Study shows: Women get discouraged about their career more often than men

Women embark on careers with high expectations and aspirations for advancement. However, this confidence evaporates as they enter their mid-career phase, a new study shows. What are the reasons and what can be done to remedy this deterioration that was not found for men?

The new Bain & Company study of 1,000 men and women, Everyday Moments of Truth, covers a wide spectrum of ages and career levels. It found that nearly half of all new women employees aspire to top management but, within five years, only 16 percent still hold that ambition. This result compares to 34 percent for men who begin their careers being confident they will reach the top and remain so after two or more years of experience.

Bain’s research refutes the commonly held belief that marriage or starting a family is responsible for side-tracking women when it comes to career advancement.  The study found that marital or parental status does not differ significantly between women who continue to aspire to careers and those who do not. Instead, Bain suggests that women lack meaningful recognition and support from managers during the mid-level career period, when women crystalise their aspirations and build – or erode – their confidence.

In fact, the study found that

  • Aspirations for top management posts drop more than 60 percent among women as they progress in their careers, with 43 percent of new women employees aiming for the C-suite, but only 16 percent of women with 2-5 years of professional experience aspiring to do the same.
  • Confidence among women shows a similar decline, with 27 percent of new women employees believing they can reach top management positions.  Mid-career, that number drops by nearly half; men’s confidence stays about the same as they progress in their careers.
  • While both men and women at the senior level report a significant bump up in confidence and ambition for top management, the trend is much more pronounced among men. More than half of senior level men, compared to less than one-third of senior level women, feel that the C-Suite is within their reach.

According to the new report, there are three areas where mid-career women encounter negative experiences and perceptions that put them off the fast track. First is a disconnect with the so-called “ideal worker stereotype” – the “always on” fast-tracking go-getter. Second is lack of supervisor support for mid-level women.  The third – borne out of the other shortcomings – is a lack of women role models at top company levels.

“Developing a new leadership culture is a critical short-term milestone for the Corporate world”, Diversity-guru Michael Stuber states. “This goes along with re(de)fining the vision for leadership qualities and what great talent looks like”, he adds. In fact, other studies already showed that new competencies will be needed in order to be successful in the business world of the future and that talent come in increasingly different shape.

The current study on female career dynamics is available here.