Burnout and confidence are real concerns for women on path to achieving their ambitions

Burnout and confidence are real concerns for women on path to achieving their ambitions

Women's Agenda surveyed more than 1400 women on their ambitions and what (if anything) might get in the way. Here's what we learned.

The pandemic years have done little to slow women’s ambitions: with earning more and getting promoted still high on the agenda of what women are looking to achieve over the next two years.

That’s according to the more than 1400 women Women’s Agenda surveyed on their ambitions for the next two years, with the full report just published here.

Still, around half of women did say that COVID-19 and its related impacts on work and life have changed what they’re looking to achieve.

And employers should take note: almost one-third of women indicated they plan on looking for a new role.

Meanwhile, a significant proportion expressed concern about the risks of burnout in achieving their dreams, which may reflect the pandemic years we’re experiencing and the associated exhaustion that comes with carrying even heavier loads during this period.

Two in five women (39%) believe burnout will hinder their ambitions, the second-highest perceived hurdle that women reported to getting ahead.

The leading hurdle? Once again, “confidence in my abilities” took the number one spot, with 45% of women saying this could get in the way of their careers. This figure was slightly down on previous years. When we ran this survey in 2017 and 2019, 51% of women reported this as a potential barrier.

We don’t believe women inherently lack confidence – especially when you consider the opposite of this figure, that 55% of women don’t believe that confidence in their abilities will get in the way. But, given other findings in this report – particularly around discrimination – we believe there may be a number of cumulative factors that lead to women expressing such confidence concerns.

Other perceived hurdles that women believe will get in the way of them achieving their ambitions include different forms of caring responsibilities, as well as discrimination. A massive 30% of women believe age discrimination will stand in the way of them achieving their dreams, while 25% of women say gender discrimination will get in the way. Concerns about race discrimination and pregnancy discrimination were also highlighted.

Respondents also reported they expect a lack of support to create more barriers to future achievements: including a lack of support from employers, family members and government.

The top five ambitions for women for the next two years

  1. I’m looking to earn more (36% of women)
  2. I’m looking for a new role (28%)
  3. I’m looking to undertake further education (26%)
  4. I’m aiming to get promoted (26%)
  5. I’m looking to achieve better flexible working options (23%)

The top five reported hurdles in the way of the above ambitions

  1. ‘Confidence in my abilities (45%)
  2. Burnout (39%)
  3. Caring responsibilities, including children (31%)
  4. Age discrimination (30%)
  5. Gender discrimination (25%)

Other key findings from the survey

  • 47% say their ambitions have changed as a result of COVID-19
  • 28% say they are spending more time on caring responsibilities now, than prior to COVID-19
  • 28% are less optimistic about their career prospects now, than prior to COCVID-19, 24% were more optimistic, while the remainder were “neither more or less optimistic”
  • 69% believe they now have more options to work from home and access flexible working arrangements as a result of COVID-19
  • 85% say a diverse workplace culture has been important to their careers
  • 85% say visible female role models have been important to their careers

So what next?

We do this research in the hope that employers and policymakers will pay attention to the challenges women believe are standing in the way of them achieving their ambitions.

We believe the findings are more critical than ever before, especially in noting the disturbingly high rate of concern about burnout, and what we’ve seen in research from specific industries highlighting the very real risk of women leaving sectors like early childhood education and nursing in the years ahead due to the strain of the pandemic.

When asked about the “incentives that matter” we also found that for employers, visible female role models and diverse workplace cultures are what really matter – even more so than mentoring and sponsorship programs and other initiatives employers often explore to support women.

Given the rates of concerns regarding confidence, burnout and discrimination, it’s clear that employers and policymakers need to immediately act on a number of key priorities including:

  • The physical and mental health of staff, accounting for the additional strains and challenges the pandemic years have presented
  • Ending discrimination, including ensuring staff have open and safe channels to communicate what they are experiencing
  • Conducting a pay audit, and fixing the gaps identified
  • The visibility of those working flexibility and part time – including those who will continue to work from home as more staff return to offices. Where and how one works shouldn’t determine the opportunities they have for promotions, bonuses, opportunities etc.
  • Ending a culture of assumptions about staff that may ultimately hinder their opportunities and progress.

We ran this survey with support from AGSM at the University Business School, support the AGSM has generously shared since the Ambitions survey’s first iteration, back in 2017. As part of this study, we asked additional questions of those who have take a career break for caring purposes in the past ten years. We’ll be sharing more from that part of the survey in the coming days, but you can also see the results in the final report here.

If you’re interested in learning more about this research, please get in contact

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