Women at Work: The Poll

An Irish Times Ipsos MRBI survey on women and work has found that Irish women are happy with their work-life balance but feel underpaid and undervalued compared with men


The latest Irish Times Ipsos MRBI survey focuses on women at work, asking challenging questions of both women and men.

It throws up some fascinating insights into how the perceptions of men and women can differ when it comes to contentious issues such as gender differences in pay, financial independence and commitment to career.

One question posed to employed women was: “As far as you are aware, are men in your workplace, doing equivalent work to you, paid more, less or the same as you?”

Almost 20 per cent of women said their male counterparts were paid more, but just 6 per cent of men thought their female colleagues received less.

A belief that both genders were equally well remunerated was held by 67 per cent of men and 64 per cent of women. This was a common finding: in many questions, a majority of respondents perceived only minor differences between the sexes in the workplace.

In other areas, however, the gender difference loomed large. In another question, respondents were asked if they earned enough to be financially independent or if they needed the income of another family member or the State to have a reasonable standard of living.

Just half of women in employment, including those who are self-employed, indicated their earnings alone would ensure they were financially secure.

In the case of men, 68 per cent said they were paid enough to be financially independent; 31 per cent said they would need help from family or the Government to be so.

When it came to the question of commitment to their employment, 65 per cent of men and 70 per cent of women in relationships said both parties were equally focused on their jobs or careers.

But 23 per cent of women said their spouse or partner was more focused. Almost a quarter of men believed they were the more focused member of the couple, compared with seven per cent of women.

The answer to the question “Do you feel your work is better described as a job or a career?” showed only a small difference between sexes. Fifty per cent of women and 53 per cent of men described their work as a career, while 49 per cent of women and 44 per cent of men said their employment was a job.

A striking finding emerged from women when pollsters posed a question about the value that Irish society placed on women who worked in the home.

The exact question was: “In your opinion, which does Irish society value more: women who work in the home or women who work outside of the home, or are they valued equally?”

Just 9 per cent of women said women who work in the home were valued more, while 43 per cent said Irish society placed more value on those in paid employment.

Forty-five per cent of women said both were valued equally.

The view from men was somewhat different, with 54 per cent of them believing both groups were valued equally, while 28 per cent of them said women who worked outside the home were valued more.

Women and men responded very differently when asked to compare progress rates in a typical workplace: a belief that men progress faster was held by 46 per cent of women but just 35 per cent of men.

According to 56 per cent of men and 46 per cent of women, both sexes had the same rate of progress, with just 6 per cent of women and 5 per cent of men saying women were promoted more quickly.

Those who believed men progressed faster – 40 per cent of all respondents – were then asked to give reasons why they believed this to be the case.

Women taking maternity leave was cited as a reason by a number of respondents, with 26 per cent of women and 14 per cent of men opting for this explanation.

“Culture/tradition” and a tendency for some men to put career before family were also cited. Seven men, possibly with tongues in cheeks, offered that “men are better/superior” as a reason for the perceived difference.

When respondents were asked directly about their own careers, rather than their opinion of a typical workplace, evidence was put forward that factors other than gender limited career opportunities. Level of education, address and having a family were cited more frequently as factors holding people back in their jobs.

Women gave a generally positive response to a question about the balance they had between work and leisure.

When asked, “Do you feel that you have a good or a poor work-life balance?”, 83 per cent of them said the balance was good. The equivalent figure for men was 75 per cent.

Three-quarters of respondents worked for a private sector or semi-State company, with the rest employed by the Government in the public service. Women outnumbered men in the public service, at 26 per cent of women and 18 per cent of men.

This may go some way to explaining why career breaks, flexitime and term-time working were more readily available to women.

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