What Women really want in the workplace



The Female Lead’s Women at Work Research revealed that there are myths and outdated assumptions about who women are and what they want, but also about the kinds of bias they are likely to face in the workplace. Significant progress has been made in tackling both explicit bias and in the development of women’s own self-belief. The Women at Work insight suggests that energy and focus be directed away from these ‘outdated presumptions’ to ensure genuine progress is achieved.



Outdated Presumptions

1. Women resist the term ‘ambitious’ and suffer inner conflict about being career focused All participants were ambitious, valued independence and were dedicatedto useful, high impact and challenging work. There was no ambivalence about ambition among the 2020 participants. Ambition was seen as something to embrace with pride. This operatesin stark contrast to the 1994 findings TerriApter reported in Working Women Don’t Have Wives which evidenced that women were often conflicted about ambition, competition, career identity and independence.


2. Motherhood trumps all else and shifts career and professional identity to a backseat

All participants (whether they weremothers or not) cited career as fundamental to their sense of self and purpose in life. In fact, every single woman in the study replied to the question, “To what extent does your career contribute to your sense of self?” with some version of, “A lot.” “Massively,” was the most common response and their career was clearly seen as a large part of their personal identity and satisfaction.


3. Women are uncomfortable earning more than their partners and place less value on their earning power

All participants put a very high value on financial independence. When asked what symbolic meaning money had, the most common answer was, “It provides independence.”

That financial independence also represented personalpower, the power to claim equality in a relationship, and the power to leave an uncomfortable relationship. They valued job satisfaction more than increased income but wanted to be fairly and equally recognised via their pay packet.


4. Imposter syndrome is a significant inhibitor to job performance and drive

While 26% of the participants described a time when they experienced imposter syndrome, they were not deterred by imposter syndrome, but worked through it by taking up the challengeto learn new skills. Impostersyndrome had the beneficial effect of increasing commitment and drive. Women worked through impostersyndrome by embracing a capability mindset, which means they learned to work to their strengths and dedicated themselvesto learning what they didn’t yet know.


5. That female workers (particularly mothers) are more averse to embracing new challenges and risks

Changing jobs, from one firm to another, or from employee to entrepreneur was always daunting, but the women’s willingness to make such changes and take such chances was important in finding satisfyingwork conditions. Satisfaction in a job was generally linked to finding it challenging, feeling comfortable in the workplace culture and having opportunities to make a positiveimpact and to grow. When asked to envisage a more positivefuture in 5 years’ time, the participants did not show any desire to step away from work, rather to embrace a job that gave them a sense of purpose,flexibility, control and balance. There was also high satisfaction among the women who had started their own companies, evidencing that high-demand, high-stakes jobs are not problematic in themselves, but only become feasible when you are able to exert greater control over your working patterns.


Critically, our Women at Work Research identified a series of major stickingpoints that continueto inhibit female progress. All of these ‘persistent problems’ were underpinned by one unifying theme – that of the ‘unentitled mindset’. Closing the entitlement gap requires a two-pronged approach addressing the embedded structures in the workplace and in society that prevent women accessing equal entitlement, as well as promoting greater self-awareness and removing internal barriers to women developing a healthy sense of their entitlement.


You can read the full report here.

You can watch a 2-min animated video here, or the full 8-min explainer video here.

Published on 'The Female Lead'

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