Helena Morrissey is the CEO of Newton Investment Management, a London-based firm with $88 billion under management. Morrissey is also the mother of nine children.
The masses might think that getting to the top of a major finance company while raising a full gaggle of kids is impossible. Yet Morrissey believes a disconnect exists between perceptions of women leaders and what women are experiencing on the ground. Yes, Morrissey has a nanny and her husband is a stay-at-home father, but the business tycoon is convinced that childrearing is not a barrier to getting to the very top of the corporate ladder. Now she has the research to back up her hunch.
During an event Wednesday night at Bloomberg’s New York offices, Morrissey’s 30% Club, an organization committed to advancing female managers in the U.K., debuted a study for the first time in the U.S. on myths that pervade the career choices of women in business. The 30% Club partnered with advisory firm KPMG and business psychology company YSC to survey data from more than 100 global companies, evaluate feedback on nearly 10,000 individuals, and interview roughly 100 women (plus several senior men) from all organizational level. The results support the idea that Morrissey is not the only one defying the gender barriers often prescribed to working women.
Here are 7 major myths called into question by the study:
Myth 1: Raising children stops women from getting to the top
Reality: The total impact of having children on women’s career choices is less than people may believe. There is no statistically significant difference in the number of promotions between women with children and women without children. Still, men are promoted significantly more than women with 38% of men receiving more than five promotions throughout their careers as opposed to 29% of women.
Myth 2: Women don’t get to the top because they lack confidence
Reality: Women are keenly aware of risk, which keeps them more grounded in reality than their male colleagues. This often gets interpreted as women lacking confidence compared to their male peers, yet the research found no difference in the number of times that men and women make a career move only after being nudged by a superior to do so.
Myth 3: Women don’t aspire to senior leadership roles
Reality: Although men starting their careers in U.K. corporations are 4.5 times more likely to reach an executive committee than their female peers, women’s career aspirations do not differ from men’s. In fact, men and women define what matters most to success with the same top two criteria: Doing something intrinsically interesting and having positive working relationships.
Myth 4: Women don’t stick it out to make it to the very top
Reality: The researchers came away with no evidence that women are giving up on their careers in any greater numbers than their male colleagues. However, women at one or two levels below executive committee are two times less likely to be internally promoted then men.
Myth 5: Women lack the leadership qualities needed at the top
Reality: A 360 feedback survey on leadership behavior shows that men’s and women’s leadership is experienced broadly the same way. The researchers did find, however, that men’s leadership strengths (like analytical thinking and commercial acumen) may be disproportionately rewarded by most companies.
Myth 6: Senior women leaders don’t help women below them in their respective firms
Reality: A majority of women business leaders tap into their networks to source a gender diverse group of potential hires for roles in their business. While some senior women may not see themselves as the best fit to sponsor other women in their firms, a majority showed an interest in mentoring other women lower down the pipelines.
Myth 7: Formal flexible working arrangements ease women’s path to the top
Reality: Women indicated that formal flexible working arrangements (like working from home, telecommuting and compressed hours) were not significant factors in their career planning. Instead, women expressed that informal arrangements with their managers based on mutual trust were more important to their ability to be successful.