These Are The Biggest Work Challenges For Women Around The World

A survey of 19 countries reveals the top five challenges for women across the globe.

These Are The Biggest Work Challenges For Women Around The World
[Photo: Flickr user Christian Scheja]

What are the top five challenges you face at work?


Ask 9,500 women the same question, and the answers will be very different. New research from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Thomson Reuters Foundation bears this out. A survey of women from 19 G20 countries, including Argentina, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Turkey, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Africa, and the United States, conducted by international pollster Ipsos MORI, revealed that there are five major issues for women in the workplace:

  • Equal pay
  • Harassment
  • Career opportunities
  • Having children while building a career
  • Work-life balance

The Gender Wage Gap

The poll found that four in every 10 women in all the participating countries listed pay as the most important workplace issue. In the U.S. it clocked in as the biggest concern, with 58% placing it at the top of the list.

We know that achieving parity is going to take a long time, especially when it will take the length of 10 journeys to Pluto to equal the time it would take to have women occupy the C-suite in half of the major businesses in the U.S.


This is also due, in part, to a wage gap that is far more complex than a single dollar figure. For instance, women of color and immigrants make even less than white women, according to a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). And age factors in as well.

In the Ipsos poll, 43% of millennial women were confident they’d earn equal pay, while older gen-Xers and boomers were less sure. Confidence dropped to 34% among women between the ages of 50 to 64. American women were among the least optimistic when it came to earning equal pay. Only 28% of respondents believe they earn the same salary as men doing the same job. That number changes drastically in India, where six in 10 women are confident that they earn the same amount.

Work-Life Balance

This was the most important concern among the participating countries overall, with 44% of women surveyed reporting it as the toughest challenge in the workplace. In the U.S., 43% of women surveyed ranked work-life balance ahead of flexible work hours, access to childcare, and insufficient maternity leave.


But it’s definitely not exclusive to the U.S. Data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) indicates that in 2014, China had one of highest female employment rates in the world at 70%, compared with 27% in India, for example. Yet many of these women have had to sacrifice caring for their children in order to earn a living. This is especially true among China’s 269 million migrant workers, who move to large factory towns and leave children behind to be cared for by grandparents.

Children Versus Career

Despite the emphasis placed on work-life balance and the concern over ever being able to achieve it, nearly half (47%) of all the women polled agreed that having a child wouldn’t stand in the way of building a career.

This is particularly true in Brazil, where a generous four- to six-month maternity leave comes with a guarantee that a mother can return to her job with an option to work part time until the baby is a year old. This is combined with the fact that families in Brazil tend to stay close to each other, and are therefore able to pitch in for childcare, which makes this group of women (74%) most optimistic.


That’s not the picture in Britain, France, or Germany. Although these are wealthy countries, women there are reliant on nannies or nurseries that can be costly and not readily available.

A spokeswoman for Mumsnet, a British networking website for parents, said that the mothers on the site felt there was a “motherhood penalty” against pay and promotion. She said that in addition to the cost of childcare, women felt out of touch after returning from maternity leave, and believed that their employers lacked understanding. Also, she noted that the very long hours required to hold senior positions didn’t fit in with school schedules.

The U.S. ranked right in the middle when asked if women can have a family without damaging their career. Forty-three percent strongly agreed, and 27% strongly disagreed they could juggle the two without hurting their careers.


Career Opportunities

Nearly half (47%) of the women surveyed in the U.S. believe men have better access to professional development and career growth opportunities than they do. The U.S. ranked 10th in comparison to other countries in the G20, who believe men have better access to these types of opportunities.

They also believe it’s tougher for women to start a business, as 33% of women in the U.S. reported entrepreneurship was a level playing field, compared to 38% of women who agreed across the G20 countries.

The current state of women-owned businesses in the U.S. bears this out. Findings from the National Women’s Business Council revealed that there are 9.9 million women-owned firms in the country as of 2012, making up 36.2% of all non-farm businesses.



The U.S. ranked second highest among countries surveyed where 37% of women reported being harassed in the workplace. Yet not many speak out against it. Across countries polled, 61% of women say they never or rarely report being harassed on the job.

The numbers are different in India, where 53% of working women said they would likely speak out and report harassment. “Women in India today are asserting that they will not remain silent on this issue,” says Vrinda Grover, an Indian lawyer and human-rights activist who deals with many cases like these. ”They are asserting that they will no longer carry the baggage of shame and stigma that victims were previously plagued with.”

This is in sharp contrast to Russia, where a quarter of women said they faced some form of harassment, yet only 7% say they would speak out to report it.


Achieving pay parity and providing adequate and affordable childcare and career opportunities and a workplace free from harassment is an imperative for the global economy, according to Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation. In a statement to Fast Company, Rodin said, “Inclusive economies are built on a foundation of equal opportunity, and everyone wins when women and men are given the same opportunities. To get there, more opportunity for more women must be supplemented by public and private efforts to raise awareness of persistent workplace inequity, and to inspire women to press for change and unleash their full potential.”


About the author

Lydia Dishman is the senior editor for Growth & Engagement for She has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.


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