Barriers young women face in the workplace

by Nov 5, 2020

How can women advance their careers

What barriers do young women face in the workplace? And how do they differ from the generations that preceded them?

We have carried out a survey with business women from all over the world to look at the barriers they face in advancing their careers. In particular, we have focused on the differences that lie between the goals that women set, and the barriers that stand in the way of them achieving those goals. We want to understand the different challenges that they face, and the different perceptions of how to overcome them.

Career goals

Millennials are often accused of job hopping, jumping from one company to the next. While it is true that the days of staying with one company throughout a career are mostly a thing of the past, that doesn’t mean that millennials are moving around aimlessly.

From the results of our survey, it would seem to be the contrary. Millennials have overtaken other generations in terms of career focus and are more concerned about their future careers than many people might think.

  • 91% of our Millennial respondents said that they have some sort of career goals,
  • 70% of the Gen X and Boomer respondents said they also set career goals.

Career strategy

  •  47% of Millennials either have made a career strategy. A significant 53% claimed not to have not created a plan or not followed though on that plan.
  • Gen X and Boomer respondents didn’t do much better. Only 53% admitted to having at least some sort of plan, or a clear strategy in place.

The lack of a clear plan from the Millennial women is detrimental situation to their future career success. It’s a situation where they fall behind their male counterparts, where over 85% set career goals and create a strategy .

Not only does a career strategy provide focus through tangible steps and goals, but it is also an excellent opportunity for some self-insight. Determining the goals and steps allows a chance to think about priorities and ambitions.

Take some time to think about your career goals and strategy today! Use these career reflection worksheets to structure your thoughts.

If women want to achieve gender parity and challenge the men for promotions and opportunities, it is essential that they create a clear career strategy for themselves, and stick to it.

Remember the quote “A goal without a plan is just  a wish.”   said Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.


Millennials are moving up the corporate ladder. Along with each promotion comes more responsibility, and often management of people is required. But how to take on this new role can be tricky, especially as a woman. There are usually fewer role models for women further up the company, and many of the attributes that are valued for strong leadership are typically more masculine traits. So, we wanted to see if companies are offering their junior women guidance for leadership, both in terms of training and role models. This is what we found.

  • 79% of our Millennial respondents said that their company offers leadership training.
  • This was echoed by 78% of our Gen X and Boomer respondents also suggesting the same.


However, this means that 20% of respondents receive no support at all. So 1 in 5 women who are not adequately groomed for senior roles suggesting that maybe companies aren’t giving their full support to women looking to move up the corporate ladder.

Does your company hire an equal number of men and women? Try our FREE eBook for 12 key steps to attract, recruit and retain top female talent.

Gender balance at the top

When it comes to the gender gap at the senior level, there is an interesting split between the answers of our younger and older demographics.

50% of our participants claimed that there was gender balance in their companies from both demographics.

21% of our respondents overall see less than 10% women, or no women, at the top.

The conclusion is that women still have a long way to go to reach gender parity, particularly at the more senior levels.


Many companies fall short on a gender balanced recruitment checklist

Career Barriers

We see another divide between our Millennial respondents and our Gen X and Boomers when it comes to the perceived barriers that they face in advancing their careers.

For our Millennial women, there are three main barriers that they highlight.
  • Lack of mentor or sponsor.
  • Inadequate feedback.
  • Lack of available professional development, such as training or coaching.

These barriers suggest that our Millennial respondents want more guidance on how to improve and how to move forward.

In contrast, for our Gen X and Boomer respondents, their main concerns are:
  • Coping with additional caring responsibilities
  • Navigating the male-coded corporate culture.
  • Overcoming bias in the recruitment and promotion processes.

Whereas the Millennial respondents highlighted barriers that would help their internal development, our respondents from the older generations seem to be more concerned with external factors. The Gen X and Boomer respondents feel that they have been held back by the culture that they are in, rather than their own personal development.

We see a similar divide when it comes to the question of what would help them to reach their career goals.

  • 33% of our Millennial respondents said they lack is professional development in areas such as negotiation, presentation, or confidence building skills.
  • For the Gen X and Boomer respondents, on the other hand, 32% felt that what they lack is a supportive boss.

It seems that the younger generation feel that they can achieve their goals if they receive sufficient guidance and support. Whereas with the older generation, they feel that their circumstances and surroundings are what inhibit their success, rather than their own personal development.

How can we achieve gender balance?

When it comes to achieving gender balance in their organisations, we find a similar divide again.

  • Millennial respondents felt that training everyone was the best way to make a change, through unconscious bias and inclusive leadership training.
  • Gen X and Boomer respondents felt that it was a change to the culture that was required. They suggested that we need to see a real change to the recruitment and promotion process, and also that a shift to flex working might help.

We can see from these responses that the age gap has given different priorities and perceptions to our respondents. But it is also possible that it is because they have different lived experiences. To some extent, the younger generation of women are reaping the benefits that the older generations have fought for.



There is a difference  in perception and experience of Millennial and the Gen X and Boomer women. This gap goes beyond the fact that millennial’s overwhelming prefer Instagram for social media, compared to the older generation that prefers Facebook. Instead, the difference seems to lie in the perception of the importance of internal versus external factors.

  • For instance, although our Millennial respondents set more career goals, fewer have a clear strategy of how to reach them. They feel that what they lack is sufficient professional development to help them to reach their goals. Similarly, they think that better training would help them to overcome barriers, and to achieve better gender balance at a more senior level.
  • In contrast, our Gen X and Boomer respondents feel that they have been held back by a male-coded corporate culture, and having to take on more caring responsibilities outside of work. They think that in order to challenge men in the workplace, they need a change to the system, rather than receive more training.

Only time will tell us whether or not our Millennial respondents will receive the training they need to advance their careers. But for now, we can see that time does alter the perceptions of our respondents, at the least.

We have one more article coming in this three-part series of how women advance their careers. We will be taking a look at the interview responses from women across the age range of millennials, and from three different continents, to get a more in-depth look at the challenges that they face. Make sure you don’t miss it.


Have you tried one of our Lockdown Learning Programmes? 3Plus can help you to make the most of this time with sessions to work on your professional development. Find out more HERE.

Emma Frazer Editor
Emma Frazer is a feminist, footballer and Latin America aficionado. She works as a freelancer in Barcelona. Emma is the social media manager and editor for 3Plus International.

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