16% of men at the Institute perceive this to be an issue for women (see figure bottom right).
Areas to tackle
Areas to tackle
Women were asked if this had happened to them personally and men were asked if they had noticed this happening to female colleagues. Differences also exist in the perception of which other barriers disproportionately affect women at the Institute – women highlighted lack of access to informal networks, while men cited benevolent sexism.
What we plan to do about it
Having reviewed all the data from the study, we have identified a number of key priorities for the Institute moving forward: understanding how double standards manifest in the workplace and developing methods to call out gender bias safely and effectively. Men and women have very different perceptions of workplace culture – we are going to enable open conversations over the coming months in both single and mixed-sex groups to begin to address this and work with staff to determine what actions we can take individually and as an organisation.
We know engaging everyone is critical to the creation of a fair and inclusive workplace; indeed, when men are actively involved in promoting gender parity 96% of organisations show progress, compared with only 30% when they are not so we are also setting up a gender ally group for men where they can learn about issues and discuss tactics for supporting women and encouraging other men to do so as well.
This study identifies a huge gulf between how men and women perceive workplace culture and there’s one obvious solution: conversations. It’s only through understanding each other better that we can work towards more aligned perceptions and tackle these barriers. So listen, talk, and don’t assume everyone feels the same way you do.
26 March, 2019