Common wisdom that women do not make it into upper management positions because they choose to have children and focus on their families is wrong, new research indicates.
A survey conducted by the Harvard Business School has found that personal choices are not responsible for women’s struggle to find a work-life balance. The study showed that women who chose to leave the workplace after having children did so because they felt they had little chance of advancing and not because they chose to have families.
The survey probed the idea that gender imbalances in workplaces exist because women choose to opt out and have children, a dynamic that 77 percent of those surveyed thought was the main thing responsible for hurting women’s careers. Around a fourth of women between 32 and 48 and 44 percent of women between 49 and 67 had temporarily left work for their children, but only 11 percent of all surveyed women had permanently left the workforce because of their children. After controlling for variables such as age and industry type, the researchers couldn’t find a connection between asking for family-leave and the lack of women in senior positions.
Instead, they found that the relationship between women’s child-rearing decisions and their career opportunities runs the opposite direction.
Less than half of the women surveyed said they felt satisfied with their careers. Only 41 percent of women said they were satisfied with their opportunities for career growth. The study also found that there was a large gap in who got senior management positions: 57 percent of men had access to these positions, while only 41 percent of women did. The researchers suggest that women who have children choose to leave the workforce “as a last resort, because they find themselves in unfulfilling roles with dim prospects for advancement.”
The study, which was published in Harvard Business Review, looked at 25,000 graduates of Harvard Business School.
When it comes to balancing work and family life, women are at a disadvantage. The US is ranked ninth to last among developed countries when it comes to work-life balance, and 17 out of 22 for women’s participation in the workforce. Men are more likely to get requests for flexible work schedules approved and are more likely to be able to work from home. Despite being paid less than men, women tend to have jobs that are more stressful and offer less security.
Amelia Rosch is an intern for ThinkProgress.