So That's What Women Want

Turns out the glass ceiling isn't the main reason they quit Corporate America. A new survey finds a more complex answer

A new study that asked women in business what they want may just overthrow the conventional wisdom that says women leave corporate jobs after bumping up against he glass ceiling, or because they hit a point where they need to balance work and personal life.

Not so, according to a survey of 425 women who had previously worked at least five years for a large company. Of the women who responded, 272 left to start small businesses and 153 joined small businesses, with the greatest numbers in advanced technology.

And the reasons most women cited for moving on? The opportunity to take risks, a seat at the decision-making table and generous compensation for their performance. These were the results of a new study, What Women Want in Business, released early in October by executive search firm Korn/Ferry International, the Eugene M. Lang Center for Entrepreneurship at Columbia Business School, and the Duran Group, organizational consultants.


  "Bucking conventional wisdom, professional growth, power, and money were the big drivers in influencing women to leave corporate jobs in the past five years -- not the glass ceiling, balance, or personal life," according to Caroline Nahas, managing director at Korn/Ferry International.

Seventy-eight percent of the women taking part in the study said the opportunity to take risks with new ideas and test personal limits were the chief reasons for trading their jobs with large companies for ones with smaller, entrepreneurial outfits, according to Anna Duran of the Duran Group. The chance to make more money influenced 67% to move, while 65% said the ability to impact strategy also played a role in their decisions to change. Only 41% listed more time for family and personal interests as a deciding factor.

Women under 40 were motivated primarily to make a change to accumulate wealth and impact strategy, whereas those 40 or over believed they had peaked on the corporate ladder and needed to move in order to advance. Professor Ann Bartel, director of the Human Resource Management Program at Columbia Business School said companies have been making strides in eliminating the glass ceiling, but there is still room for improvement. "Fifty percent of women who left corporate jobs in 1994 or earlier said the glass ceiling was an issue while only 36% of those who left after 1997 did so," she said.


  Whatever the reasons for women moving on, "companies cannot afford to lose a generation of women leaders," Nahas says. "In today's world, talent is the primary source of competitive advantage. Even with the current wave of layoffs, the generation shift from baby boomers to the much smaller 35- to 44-year-old age group will leave us with a drought of seasoned talent."

Large corporations may not be able to afford losing the talent of a generation of women. But until they wise up, their loss is certainly small businesses' gain.

By Robin J. Phillips in New York

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