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Most women say they’re ambitious but few saw career advancement in past year

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CNBC’s annual SurveyMonkey Women at Work survey revealed a female workforce that’s frustrated with more work and less work-life balance, and thinking about quitting.

SurveyMonkey conducted the study from late February to early March among a sample of nearly 20,000 adults, about half of whom are women; the findings reveal why women are frustrated and where they’re looking for more progress.

The most dramatic change from last year is that fewer women secured pay raises: just 39% this year, down from 44% last year. And 17% of women say their salary is actually lower than it was a year ago, up from 15% of respondents who reported a pay decline last year.

Women are facing setbacks not just in pay, but also with promotions. Eighteen percent of women — the same percentage as last year — said their career has experienced a setback, while 20%, just a hair below the prior year, said their career has advanced.

That’s not because of a lack of ambition: nearly every woman who responded to the survey said she was either very ambitious (48%) or somewhat ambitious (40%).

Perhaps prompted by a decline in pay, career setback or their ambition, women continue to consider quitting their jobs: 22% say they’ve seriously considered it in the past 12 months, pretty much in line with the 23% who reported they were considering quitting their job the last two years. 

The number of women that quit in the past year declined to 9%, down from 11% the past two years, perhaps because of concerns about a weakening labor market.

The leading reason cited by those that quit their jobs was finding an opportunity with a better life balance (40%), followed by those who didn’t want to deal with the stress of their jobs anymore (36%). About a third of women said they quit to advance their career or for a higher salary.

Overhanging women’s frustration with their jobs is the issue of work-life balance, which one in five women in full- or part-time jobs say has worsened over the last year, while about a quarter report an improvement, and slightly more than half report no change. Among those who say their work-life balance has gotten worse, half of them say it’s due to increased workload. 

Women say that increased flexibility in their work schedules would do the most to improve their work-life balance and flexible work is, along with opportunities for promotion, the most important initiative from their employers.

But as flexibility has increasing value, parents and women of color are increasingly concerned about career penalties that might come from pursuing flexible work arrangements.

As companies work to retain top female talent and reduce churn, these results shine a spotlight on the importance of offering hybrid and flexible work options to female talent, and ensuring that taking advantage of flexible work doesn’t come at a cost to one’s career. 

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