12 Key Insights for Women at Work

12 Key Insights for Women at Work

By Megan Dalla-Camina, Women Rising Founder & CEO

Earlier this year we undertook a major research project, surveying 1,200 women from various industries and roles about their experiences and goals in the workplace. We believe that the findings of this research will help us achieve several important goals. Firstly, we hope that the insights gained from this report will help organisations better understand the unique challenges faced by women at work and implement strategies to support their growth and development. We also hope that these insights will empower women to take control of their career and personal development, by providing them with actionable advice and inspiration


1. Ambition in women is alive and well
In the past 18 months, 50% of women have thought about pursuing a promotion, while 44% have considered asking for a pay rise, and 31% taking on a stretch assignment, demonstrating that many women are looking to amplify and progress their careers. In addition, 37% consider lack of opportunity a challenge in their career; and 35% have changed companies in the past 18 months, with almost a quarter (24%) citing lack of opportunity to advance as the reason they left.

2. Career development needs must be met
Career development is the key for employers to retain women, with 74% of women saying they would leave their organisation if their career development was not invested in by their current employer. Organisations are therefore at risk, with almost 40% of women stating that their employer has not invested in their career and/or leadership development in the past 18 months.

3. Many women are looking to change lanes, slow down and do less
In the past 18 months, 50% of women have considered changing careers. Around a third (34%) have thought about reducing their hours or taking a less demanding job (33%), indicating that career is not the top priority for many women. In addition, 21% of women have considered leaving the workforce altogether. What’s interesting about this group considering leaving the workforce is that more than half of them (52%) are aged between 18 and 44 years, while just over a third (36%) are between 45 and 54 years. Less than 1% of the women considering leaving the workforce are at retirement age (64+ years).

4. Only 8% of women are thriving at work
The vast majority of women (92%) are not thriving at work and 42% say they are either surviving, hanging on by a thread, or burnt out. Many women (39%) describe themselves as just functioning. In the past 18 months, 81% of women have experienced increased levels of stress in the workplace and 78% have felt burnt out. More than half (55%) say they currently feel at risk of burnout. For women who are managers, 25% often feel at risk of burnout because of their management responsibilities.

The most important ingredient women say they need to thrive at work is a good relationship with and support from their manager, with 84% of women deeming it essential. .Almost three quarters of women (73%) need good pay to thrive, while 71% value leaders who walk their talk when it comes to company values. Many other factors rate highly for women to thrive, including opportunities to advance (69%), flexible work conditions (69%) and investment in their career (64%).

6. Confidence, burnout and a lack of support are holding women back
The biggest challenge women are facing when it comes to their career is confidence and moments of self doubt, with 53% impacted. Burnout is also a significant challenge, affecting more than half (55%), and 40% feel there’s too much stress and time pressure. Lack of support is another key theme when it comes to career challenges for women, with 32% hampered by a lack of leadership competence and/or executive presence; 29% not receiving enough support from managers, mentors or sponsors; and 19% stating they have an unsupportive manager. Unmanageable workloads add pressure to the mix for 26% of women.

7. Negative bias is significantly felt by women at work
Women are feeling the effects of negative bias at work, with the most common complaints cited as being talked over or interrupted in a meeting (74%) and someone taking credit for their ideas or work (64%). More than half the women surveyed (57%) have been undermined by a male leader, a considerably higher percentage than women who have been undermined by a female leader (37%).

Nearly two thirds of women (62%) have experienced negative bias due to their age. This was most common for women aged 65 years and older (89%), women aged between 18 and 24 years (88%) and between 25 and 34 years (77%). However, age bias was seen in significant numbers across every age group including 35 and 44 (55%) and women aged between 45 – 54 (52%).

8. Leaders and organisations need to lift their game
Only 40% of women say their manager is consistently an inclusive leader. Almost a third (30%) consider their manager to be inclusive often, demonstrating that managers are attempting to make a positive impact. Yet 31% consider their manager to be inclusive only some of the time or never, suggesting that leaders and organisations have more work to do.

9. Women leaders are supportive but still a rarity
73% of women feel that the female leaders above them are supportive, busting the myth that women don’t support women at work. However, it’s worth noting that almost 20% of women surveyed said it wasn’t applicable, with more than 50 women commenting that there are very few, one, or no female leaders above them in their organisation.

9. Confidence, assertiveness and ambition are the most visible leadership traits
The most common trait women see in leaders from their organisation is confidence (59%), followed by assertiveness (51%) and ambition (49%). Feminine traits are not as visible, with only 10% of women seeing vulnerability in their leaders. Similarly, only 29% see kindness, and only 32% see authenticity. These statistics are striking considering the narrative in leadership discourse referring to the importance of leaders displaying feminine traits. What women are actually seeing is a different story.

10. Women are ready to progress but have nowhere to go
Only 7% of women say they are always satisfied with their career, and more than half (54%) say they are satisfied only some of the time or not at all. 39% of women say they feel satisfied with their career often. More than two thirds of women (67%) say their career is not progressing as quickly as they would like. This number is incredibly high, emphasising the vast divide between what women want and what they are getting. The top reasons for this lack of progression include nowhere to move up within their organisation (40%), lack of confidence to pursue promotions (38%), and lack of management support (37%).

11. There is great untapped potential for women at work
Almost two thirds of women (63%) believe they are not fulfilling their potential at work, representing a significant amount of untapped potential. For 60% of women, their ultimate career goal is to progress to management, senior management or executive leadership, highlighting a real hunger among women to progress.

12. Confidence and a harsh inner critic are stopping women from fulfilling their potential
The most common factors holding women back from meeting their potential are their harsh inner critic (52%) and lack of confidence (47%). Only 7% of women feel confident at work all the time, and 45% say they feel confident only some of the time or not at all, while 48% feel confident often. This lack of confidence is getting in the way of career progression for women, with 38% disinclined to put themself forward for a promotion, and 39% reluctant to ask for a payrise.

29% of women don’t speak up in meetings, and 65% of women say they’ve experienced others taking credit for their ideas or work in the past 18 months. The biggest factor undermining women’s confidence at work is their own inner critic and self doubt, which directly relates to another common experience women are grappling with – imposter syndrome. Nearly three quarters (72%) say they have felt imposter syndrome in the past 18 months.

At first glance critics might say that it’s women who hold themselves back. But that’s antiquated thinking that doesn’t match the data and the realities of women’s lived experience, nor does it account for the systemic biases that women deal with everyday that contribute to inner critic issues.

Many startling findings that must be taken seriously. If you want to read the full report, which includes our detailed recommendations for leaders and organisations who want to enhance their strategies to support women’s success, you can download your free copy here.

What’s abundantly clear from our research is that for women to reach their full potential, and for businesses to thrive, organisations must invest in women’s leadership development that works.


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