Image: REUTERS/ Kai Pfaffenbach

There are plenty of statistics tracking the percentage of women in the workforce, their qualifications and their salaries, but that data doesn’t show us the whole picture: It doesn’t capture how women feel, how they fare in the workplace day-to-day, the challenges they face. And that is why the Thomson Reuters Foundation, with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, embarked on a global task, asking more than 9,500 women at work in the advanced economies of the G20 for the issues that affect them most at work.

The findings are compelling. According to the research, the issues that concern women the most are:

  1. Work-life balance
  2. Equal pay
  3. Harassment
  4. Career opportunities
  5. Children and career

The global report shows that four in every 10 women see the gender pay gap as a key issue, with women in seven nations listing this discrepancy as their major concern.

Interestingly, France, Germany and the United States lead the table despite recent World Economic Forum data indicating these economies have, in fact, some of the narrowest pay gaps among G20 nations. Women in Britain, Australia, Brazil, and Canada also ranked the gender pay gap as their biggest workplace worry, while in women in China expressed the least concern.

Harassment in the workplace also emerges as one of working women’s five top concerns. Nearly one third of women interviewed admit to having experienced harassment, although more than 60% do not report it. Indian women are the most likely to speak up (53%), a clear change of attitude since the fatal attack of a female student on a bus in Delhi in 2012.

“The poll shows that when women see a real possibility for change, they seize it.”

–Thomson Reuters Foundation CEO Monique Villa, to BBC World News

Almost half of the women polled are optimistic about the prospects of having a child and a career. Women in emerging countries led by Brazil – where maternity laws are generous and family ties are close – are the most confident. By contrast, women in some of the richest countries – Germany, the UK and France – are least confident and feel having a family could wreck their careers.

Finally, the poll uncovers some generational trends. Millennial women, under the age of 30, are more optimistic. “The situation is much better today than it was 35 years ago," noted Foundation CEO Monique Villa, "but we really should look at the facts on the ground now and then ask the same questions in ten years from now.”

For more: See this report on gender equality on corporate boards—and what it can do for the companies’ bottom lines—and the video below, which discusses the top-line findings of the Thomson Reuters Foundation poll.