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Across Three Cultures Catalyst Finds Top Barriers to Women's Professional Advancement

Catalyst Releases Study of Barriers for Women Senior Managers in the UK

Catalyst and UK-based Opportunity Now today released the largest analysis ever undertaken on women in senior management in the United Kingdom. The study, Breaking the Barriers: Women in Senior Management in the UK, explores the views of both senior women and CEOs on success factors and barriers to women’s advancement.

This UK-based study is the third in a Catalyst series on women in leadership in different countries. In 1996, Catalyst surveyed senior women and CEOs in the United States; the study was replicated in Canada in 1997. Thus, for the first time Catalyst is able to compare the experiences of women in senior management in three countries. A total of 1188 women respondents and 117 CEO respondents are included in the UK study.

"We can now compare women’s career experiences, their success factors, and the barriers they perceive, as well as the perceptions of CEOs, across three distinct cultures." said Sheila Wellington, president of Catalyst. "The bottom line is that there are more similarities among women across borders and overseas than there are differences."

Catalyst found that in all three countries the top career advancement strategies used by senior women to advance are the following: consistently exceeding performance expectations and developing a style with which male managers are comfortable.


In all three countries, senior women identify male stereotyping and preconceptions of women’s roles and abilities as a top barrier to women’s advancement. Women in the US (52%), Canada (45%) and the UK (40%) agree on this point. Interestingly, CEOs in the UK do identify stereotypes and preconceptions as barriers to advancement more than any other factor (33%). In contrast, CEOs in the US and Canada are less likely to identify these subtle barriers, instead pointing to lack of significant line experience (82% and 50%, respectively).

Unlike their counterparts in the US and Canada, 46 percent of senior women in the UK said commitment to family responsibilities was a top obstacle compared to only 18 percent of women in the US and 32 percent of women in Canada.

"UK employers need to assess what they can do and what programs they can put in place to meet the needs of men and women who are trying to juggle work and home commitments," said Norma Jarboe, Executive Director of Opportunity Now. "It just makes good business sense, as one CEO in the survey said."

At the conference, Opportunity Now Executive Director Norma Jarboe presented findings from the study and Catalyst President Sheila Wellington provided analysis and context on the three-country perspective. Susan Black, VP of Catalyst in Canada moderated a panel exploring the experiences of women in global assignments. Participants included Patricia Bellinger, Vice President, Diversity, BP Amoco plc; Margaret Savage, SVP, Organizational Design, Capability, and HR Strategy, BT Worldwide; and Joanne Steinberg, Vice President of Global Market Intelligence & Strategy, Nortel Networks.

The joint initiative has been sponsored by a consortium of 14 leading companies: Britannia Building Society; BP Amoco; BT; The Cabinet Office; Clydesdale Bank and Yorkshire Bank; The Co-operative Bank; Credit Suisse First Boston; Daimler Chrysler; Ford Motor Company; General Motors; IBM; Liverpool Hope University College; NHS Executive; Nortel Networks.

About Catalyst
Catalyst is the nonprofit research and advisory organization working to advance women in business. The leading source of information on women in business for the past four decades, Catalyst has the knowledge and tools that help companies and women maximize their potential. Our solutions-oriented approach—through research, Advisory Services, Corporate Board Placement, and the Catalyst Award—has earned the confidence of global business leaders. For additional information, please visit our Web site at or call 212-514-7600.

About Opportunity Now
Opportunity Now works with a coalition of UK companies committed to improving their positive impact on society. Established in 1991, Opportunity Now draws its membership from the public and private sector and higher education.