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Zehnder Leaders & Daughters Survey reveals falling ambition as women get closer to glass ceiling

March 2017

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Egon Zehnder in March 2017 released the findings of its Leaders & Daughters Global Survey, which tracks working women’s motivations, ambitions, and their own definition of professional success.

Findings highlighted seven countries – Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, India, the United States, and the United Kingdom – and shows global similarities between women at different stages of their careers.

The findings indicate that while the majority of women in the early stages of their professional career aspire for executive leadership, ambition tends to drop at the senior level:

  • Nearly three-quarters (74%) of women in junior and middle management jobs aspire to reach executive or senior level ranks within their organizations.
  • Ambition wanes once women reach senior management level and above, dropping from 72% to 57%, mostly once the reality of an impenetrable glass ceiling sets in.
  • Levels of ambition vary by country with women in developing countries showing higher levels of ambition than their counterparts in other countries. In Brazil, for example, 92% of women aspire to reach senior or executive status, followed by China at 88%, and India at 82%.

The study found that as seniority increases, women feel that promotions become increasingly challenging to obtain, and that gender bias and stereotyping are hindrances to success.

In fact, 49% of respondents believe that promotions for women are more challenging than those for men in their organization and this belief becomes stronger as respondents rise through management roles. Gender bias is felt most strongly in India, where 33% of women identified this as a problem. Surprisingly, the United States came second in this statistic with 19% of women at the C-suite level identifying with that issue.

Advocacy and mentorship, while it exists for women throughout their careers, is not as prominent for women in junior positions. 76% of women in the C-suite report they had a senior leader to act as their advocate, but only 56% of women in junior positions feel they have access to mentors, and 54% of women overall said that they had access to senior leaders who function as mentors.

Parents are credited with having the greatest influence on women’s careers globally, proving that early support is crucial to a woman’s ambition and success.

Over 7,000 professional women worldwide responded to the survey, which was fielded in February 2017.

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