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Barriers to career development

Men and women alike – those interested in promotion – move on to their goals or review their priorities based on many personal considerations. Pressure from family and friends, expectations of their peers, lack of selfconfidence and stereotypes programmed in by their upbringing may significantly affect career aspirations.

Common barriers

It turned out that many of the respondents believed the most serious barrier to their career development was lack of the right connections or patronage (43%). On the other hand, only half of the respondents said connections played a key role in their careers. Less important factors include genderrelated stereotypes (19%), blocking by superiors (18%), lack of career aspirations (11%) and pressure by family and friends (8%). Men more often mention lack of connections and patronage as career barrier than women (55% against 35%). It’s the key factor to them, while to women it’s only one of the three most important ones, together with insufficient education and experience (34%) and having other interests apart from work (31%).

Gender-related stereotypes (24% against 5%) and blocking by superiors (23% against 3%) as career development barriers are much more common in Russian companies than in foreign-owned ones. That’s confirmed by the indepth interviews whose participants stressed that Russian business was by default oriented towards male management – due to the general framework for doing business in Russia and predominance of people with engineering and technology education among top management.

Barriers hindering women’s careers

The study shows that most of the surveyed executives, regardless of their gender, region of residence and employer, admit there are both external and internal barriers hindering women’s careers.

Speaking about external – i.e. outside of their control – factors hindering their career development, the respondents named the following as the key ones:

  • close friends / family who can suppress the woman’s career aspirations (54%);
  • negative stereotypes of female bosses (53%);
  • informal deals made in typically “male” venues (35%).

Interestingly, speaking about their personal barriers (“What hindered / still hiders your career development?) only 6% of women executives mentioned “Pressure by family/friends”, while 50% of the same respondents believed this factor was a common barrier to women’s career development generally.

When asked about external barriers to women’s career development, men more often mentioned close friends and family (60% against 50%) and negative stereotypes of female bosses (67% against 43%), while women mostly pointed at informal deals (38% against 29%) and more stringent requirements to them than to men (27% against 7%).

The latter factor was more often noted by representatives of foreign companies (27% vs 16%) and large corporations (30% vs 14%). At the same time the in-depth interviews revealed that more stringent requirements to women was rather their personal feeling than actual fact. Most of the participating female executives noted that the high standards were set by themselves - to prove you’re a true leader you must be “taller” than others.

The respondents named the following internal barriers hindering women’s careers:

- women’s belief that their first priority is family, and work comes second (42%);

- opportunities to realise their potential not just at work but at home (40%);

- career “setbacks” (maternity leave) (40%);

- underestimation of their own leadership potential (40%).

Women mentioned the following internal barriers more often than men:

- underestimation of own leadership potential, lack of confidence (50% vs 24%);

- inability to present themselves in the right way for promotion (37% vs 6%).

Inability to “sell themselves” was more often mentioned by representatives of Russian companies (30% against 11%) and large businesses (35% vs 20%). In-depth interviews confirmed that in many cases desire to “make a career at home rather than at work” slows women’s careers down (there were examples of women actually refusing big promotions).

“Male” society

According to the in-depth interviews participants, an important factor affecting their career development is the fact that in many cases it’s hard for them to take part in negotiations taking place in informal settings. The format of such meetings implies participation in “purely male events” which isn’t always convenient to women.

“We’ve got a kind of “muscular” society in Russia. From the point of view of making contacts, building business networks we’ve got a lot “men only” events going on, where men executives can comfortably socialise. But there are no formats for women executives to socialise” (woman, deputy general director, a large Russian power supply company).

Why Russian women underestimate their potential

The qualitative stage of the study also confirmed that a serious barrier on women’s career path was their psychological state, lack of self-confidence and (maybe as a result of that) inability to present themselves and their ideas the right way.

“I think an important factor is that most women are simply not sure this particular project will be a success. Because there are very few female executives in our country. Even if you look at our Duma, our government, the big business, women would say, so what? You’d be running around there and everybody would be looking at you as if you were a … and kicking you with their hind legs” (woman, deputy general director, a large Russian power supply company).

The study shows that women are not always ready to fight the stereotypes the society forces on them, so they abandon their career aspirations. In the end the only really successful leaders are women who’re better prepared to face that sort of barriers and associated problems.

The imaginary limit

All other conditions being equal, companies tend to opt for male top managers. Men executives are often considered more reliable partners, born managers, while women are seen as unpredictable and prone to mood swings. Such views frequently determine the actual behaviour of women and their peers.

Despite the emerging positive shift, in many cases internal barriers and values instilled during childhood turn into barriers, determining women’s choice against pursuing career ambitions. Participants of the in-depth interviews noted an important phenomenon: talking about obstacles and barriers hindering women’s careers is often used as an excuse. It’s much easier to say, that’s just the way things are, than accept that the reason for refusing promotion was personal fears, or simply unwillingness to climb up the “greasy pole”. According to the respondents’ observations, some women consciously choose family because they can’t see how they can combine a successful career and their responsibilities at home.

“Yes, for many women their career development is limited by something, but most often this something is their own wishes. I met many women who simply didn’t want to be promoted further. Largely because women executives have much more family problems, and they’re afraid of that. Not all women are willing to spend more time at work because of new responsibilities” (man, general director of a managing company, deputy general director of a large power