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Women and leadership

Rhian Morgan

In the first instalment of her blog series on women and leadership, Rhian Morgan investigates what makes women feel happy and fulfilled in their careers

According to recruitment group Randstad, Britain's most fulfilled worker is typically a 40-year-old woman who is well educated, and earns £31,600 a year. 

Having analysed 2,000 UK staff as part of its Fulfilment@Work campaign, they found a quarter (24%) of professionals are happy in their careers, compared to the national average of 16%, while those working in IT, HR, marketing (73%) and education (72%) are the most fulfilled. Those working in telecoms and administration were the least fulfilled (40% and 47%).

While the recession has also provided the impetus many women needed to be their own bosses: more than 1m women now run their own businesses, having turned their back on the rat race to gain greater control over their flexibility and working hours, improving their work-life balance and enabling them to feel more fulfilled. 

However, before we all start celebrating, the study shows that although a higher proportion of women feel very fulfilled compared with men, and more men say they are not professionally fulfilled, the percentage differentials are negligible ((17% vs 16%, and 39% to 38% respectively). I should also point out that other Randstad research shows British workers are among the least-fulfilled in the world (Cameron not having the most-glowing rep with women). Also, the unhappiest British employee is also a similarly well-educated woman who earns £6,000 less and is just three years older.

Ahem. So how come three years and £6,000 can make such a difference?

I talked to two women, a late-30s news editor earning around £30,000, and a 40-year-old teacher earning £6,000 more, to find out how fulfilled they are.

Teacher Elizabeth Lewis, of Salisbury, is typical of the average education professional mentioned in the research, saying that fulfilment comes from ‘making a difference to a child's life’.

She continued: “As an experienced teacher, I have a lot to offer my school. And working in a Primary means you see the same children all day every day. You become your own mini community, there will be class jokes going on, and they will know me really well.
“My pupils come from unsettled homes so they thrive in the security of school where they know what is expected of them. They miss me if I am not there. That is the difference I make as loco parentis. I have to keep high standards.

“It is hard to get a work-life balance, though. I am at the top of my teaching pay scale but my own children are my priority. I have been part-time but it is difficult sharing a class. However, I had more time with my own children then. 

“The issue of childcare is difficult. I get my girls home for a precious hour before the bedtime routines start and we do it all again the next day. It is tricky when they are ill and I have to take time off work to look after them, sometimes without pay. There is some guilt in being a working parent but I love teaching and it is important to me to be giving back to our future.

“It’s not all positive as I have found working full-time a real struggle and it was a lot easier doing it when I'd just graduated and only had me to sort out. Now I am endlessly planning, marking, and squeezing time in for my girls - usually Sunday is a family day. Roll on the holidays!”

While Ava Ward has many women’s dream job – she works as a news editor on a national magazine. She describes herself as working in a career she loves – but would be more fulfilled if she moved up the career ladder. Surprisingly, journalists often score low in terms of quality of life in surveys, due to the mainly low pay and job insecurity. Ava is in her late 30s and earns around £30,000. 

“My industry is highly competitive and staff jobs are hard to come by, so I am very lucky to hold a full-time position. 
“Despite that good fortune, it’s very difficult to feel fulfilled because the recession has had a huge impact on both my salary and career prospects. Thanks to pay freezes, I have been on the same wage for five years now. While it’s a reasonable salary, it’s hard to feel fulfilled when there are no financial rewards on offer, especially as the cost of living has risen so dramatically.

“On top of this, there have been no promotion prospects either. My field of expertise is quite narrow and I already work for the market leader. That means the jobs I would wish to move into are still occupied and no one wants to leave for fear of having no job at all. While pay and promotion can’t be the only reasons to feel fulfilled, taking them out of the equation in a busy workplace where the job is quite repetitive means that finding proper satisfaction can be very difficult. 

“Having worked hard within my role for eight years, it’s not unreasonable to believe I could hold a much higher position and be paid accordingly. That seems unlikely to happen any time in the near future. It’s a scary place to be at my age.”
The Randstad research echoed these women’s sentiments and identified the different characteristics of the most- and least-fulfilled. The happiest worker is confident, feels a sense of vocation, autonomy, and security in her job, and allows a good work-life balance. However, the least-fulfilled feels she is not living up to her full potential as she is stifled by management and has a lack of opportunities.

For no matter how happy you are in your chosen profession, if you in an insecure industry, with the permanent threat of redundancy looming, and suffer under bad management, with wages kept low (the recession has become a classic excuse), it is likely you are unhappy because you are working under the gloom of office politics. You may struggle to keep up with the lifestyle of better-paid contemporaries and thus feel under-appreciated. 

Why should managers care about the happiness of their staff? Well, a fulfilled worker is likely to be more productive and spend less time calling in sick. Research shows poor levels of job satisfaction increase absenteeism. Across the UK, the average costs of absence per employee per year are now £975. Roughly, 160 million working days a year are lost due to absence from the workplace with the total direct cost to the economy now standing at £14bn. Job fulfilment (as well as commitment and work-life balance) also has an important effect on levels of engagement and intention to quit. Furthermore, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy: high staff turnover makes it more likely employees will feel dissatisfied with their job.

Research also suggests educational institutions have done their homework, compared with the private sector. They hire more women, of all age groups, than other employers to increase the overall job satisfaction of their workforces without drastically increasing costs.
Even though women are typically paid less than their male counterparts, £31,600 isn’t a tremendous amount for a professional. This fact, combined with the statement about having a good work-life balance, is key. The woman may be working part-time (and is therefore more fulfilled), perhaps because she has a happy family life with children, or time to dedicate to hobbies, (work-life balance), is not particularly motivated by money yet has enough to live on, and is not in a particularly pressured career that requires her to work long hours.

Though Mark Bull, chief executive of Randstad UK and Middle East, said it is possible to feel fulfilled whatever your age or salary. “As the debate about equal opportunities at work continues, it’s inspiring to see that women are on top in terms of fulfilment. Clearly, not everyone in the UK can be a well-educated, 40-year-old woman. But you don’t have to fit the typical profile of a very fulfilled worker in order to reach your full potential and feel more fulfilled in your career.” 

Do happy, confident women naturally fall into a great job – or does a great career make you happy and confident? If you have any views on the subject post your comments below or email 


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