The good, the bad and the ugly - career pinch points for women in their 30s

March 1, 2013 | comments

The good, the bad and the ugly - career pinch points for women in their 30s

In my last blog we looked at the challenges and needs of UK women in their 20s, some really clear messages emerging on what women are looking for relatively early on in their careers. Given the interest shown I thought I’d share how the trends evolve for women in the 30s and what is standing out for that population.  As a reminder this is from our research published in November 2012, a study of over 2500 UK business women across 17 different industry sectors.

The top level findings shown below, offer some real stand outs in terms of the unity of opinion and challenge that women are facing, especially with regard to the issues which are impeding career progression. A whopping 79% of all the women in their 30s highlighted inflexible or long daily working hours as barriers to success, with rigid career options not far behind on 71%. That we are seeing three quarters of a population identifying with the same challenges makes for an overwhelmingly powerful message.  It is of course the same areas highlighted , if not quite so absolutely, by women in their 20’s( see last  blog ),  so there is real clarity here around what sits at the top of the tree as an issue blocking career progression. Not too far behind this lack of flexibility we see the role of the line manager continuing to be highlighted as critical both as an enabler in terms of support needed and also as a blocker with 65% highlighting manager behaviour as an issue to career progression. This behaviour piece is not something we see feature anywhere near as prominently for women in their 20s which perhaps indicates a change in shift of manager perspective once women enter the working parent phase of their career.

At specific points in a career the challenges brought about by this lack of flexibility and management support crystallise and come to the fore, it’s no surprise therefore that the maternity transition (59%) and the career crossroads pinch points (52%)are powerfully identified with. It’s at these times that decisions are made around the suitability of current employers to fulfil career aspirations and achieve a reasonable career fit. The support offered at these points in time becomes crucial if the best talent is to be retained – that over half the women surveyed wanted more personal coaching and management support indicates that right now it’s not being provided.

So, what does this tell us that we don’t already know? Well for me it is the uniformity of voice that stands out as much if not more than the messaging itself. This is not just isolated pockets of women facing unique challenges but a broad cross section of the female workforce all experiencing the same issues, the same challenges,  all looking for greater support in specific areas and at certain times of their career.  I see this as both good and bad news. The bad is that it shows just how many organisations still aren’t effectively supporting their women, individually or collectively, and accordingly their female talent pipeline will continue to be stifled and unable to gain any true momentum. The good news is that the consistency of opinion and need is such that business can focus on targeted areas and make an exponential difference to the progression and performance of their high talent females.  It is not a quick fix, nothing worth doing ever is, but it allows business to face the challenges with a certainty that it is addressing the right areas and skills which really make a difference.   For each organisation of course the challenge and solution will be bespoke but the research gives a resounding answer as to where many organisations should start the journey in order to improve their talent pipeline. Women in their 20s and 30s are at the heart of both the challenge and a sustainable future.

Chris Parke, CEO of Talking Talent