What 1800+ women told us about their ambitions and the hurdles they face

What 1800+ women told us about their ambitions and the hurdles they face

Women's Ambition
More money, promotions, further education and better flexible working options are high on the ambitions list for women in 2019 and 2020 — but there are a number of key hurdles standing in the way, many that could be dismantled with support.

That’s according to the results of our survey of more than 1800 women asking about their ambitions and what, if anything, could prevent them from getting there.

Below I’m sharing a small sample of the results of our survey. The full report is available here, and includes steps employers can take to better support the ambitions of women. It’s a follow up from similar research we conducted in 2017, and was made possible thanks to the support of AGSM at the University of NSW

While we found no shortage of ambition among the women surveyed, we did identify a shortage of support available and the overarching trend that women are feeling squeezed by competing responsibilities.

The lack of support comes from a wide range of sources: including employers, family members, managers, investors, government policies and more.

And the squeeze women are feeling is not just about a lack of time week-to-week, but also feeling squeezed by perceptions and assumptions on just when is the ‘right time’ to accelerate their career.

Indeed, in the responses to this survey, we identified a heightened level of angst and frustration among women, especially stemming from some of the impediments affecting their careers that are beyond their personal control, including difficulties getting ahead while working part time, little to no help on the domestic front, ageism, gender discrimination and more.

Women’s Ambitions

A desire for more pay was top of the ambitions list, with 37 per cent indicating they hoped to earn more in the next 24 months. It’s a result that helps dismiss some of the myths and assumptions made about women’s ambitions around money.

Women also share a strong desire to get promoted over the next two years, with 30 per cent of respondents ticking this option.

And the desire for change is also high on the agenda.

Thirty per cent indicated they are looking for a new role, 26 per cent said they are looking to undertake further education, and a small number (10 per cent) said they are looking to change careers.

Meanwhile, the desire to achieve better flexible working options is also a priority, with a quarter of respondents (24 per cent) listing this as key to their ambitions over the next two years. Despite much rhetoric around women starting businesses and the promotion of female entrepreneurs in the media, just 11 per cent of respondents said they are ‘looking to start a business in the next two years’, with 15 per cent indicating they are currently building a business.

What’s getting in the way?

We found there are a number of underlying factors getting in the way of the key goals women are looking to achieve.

The one inhibitor that came up more than anything else for women was confidence, with 51 per cent of respondents ticking this as something that could hinder their ambitions.

Does that mean women in general lack confidence? Not necessarily, and it’s telling that almost half (49 per cent) of women did not tick this box. Still, when examined next to other data collected in this research, that figure on confidence may point to other issues going on that are potentially limiting self-confidence, including discrimination and a lack of support.

A quarter (27 per cent) said age discrimination could get in the way, while a further 26 per cent said gender discrimination could be an obstacle.

Meanwhile, one in five (20 per cent) of respondents said a lack of employer support could stand in the way of their ambitions, 18 per cent suggested a lack of role models could hurt, while 11 per cent said bad health or a disability could inhibit them.

And, unsurprisingly, a huge number (37 per cent) feel that child caring responsibilities will make achieving their ambitions challenging. Women also noted a lack of education, family support, finance and government support, as well as the cost of childcare as potential hurdles.

When asked to indicate ‘other’ challenges, a number of clear trends emerged in the short answer responses: bad managers and leadership, the ‘boys club’, bullying, archaic recruitment practices, employers that don’t value different experiences, a lack of part time and flexible work options, solo parenting, disability discrimination, as well as domestic violence and financial abuse.

A lack of time (and energy) also came up repeatedly, with a number of women speaking out about the support and time required for high school aged kids, which is different (and often overlooked) in favour of discussing time restraints for women with young kids. Distance and location from job centres also came up as a challenge; often connected with time restraints, with some women saying long commutes and distance simply make pursuing some opportunities impossible.

Women with kids and ambition

Does ambition take a hit after having kids? Not according to our research.

When we asked women who have taken a career break for child caring purposes about their goals for the next two months, we found 66 per cent are looking to increase their salary and earnings potential.

Almost half (46 per cent) said they keen on furthering their leadership career, while 17 per cent are looking to change their careers and 16 per cent want to start a business.

Fifty five percent of this segment of the survey agreed with the statement “since having kids, I am more ambitious than ever before”.


Read more: ‘Overlooked for promotion, perceived to lack commitment’ : The perils of part time work


But there is a lot standing in the way of women with kids — and much of it came through in the long answer responses to our survey. Many of these women are feeling exhausted, overlooked, underpaid, and like they never have any time for themselves. They spoke about the lack of career opportunities on offer when you want to work part time, as well as the discrimination they believe they have encountered around having kids, as well as age discrimination.

Fifty eight per cent of these women agreed with the statement they “feel like my career is on hold due to childcare commitments”.

Pregnancy and part time work discrimination

A significant part of our report this year looks at some of the hurdles affecting women after having children. Discrimination, whether it’s during pregnancy after returning or due to a need to work part time, factored heavily.

A massive 71 per cent of those respondents who have taken a career break in the past ten years agreed they had at some point felt discriminated against in the workplace due to their need to work part time or flexibly.

We were shocked to see numerous comments about women being made redundant during pregnancy, or shortly after returning to work.

Also, we identified a heightened level of angst amongst women who had recently taken career breaks. They’re feeling just as ambitious as ever before — with the vast majority looking to earn more — but they’re feeling ‘squeezed’ by their priorities, and part time work career limiting ad unsupported.

Some key stats:
  • 30% of women hope to get promoted in the next two years
  • 37% of women hope to earn more in the next two years
  • 51% says ‘confidence in my abilities’ could hinder their career ambitions
  • 25% say gender discrimination could get in the way of their ambitions
  • 87% say a diverse workplace culture has been ‘important’ or ‘very important’ at some point in their careers
  • 26% of women say gender discrimination could get in the way
  • 20% say a lack of employer support could get in the way of their ambitions.
About this research

We do this research to provide employers with valuable knowledge on what needs to change in order to better support the ambitions of women. Such support can lead to greater women’s workforce participation, more work/life satisfaction, and potentially even a narrowing of the gender pay gap.

It can also have a dramatic difference on the mental and physical health of women, especially if support can assist in easing some of the competing pressures women feel. Employers would be wise to consider some of the key ambitions women have shared in this study and to especially address any assumptions or biases being made about female staff members.

This research provides an excellent snapshot of what women are striving for right now. These ambitions must not be ignored, and should be considered in the wider context of what can be done to grow our economy through the participation of women.

You can see our full report on the findings here, with the report being a follow up to our 2017 Ambitions Report and achieved with the support of AGSM at the University of NSW. 


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