In the Australian workforce, a subtle yet impactful challenge prevails—the unequal access to upskilling between men and women. According to the 2024 Randstad Workmonitor research, 72% of women surveyed highlight the importance of learning and development (L&D) as vital to them in their careers compared to 66% of men. Despite this clear desire and need for L&D, women are less likely to have received this support from their employer, with less than half of women (46%) indicating they have received L&D support from their employer to future-proof their careers, compared with more than half (55%) of men.

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Invisible barriers preventing women from accessing L&D opportunities: 

From a L&D perspective, there are specific invisible barriers that may affect women's access to educational opportunities and professional development. These barriers can create disparities in skill development, hinder career progression, and contribute to gender inequality in the workforce. Here are some key aspects to consider:

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1. Stereotypes Affecting Training Choices.

Implicit biases can influence decisions about who is selected for training opportunities. Suppose decision-makers hold an unconscious gender stereotype bias. In that case, they may be more inclined to choose male employees over equally or more qualified female counterparts, perpetuating gender disparities in skill development.

Gender stereotypes can influence the types of training deemed suitable for men and women. For example, there might be a tendency to steer women toward soft skills training (e.g., communication) rather than technical or leadership development programs, limiting their exposure to diverse skill sets. Women are often underrepresented in technical and leadership roles. This underrepresentation can result in fewer tailored training programs for women in these areas, limiting their opportunities for skill development in critical areas of the workforce.

When looking at the Workmonitor research data, when asked to prioritise development opportunities, women predominantly chose AI training (13%), coaching & mentoring (10%), and wellbeing & mindfulness (10%). Furthermore, 65% of women express a desire to take on more managerial responsibilities, compared to 58% of men. However, women are less likely to have received support from their employer to develop skills to future-proof their careers (46%) compared to men (55%).

2. Self-Perception.

 Research suggests that women may sometimes underestimate their abilities and be less likely to apply for technical training opportunities. This hesitance can stem from societal expectations and stereotypes. At the same time, when it comes to expectations as to who is responsible for career development, women tend to place more responsibility on themselves for training and career development, with 24% believing it entirely sits with them, compared to only 14% of men, who say the same. Additionally, 18% of women feel entirely responsible for their motivation at work, compared to 15% of men. (workmonitor 2023). 

3. Workplace Culture Impacting Learning.

The overall culture of a workplace can affect the learning environment. If a workplace lacks inclusivity, is not supportive, or has a competitive culture, it can create barriers for women to pursue learning opportunities and participate fully in training programs. An unsupportive workplace culture not only hinders employee development but forces women out of business, with 48% of women reporting to have left an employer due to a toxic workplace, compared to 36% of men who reported the same. 

4. Work-Life Balance Challenges.

Women often juggle multiple responsibilities, including work and caregiving. Limited flexibility in training schedules, coupled with a lack of support for work-life balance, can create barriers for women who may find it challenging to commit to additional learning outside regular working hours. Responsibilities outside of work also disproportionately affect women, with 18% reporting that their career ambition changes depending on external factors, compared to 13% of men. Notably, 30% of women report that their employer has become stricter about staff coming into the office in recent months, compared to 22% of men.

By addressing the invisible barriers to L&D, organisations have the opportunity to not only promote gender equality when it comes to access to L&D but also drive organisational growth through a highly skilled workforce who stay with the business longer. 

“In the current work landscape, employers that will keep their competitive edge are the ones to invest in women's L&D - not only as a matter of equality, but also as a strategic imperative for sustainable business success in the evolving job market.” 

an image of a man talking with a woman while seated in front of her
an image of a man talking with a woman while seated in front of her

get actionable advice.

Invisible barriers preventing women from accessing L&D opportunities present a real cost to both employers and women who want to grow in their careers. For actionable advice on how to deal with these obsticles, download the e-guide on Investing in Women Through Upskilling.

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about the author
Madeline Hill
Madeline Hill

Madeline Hill

general manager - equity, diversity and inclusion talent strategy & advisory

Randstad Australia