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New Study Finds Women Executives Less Likely to Have Mentors

The barriers to success for top female business executives are remarkably similar throughout the industrial world, according to a new study by Catalyst, a U.S. women's research group. The study compared responses from women business leaders in North America and 20 European countries.

Women executives are less likely to have mentors, Catalyst Research Director Marcia Kropf said, less likely to have an informal network within the company to share knowledge about what is happening.

That may be why the women in the study said their biggest barrier was stereotyping preconceived notions on the part of management of their interests and abilities that ended up preventing advancement. "It might be something like 'I am not going to offer this really terrific female employee a chance to be promoted because it involves a relocation and she will not want to do that.' But there is not a conversation with the woman about it. There is just an assumption that she can not move," Ms. Kropf said.

Catalyst surveyed more than 500 European female executives in companies with more than 900 employees or 125 million euros in earnings and compared the findings to similar studies of North American women.

Marcia Kropf said the average age was mid-40s. Most had graduate degrees. More than three-quarters of the women in both regions were married or living with a partner, and more than half were the primary wage earner for their families.

European women were slightly less likely to have partners who worked full time.

She said high percentages of both European and North American women said their commitment to family and personal responsibilities acted as a barrier to advancement. "We expected some difference in Europe, because there is a lot more legislation around pregnancy and maternity and family leave, a lot more support for childcare, so we thought that support might make things less difficult. But a large percentage said that if they used parental leave they believed it would jeopardize their career," Ms. Kropf said.

Ms. Kropf said the biggest difference was attitudinal. European women said U.S. women lived to work, but European women worked to live and were just as committed to their time away from work as their jobs.