Murray Edwards alumnae highlight challenges for women

‘Gender-hostile’ work environments still high on list of problems

March 7, 2014

An all-women University of Cambridge college has celebrated its 60th anniversary by surveying its alumnae about their values, successes and the challenges they have faced.

Murray Edwards College, founded as New Hall in 1954, contacted 4,700 of its former students and got replies from 954. The results have now been published in a report titled Women Today, Women Tomorrow.

On average, respondents “had responsibility for 73 employees”, and 66 per cent of them “were at a position 9 places or less below CEO”. Yet the evidence also suggested that “social scientists who go into public-sector jobs achieve the highest levels amongst our alumnae and they can get to higher positions at younger ages”.

More than half the women who replied “state that they find it easy to combine their work and personal life”, with those in the 30 to 49 age range finding it most difficult.

Nonetheless, they also reported scores of different challenges they had faced at work, about a quarter of which “could be broadly categorised as related to gender inequality and gender-hostile environments” - from bullying managers to “having to over-perform”  because they are female.

Nearly a third of respondents had been “surprised by either the sexism they encountered in the workplace or by the extent to which office politics and networking determined success in the job, not merit”.

“While overt discrimination in the workplace may have reduced”, note the authors of the Women Today, Women Tomorrow, “being a female at work is still a hurdle to be overcome.”

Commenting on the findings, Murray Edwards president Barbara Stocking said that women’s desire “to have their voices heard, to be respected and to progress based on merit… [still] require[d] huge changes in the workplace”.

Asked what might have helped them progress better in their careers, alumnae flagged up in particular “leadership coaching, confidence building and mentoring programmes”.

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