Global survey captures gender-based views on work/life flexibility

In the business world, women consistently report more career obstacles than men. But to make improvements, companies need detailed information about the relationship between gender and career advancement.

The results of a two-year research project - "Leaders in a Global Economy: A study of Executive Women and Men" - supply some of those missing pieces. The study confirms, for instance, that more executive women than men choose to delay having children (35 percent vs. 12 percent) or to not have children at all (12 percent vs. 1 percent).

But it also challenges the conventional wisdom that women who reach the highest rungs of the ladder have to make more sacrifices than if they had stopped a few rungs down. Among women at levels closest to the CEO, 70 percent have children, compared with 62 percent at lower executive levels. (Researchers controlled statistically for age differences.)

The research was a collaboration of three nonprofit groups: Catalyst, the Boston College Center for Work & Family, and the Families and Work Institute (www.familiesandwork.org). About 1,200 male and female executives from 10 US-based multinational companies responded to the survey. Nearly 40 percent are citizens of countries outside North America.

The firms, which include such giants as IBM and Marriott International, will use the study to examine everything from compensation and family-leave policies to mentoring and leadership strategies.

One interesting set of findings came out of comparisons between executives who are "work-centric" (61 percent) and those who are "dual-centric" - placing equal priority on work and personal or family life (32 percent). The dual-centrics reported more feelings of success at work, less stress, and more ease managing the demands of work and home.

Among other findings: Men and women reported using a similar range of strategies, including taking risks and being collaborative. And executives in Western Europe reported having less flexibility in their work schedules to manage personal or family demands than their counterparts in North America did.

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