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Study Finds Stereotypes Are Top Barrier for Women Business Leaders in Europe Across Regions and Countries

Catalyst and the Conference Board Europe Partner to Study Women in Leadership Across 20 European Nations

In the first-ever joint Catalyst and Conference Board Europe study of women and men leading major corporations and firms in Europe, senior women report that the barriers to success are remarkably similar regardless of country, region or culture.

In the groundbreaking study, Women in Leadership: A European Business Imperative, Catalyst and the Conference Board Europe surveyed nearly 700 women and men in 20 European countries to determine the success factors and barriers for women in business and identify company initiatives that advance women.

Of the 500 women who participated in the survey 66% report stereotypes and preconceptions of women's roles and abilities as a leading barrier to women's advancement. Other barriers include; lack of senior or visibly successful female role models (64%), lack of significant general management or line experience (63%), commitment to family or personal responsibilities (62%) and lack of mentoring (61%).

"One of the most surprising finding is how few regional and cultural differences emerge on these issues," said Catalyst President Sheila Wellington. "Across borders and companies, executive women in European business are having many of the same experiences. These results suggest there is value in having inclusion efforts across regions and countries."

"Smart European companies recognize the business case for inclusion and change," Wellington said. "When an organization puts women in key leadership positions they become a magnet for talented women and men. Ultimately, these companies can gain a competitive advantage in the global marketplace by mining this virtually untapped resource."

"Defusing the demographic time bomb of an aging workforce and a declining birth rate is a crucial imperative for European business leaders," said Andrew Tank, Executive Director of the Conference Board Europe. "The strategies from this study will help business leaders capitalize on the talents of their women and men."

"Women are being left out of the business of the business," continued Wellington. "Men and women cite lack of management experience as a top barrier for women, but when women look up there are no visibly senior role models. What's the message being sent?"
How do both men and women get the top of European business? They agree on the top strategies for advancement:

  • Taking initiative
  • Having recognized expertise in a specific content area
  • Having job assignments which are highly visible to key decision-makers
  • Consistently exceeding performance expectations
  • Developing and adhering to own career goals

"Although there are success stories and barriers, women are as ambitious as men," concluded Wellington. "One -third of the women respondents and one-quarter of the men aspire to senior most leadership. However, more men (53 percent) than women (35 percent) believe they have already made it to the top."

About the Partnership
Catalyst and the Conference Board Europe, each the premier organisation in its respective area - women's advancement and business leadership, have partnered together for this study in response to requests from companies and women executives in Europe who seek to understand and address the issues facing women in business. This study examines the views of both women and men managers and professionals and their experiences at work. The findings provide insight about how to recruit, retain, and advance women.

About Catalyst
Catalyst is the North American based nonprofit research and advisory organisation 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 maximise 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. Catalyst's three groundbreaking reports of women in leadership in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom outline the landscape for women's advancement in business. To obtain a copy of the study visit us at or call us at 212-514-7600.

About The Conference Board
The Conference Board creates and disseminated knowledge about management and the market place to help businesses strengthen their performance and better serve society. Working as a global, independent membership organisation in the public interest, we conduct research, convene conferences, make forecasts, assess trends, publish information and analysis, and bring executives together to learn from one another. The Conference Board has been established in Brussels for over 20 years, operating a pan-European meeting programme for senior executives.