Jobs: Women face four key career barriers, not just the glass ceilings

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The concept of a single glass ceiling is an outdated model and no longer reflects the realities of modern working life for women, according to the results of a poll.

An Ernst & Young survey of 1,000 UK working women says there are now multiple barriers to career progression – age, lack of role models, motherhood, and qualifications and experience.

Liz Bingham, Ernst & Young’s managing partner for people, says, “The focus around gender diversity has increasingly been on representation in the boardroom and this is still very important.

“But the notion that there is a single glass-ceiling for women, as a working concept for today’s modern career, is dead. Professional working women have told us they face multiple barriers on their rise to the top. 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. We recognise that in our own business, and in others, and professional women clearly experience it – that’s what they have told us.”

The survey identified age – perceived as either too young or too old – as being the biggest obstacle that women face during their careers. 32 per cent of women questioned said it had impacted on their career progression to date, with an additional 27 per cent saying that they thought it would inhibit their progression in the future.

Barriers related to a lack of experience or qualifications also featured strongly in the survey. It was the second highest factor that had inhibited women’s careers to date (according to 22 per cent of respondents), and the third highest factor cited as a future inhibitor (19 per cent).

Nearly one in five (19 per cent) of those questioned said becoming a mother had impacted on their career to date. While a further 25 per cent said they thought it was the second biggest inhibitor to their future careers, after age.

Three out of four (75 per cent) of those questioned said they have few or no female role models within their organisations. With some respondents (8 per cent) going as far to say that a lack of role models had had a detrimental impact on their career to date. And therefore role models were identified as one of the four barriers.

Ernst & Young says managing these four barriers is about personal responsibility, appropriate and targeted support from business and positive government intervention.

When respondents were asked to identify what three things their organisations could do to remove these barriers, or better support women’s career progression, the top answers were:

More support after returning to work from having children (32 per cent), more support at every stage of my career lifecycle (24 per cent) and more visible female role models (19 per cent)

When asked the same question in relation to what government could do, they said: Enforcing companies to reveal the ‘pay gap’ between men and women (45 per cent), affordable child-care/ tax relief for childcare (43 per cent) and policy guidance on flexible working for UK businesses (28 per cent).