Women Executives Say Gender is Still Biggest Hurdle to Career Advancement, Accenture Research Shows

Research released as focal point of Accenture’s observance of International Women’s Day, with company-sponsored events in more than 23 cities globally

NEW YORK; March 8, 2007 – Women say their gender still plays a key role in limiting their achievement in the workplace, according to a research report released today by Accenture (NYSE: ACN).

The report, based on a survey of more than 2,200 executives in 13 countries, also found that while male and female executives generally believe their careers are progressing as they had expected, women have lower expectations than men do about how high they might advance in their professions.

The report is a focal point of Accenture’s annual observance of International Women’s Day today, during which the company is holding day-long events that are expected to draw more than 6,000 participants – live and virtually – in more than 23 cities on four continents. Accenture will also host global and local discussions with company leaders and renowned thought-leaders, including high-level business and government representatives, academics and noted authors.

Entitled Expectations and Achievement: Empowering Women from Within, the report examines how career and life expectations change, adapt and evolve over time for both men and women in the workforce. The goal of the research was to determine what influences these changes and what factors enhance or hinder progress. The research was divided into three main areas: career achievement, work/life balance and leadership.

Career Achievement

While geography has had a far greater influence on attitudes and experiences than gender, the report shows that in certain key areas, executives believe gender had a real effect on how they’ve been able to advance. Notably, women identified gender as the top factor hindering their achievement and reported having more modest expectations about the very highest levels they expect to achieve professionally. In fact, women were almost seven times more likely than men to cite gender as the primary reason for not advancing more quickly (26 percent versus 4 percent), with men ranking gender 16th on the list of barriers to achievement, behind things such as lack of passion for chosen career and lack of family support.

When looking at what factors slowed their progress, women globally were significantly more likely to attribute internal factors (i.e., who they are) as a barrier to faster advancement, while men were significantly more likely to point to external factors (what happens to them.) For example, men were more likely than women to cite an economic downturn or company downsizing (20 percent of men versus 14 percent of women) and bad luck (17 percent of men versus 12 percent of women) as barriers to advancement.

Specifically, the survey showed that the majority of both men and women felt they had advanced in their careers at the pace they had expected – or faster than they had expected - when they were first starting out. However, gender differences were apparent when respondents were asked to judge how fast they had advanced in relation to their male and female colleagues. A majority of both men (55 percent) and women (57 percent) said they progressed faster than their female colleagues; this was particularly true in China, where 78 percent of women and 90 percent of men said their progress was faster than that of their female colleagues.

However, when asked about their respective advancement in relation to male colleagues, half of male respondents said they advanced faster than their male counterparts but only 37 percent of female respondents felt they had advanced faster than their male colleagues. Women in France (44 percent) and Sweden (42 percent) were most likely to feel their pace was slower, while women in Germany (15 percent) and Austria (14 percent) were least likely to perceive their pace of development as slower than men.

Work/Life Balance

The research indicated that while both men and women today are struggling to balance their personal and professional lives, in most instances the responsibility of caring for children while continuing to advance professionally continues to fall more heavily on women.

While less than one-third of respondents (30 percent of men and 29 percent of women) said they “live to work,” more women reported currently being in a career involving greater personal sacrifice than they had envisioned when they were first starting out in their careers.

Technology was not always perceived to enhance work/life balance. In fact, in China and Canada, women reported they were most likely to feel trapped by technology (52 percent and 45 percent, respectively).

Interestingly, while respondents have sacrificed flexibility in their careers over time, the importance of work/life balance had grown. Both men and women rated “being stimulated by my work” as the most important factor in their careers when starting out. Today, however, “being stimulated by work” is seen as less important than “work/life balance” and “having a happy home life/relationship/marriage.”

The research results seem to indicate that globally the burden of balancing work/home/life continues to fall more heavily on women and that in the struggle to “be there” for both family and work, women feel under greater pressure than men do. Approximately half (46 percent) of the male respondents with children said having children had no impact on the number of hours they worked, compared with less than one-third (29 percent) of the female respondents. Twenty-three percent of women said that having children resulted in their working fewer hours, compared with only 12 percent of men.


According to the research, stereotypes about whether individual leadership characteristics are more “male” or “female” do exist among men and women, but with wide variances across countries. In general, men and women strongly agree about what it takes to be an effective leader. Globally, both men and women respondents ranked the following as the top five most important characteristics of an effective leader:

However, about half of men and women identified certain character traits as being either more distinctly masculine or feminine. For example, both genders were more likely to associate women with some of the traditionally “softer” leadership skills, such as being aware of one’s own weaknesses, giving credit to others and being concerned about the welfare of employees, while associating men with such characteristics as being decisive and leading by asserting authority. Being visionary was seen as a more masculine characteristic, while being ethical was considered a more feminine trait.

Interestingly, neither men nor women felt that “making profitability the top priority” was particularly related to being an effective leader, with only half of all respondents (51 percent of men; 50 percent of women) identifying this as an important characteristic.

About the Survey

Accenture conducted an online survey of 2,246 executives in mid-to-senior level management positions, ranging from manager to C-level executives. Women comprised 62 percent, and men comprised 38 percent, of respondents. Research was conducted in 13 countries: Austria, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. Fieldwork was conducted in January and February 2007. For more information or to access the complete research report, visit www.accenture.com.

About Accenture

Accenture is a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company. Committed to delivering innovation, Accenture collaborates with its clients to help them become high-performance businesses and governments. With deep industry and business process expertise, broad global resources and a proven track record, Accenture can mobilize the right people, skills and technologies to help clients improve their performance. With approximately 146,000 people in 49 countries, the company generated net revenues of US$16.65 billion for the fiscal year ended Aug. 31, 2006. Its home page is www.accenture.com.

Laura Ryan

+1 (212) 614 4951