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Workplace Equality Report 2020

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9th December 2020: 38% of people in Ireland have experienced workplace discrimination and almost one in five (18%) has suffered sexual harassment at work according to findings from our 2020 Workplace Equality Survey.

Now in its third year, the 2020 workplace equality survey of more than 1,400 adults covers a wide range of workplace issues including discrimination, racism, gender pay gaps and the pandemic’s impact on the workplace.

8% increase in the incidence of sexual harassment at work

The incidence of sexual harassment has returned to 2018 levels with 18% of respondents reporting experiencing sexual harassment at work (10% in 2019). Of these, 80% were women, 19% were men and 1% identified as non-binary.

“It is difficult to identify why we are back to the 2018 findings, but perhaps it relates to increased awareness around what constitutes sexual harassment and a diminishing tolerance for workplace sexual harassment in all its forms,” said Matrix Recruitment’s Breda Dooley.

38% have experienced workplace discrimination –  racism a problem

According to the 2020 Matrix Recruitment Workplace Equality Survey, workplace discrimination across many areas is falling year-on-year. However, the dial is not moving quickly enough, and discrimination is still a problem in the Irish workforce, according to Matrix Recruitment.

In 2018, 44% of adults reported experiencing discrimination at work. This fell by 2% last year and by a further 4% in this year’s survey to 38%. The vast majority of respondents (88%) welcome workplace training on discrimination and believe that employers have a responsibility to their staff to offer training in these areas. Significantly, the percentage of people who have participated in work seminars on the topic of equality and discrimination has risen this year (38% v 32% in 2019).

Racism, in particular, is of key concern. The survey found that 43% of adults believe that Ireland has an issue with racism in the workplace. The majority of respondents (55%) also stated that ethnic minorities have fewer promotional opportunities than their colleagues.

“Racism has no place in society, be it on the streets or in the workplace. Unfortunately, the survey results indicate that this type of discrimination still prevails. Company owners and HR departments need to honestly examine their own work culture and keep lines of communication and engagement with staff open, ensuring that it is fair to all. Collectively we need to step up and stamp out prejudice at work,” said Breda Dooley.

On the topic of ageism in the workplace, 63% of adults say that it is a growing problem and of this cohort, one in five is over the age of 50. The majority of people (82%) said that those over the age of 50 have fewer opportunities than their younger colleagues. When asked at what age it might be difficult to change jobs, one-third (34%) said that those aged 50 – 55yrs would struggle.

Inappropriate jokes are also an issue, with almost one in three people (31%) reporting that they have been subjected to them at work.

Gender pay gap not closing 

40% of respondents to the workplace equality survey feel they are the victim of pay discrimination, up considerably on last year’s figure of 18%.

“We don’t know if this finding is in any way related to the pandemic and the circumstances in which people are finding themselves, but it’s quite possible. Some people have been furloughed while others have had their hours reduced. Many have had their salaries adversely impacted and perhaps they feel that the impact has not been felt by everyone equally in their organisation,” said Breda Dooley.

Furthermore, the survey found that 22% of workers know a colleague of the opposite sex, in the same role, with the same level of responsibility, who is on a higher salary. The figure, which was reported by 74% of women and 24% of men, is marginally down on last year’s findings (25%).

When asked how they would deal with this revelation if it affected them directly, reactions varied:

  • More than half (54%) said that they would address the issue with their manager

  • 15% would seek a pay rise

  • 12% would actively look for another job, while 12% would consider leaving if another job came along

  • 8% said they would do nothing

“These findings are consistent with the Matrix Recruitment surveys undertaken in 2018 and 2019. Unfortunately, this indicates that the gender pay gap is not closing fast enough. Companies need to put strict policies in place that will help reduce gender pay inequality. Salary transparency, in particular, can have a key role to play in closing the gap,” said Breda Dooley.

Inequality amid the pandemic

38% of respondents who took the workplace equality survey in November were working from home as a direct result of the pandemic. More than a quarter (27%) of those surveyed reported inequality arising from the pandemic and one in three are concerned that working from home long term will affect their career opportunities.

Of those concerned about their careers:

  • 61% are worried that their employer would not be aware of all the work they do

  • 37% are concerned that they will not have the right supports to progress in their career

  • 31% are worried that the relationship with the manager might be affected if they are not seeing them regularly and

  • Almost half (49%) fear they will not be seen or heard by senior managers

Broadband is having a significant impact on more than one-third of those working remotely, with 34% saying they are struggling to stay on top of their work due to slow Wi-Fi.

The survey also found that staff who have joined an organisation amid the pandemic have been unduly impacted, with 33% of respondents saying that they are not getting the training and support they need when working remotely.

“Starting a new job has certainly been a challenge this year. Many people lucky enough to have found new employment have had to adjust to their new role while working from home. Starting a new job from a remote setting means new employees miss out on the chance to shadow senior staff, which can be crucial for those starting out in their career. New employees can learn a lot by sitting in an office alongside colleagues, often without even realising it. There is also the issue of not being able to get to know other team members to the same extent as they would in a workplace environment, this can inhibit teams from successfully working together in the long term,” said Breda.

There are also signs that the pandemic has created a disparity in the workplace when it comes to employees with children and those without. 24% of all respondents who think the pandemic has caused workplace inequality, feel that colleagues without children are being treated more favourably when it comes to career progress. However, on the opposite side, 29% feel that colleagues with children have been given smaller workloads.

Interestingly, 27% of respondents reported that those with outgoing or loud personalities were getting more opportunities, as they were more vocal on virtual calls and meetings.

Motherhood impacts career progression

77% of people in Ireland say that becoming a parent impacts a woman’s career progression. While this figure is down 8% on last year (77% v 85% 2019), it remains an unwelcome finding, according to Breda Dooley.

When asked why a woman’s career might be affected by parenting, 63% of respondents connect it to the assertion that women are still considered primary carers. The survey also found that discrimination may start long before children arrive on the scene, as 57% of respondents believe that employers have an unconscious bias towards women who may be considering starting a family.

“There is no reason why a woman can’t have a career and a family if that is her choice,” said Breda Dooley, adding: “Anecdotally, we have heard of women removing engagement rings before interviews due to a concern that prospective employers might, unconsciously or otherwise, overlook their candidacy in anticipation of them needing maternity leave in the future. This is not just an employer issue. Businesses, government, and society need to work together to address this problem if we are going to make headway in this area.”

Glass ceiling impenetrable

Primarily affecting women and minorities, the glass ceiling is a metaphoric barrier that prevents professional advancement, and according to the Matrix Recruitment survey, 69% of people in Ireland believe that it exists for women. This is consistent with last year’s results.

On a more positive note, there was a reduction in the number of people reporting the existence of a glass ceiling in their own workplace. One in five (21%) said that a glass ceiling for women existed in their workplace this year, down 2% from last year’s survey and down 8% when compared with the 2018 results.

“If the majority of people believe that there are unseen barriers to women advancing their careers, we have to examine why this is the case. This is a major hurdle that needs to be jumped before we can ever achieve full workplace equality. Thankfully, there are some signs of progression, most important of which is the fact that almost half (48%) of respondents believe the situation is improving – albeit slowly,” said Breda Dooley.

About the 2020 Workplace Equality Survey

The third Matrix Workplace Equality Survey was conducted online in November 2020 among 1,414 adults working across a broad range of industries, sectors, and regions.

View our 2019 results

View our 2018 results

View full 2020 Workplace Equality Infographic here

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