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Women believe multiple barriers block career advancement

Thursday, September 13, 2012  
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The concept of a single glass ceiling is an outdated model and no longer reflects the realities of modern working life for women, according to the results of an Ernst & Young survey.

The survey, which polled 1,000 working women ages 18 to 60 in the United Kingdom, revealed that two-thirds believe they faced multiple barriers throughout their careers, rather than just a single ceiling on entry to the boardroom. These barriers are: age, lack of role models, motherhood, and qualifications and experience. These barriers are not chronological and can be experienced at anytime, often several at once, the firm concluded.

"Professional working women have told us they face multiple barriers on their rise to the top,” said Liz Bingham, Ernst & Young's managing partner for people. "As a result, British business is losing its best and brightest female talent from the pipeline before they have even had a chance to smash the glass ceiling.”

Organizations need to ensure they are supporting women at every stage of their career lifecycle, not just as they are about to enter the boardroom, according to Harry Gaskell, Ernst & Young's head of advisory.

Delving into the findings behind the barriers, the survey identified age – perceived as either too young or too old – as being the biggest obstacle that women face during their careers. Nearly one third of the women questioned said it had impacted on their career progression to date, with an additional 27 percent saying they thought it would inhibit their progression in the future. Most markedly it was women in the early stages of their career that seemed to be most acutely impacted – with half of all respondents between 18 and 23 saying age had been a barrier they'd already encountered in their career.

"Age is a very complex issue, especially when it's linked to perception,” Binham said. "It's concerning to see that women seem to be most vulnerable during the formative stages of their careers, when they are working their way through the ranks.”

Barriers related to a lack of experience or qualifications was the second highest factor that had inhibited women's careers to date (according to 22 percent of respondents), and the third highest factor cited as a future inhibitor (19 percent). Nearly one in five women surveyed said motherhood had an impact on their careers. Another 25 percent said they thought it was the second-biggest inhibitor to their future careers, after age.

"The only way that organizations can really tackle this is through positive intervention. This includes the provision of supportive program that help women to transition back into work after maternity leave and empowers them to take control of their careers and make informed choices,” Bingham said.

Eight percent of all women said a lack of role models already had a detrimental impact on their careers. "One of the big problems is the misconception that you have to be perfect in order to be a role model,” Bingham said. "In reality we all have skills, attributes or experiences that would be valuable to share with others.”

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