Nearly 50% of women consider themselves “very ambitious”: CNBC and Momentive survey

The current Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on working women. In fact, two years into the crisis, the National Women’s Law Center reports that 1.1 million women are still out of the workforce.

The economic future for women has looked bleak throughout the pandemic – but despite this downturn, more women are eager to advance in their careers, re-enter the workforce and seize new opportunities than last year.

Nearly 50% of women consider themselves “very ambitious” and are optimistic about their career development, according to CNBC and Momentive’s new Women at Work survey. Of more than 4,800 participating women, 20% said their careers had progressed in the last six months, up from 14% in March 2021. More than a third of working women said they were “very satisfied” with the opportunities of their Current job. .

There are also some bright spots in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest jobs report: 51% of new jobs created in February went to women, who made significant job gains in education, health services and recreation and hospitality.

“A lot of the trends towards remote and flexible working that companies have embraced over the past two years are changes that women have always wanted,” Runa Knapp, co-founder and chief commercial officer of Connectalent, a recruitment platform that helps women find jobs, says. “It levels the playing field for women in balancing jobs and care responsibilities and opens the door to new career paths that may not have been an option before the pandemic.”

CNBC Make It spoke with Knapp and Georgene Huang, co-founder and CEO of Fairygodboss, an online career platform for women, about what’s driving the rebound in women’s ambition and why workplace flexibility is a double-edged sword.

Reasons for increased ambition

Connectalent has seen a dramatic increase in the number of women looking for new jobs on its platform: in the last 11 months, applications have increased by 50% compared to the previous year.

So what has changed? Knapp points to two possible causes, starting with the drop in Covid cases across much of the United States. “Women have been forced out of the workforce in droves to care for their children stuck at home and their vulnerable loved ones,” she says.

When broken down by childcare responsibilities, ambition increased most significantly for women with younger children over the past year, with 54% of women with children under 18-year-olds describe themselves as “very ambitious” compared to 44% of women with children over 18 and 49% of women without children.

“There has never been a clear ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ with the pandemic, especially with the sudden school closures and the emergence of new virus variants,” adds Knapp. “But now that most children are back in school full time, working mothers in particular are more willing and able to return to work than ever.”

Knapp points out that the recent trend towards flexible workplaces could also boost women’s ambition. The pandemic has prompted more companies to implement flexible work policies, which can help women better balance the competing demands of their work and family life. Women spend a disproportionate amount of time taking care of household chores and childcare responsibilities, and according to the Pew Research Center, women are more likely than men to tailor their careers to family.

“A lot of the working moms we work with are really excited about the opportunity to be in a flexible arrangement because their companies weren’t even considering this option before the pandemic,” says Knapp. “So as long as companies continue to make their environments inclusive of all types of employees, I expect the levels of ambition to continue to increase and perhaps even exceed what we’ve seen before the pandemic.”

Of the 1,068 American working women polled by CNBC in early 2020, 54% said they were “very ambitious” when it came to their careers — that number fell to 42% in 2021, but climbed back up to 49% this year.

The pandemic has also sparked an awakening among women: After juggling work and parenting, and taking on more under-recognized and under-paid work than their male colleagues for two years, some women are starting to look to themselves and their hobbies.

“Women have largely been the default friend, daughter or parent who takes on the responsibilities throughout the pandemic,” Huang said. “Now there’s a collective awareness of ‘It’s time for me’…when you let go of some of those pressures on a personal level, it gives you more space to think about yourself and what you expect from a career.”

The disadvantages of flexible working hours

Flexibility – when implemented thoughtfully – can be a game-changer by creating more equitable and accessible work environments for women.

About 81% of business leaders believe hybrid working will be the norm by 2024, but 72% don’t have a detailed plan to adopt a permanent hybrid working model, according to new research from AT&T and Dubber Corporation Limited covering more than 300 managers based in the United States.

Compared to men, however, the CNBC and Momentive survey found that women are more likely to be concerned that taking advantage of flexible work arrangements will prevent them from achieving their career goals. . This is especially true for younger women: 24% of women aged 18-34 say they are “very worried” that being less in the office will hurt their career development, compared to 17% of women aged 35-64 and 8% of women aged 65 and over.

As for mothers, 25% of women with children under 18 say they are “very worried” about the impact of flexible working arrangements on their career trajectory compared to 16% of women with children aged 18 or over.

In conversations with his young employees, Huang often hears this concern. “They fear they won’t get the full experience of mentoring, training, or fitting into this flexible working world,” she says. “It’s this feeling of, ‘Am I missing something? What impact is this going to have on my career progression, because I’m not in the room?'”

However, women who are further along in their careers might feel more comfortable taking advantage of flexible work hours because their confidence increases along with their experience. A study by leadership development consultancy Zenger/Folkman found that a confidence gap affects women earlier in their careers, with the biggest gap being greatest among workers under 25.

“Some young women may feel like they haven’t earned flexible working hours yet because they haven’t had a chance to really prove themselves, as it may be more difficult to check with your manager to communicate and show results in a mostly remote environment,” says Knapp.

In flexible working, “flexible” should not just cover where women work, but how they work, she adds. This includes setting strict limits on not sending emails before or after work hours and allowing parents to structure their schedules around pick-up and drop-off times for their children or home appointments. the doctor so that women do not feel guilty about leaving the workforce to care for themselves and their families.

Huang predicts there will be a permanent shift to flexible work arrangements as long as hiring remains competitive. “If the job market turns, that’s when the rubber hits the road and we’ll see if people embrace flexibility for values-based reasons or just to attract talent,” she says.

She continues, “But companies need to realize that flexible and remote work options are keeping women on the job during a really tough time in life – early or mid-career – when there’s a lot of pressure to leaving…it can help prevent women from stalling progress.”

To verify:

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Black women have been ‘particularly hard hit’ by pandemic job losses – and they are still lagging in the recovery

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