How are women faring in the workplace?


In building Environics’ new Workplace Culture practice, we’re exploring what it means to thrive at work and what employers can do to help their teams thrive. Generally speaking, the key ingredients are human connection, a sense of belonging, clear purpose and meaning, continuous learning, and recognition for contributing to good work. All the factors connected to thriving at work reflect deep human needs that exist in other areas of life as well: personal relationships, community involvement, and so on.

Overall, men are more likely than women to feel they’re thriving at work. Many factors may contribute to this, such as pay gaps, gendered expectations regarding behaviour and work styles, or how home/family labour is shared. Whatever the causes, we do observe a gap between men and women, on average, when it comes to thriving at their workplace.

While the finding that women on average thrive less at work might not be surprising, we do see a pattern in the data that’s less intuitive: women who are farther along in their careers are slightly more likely than their male seniority peers to report thriving. Indeed, women in senior/leadership roles are not only slightly more likely to be thriving later in their careers, but “highly thriving.” They’re less inclined to report feeling disconnected from their colleagues and teams, and more likely to be satisfied with their work.



This group has high expectations for their workplace. They report that they seek a sense of purpose and fulfillment, opportunities for advancement and an environment defined by empowerment, accountability, collaboration, empathy and understanding. Their high levels of satisfaction with their work experience suggest these needs are being met.

When we analyze the values of women in senior/leadership roles – and particularly the values of those who thrive most – we find some notable patterns, which may help to explain both the priorities these women bring to the workplace and the mindsets that drive their success:

  • A strong sense of openness to diverse and new perspectives and situations, evidenced by their embrace of Social Learning and Novelty-seeking.
  • Vitality and engagement. They report living vibrantly, seeking out opportunities for Personal Expression, Creativity, and Social Intimacy.
  • Morality and concern for others. This is a globally-minded group concerned about their own – and their organizations’ — impact on people and the planet. They score high on Environmental Concern and Ethical Consumerism.
  • Resilience despite time stress. Not surprisingly, these women are pressed for time, scoring high on Time Stress. But while they’re not immune to stressors, they feel confident in their resilience and Adaptability to Complexity.
  • Appreciation of recognition. Like men in senior roles, these women score high on Need for Status Recognition, wanting to be recognized for their impact, expertise, and contributions.
  • Introspection and empathy. Thriving women are interested in what makes themselves and others tick — a quality widely shared among those in senior roles, regardless of gender. A reminder of how important emotional intelligence is to workplace success, and to leadership.

With these values in mind, it is perhaps not a surprise that, despite evidence that they are juggling a wide array of responsibilities, female leaders are making important workplace contributions – and thriving as they do so.

How can we account for the fact that women who are more advanced in their careers thrive more than any other group? To be fair, part of the answer may be “survivor bias.” Women who were struggling at work earlier in life, and who had the option of stepping away, have left the workplace; with those women excluded, we may only be hearing the perspectives of a subset of women whose capabilities (and circumstances) enabled them to overcome challenges, reach senior roles, and savour their success. Still, the balancing of work, personal and parenting related responsibilities, and their impact on women’s workplace thriving is not entirely straightforward and is in fact, more nuanced than it first appears.

It may also be that women (and men, for that matter) who have “made it” feel more favourably toward the work environments that have enabled them to advance. Even if those workplaces are imperfect, by definition they have proved navigable for people who have managed to attain senior roles.

Regardless of why senior women are thriving, it’s clear that organizations committed to providing a workplace culture in line with staff needs and values are benefiting from a cohort of women who feel deeply engaged at work and satisfied by their experience.

Before we declare victory on gender equity in the workplace, however, it’s worth noting that young women, early in their careers, are the least likely of all the groups we surveyed to report thriving. While desiring purpose, belonging and flexibility in their roles, they’re at greater risk of disengaging. They’re also more likely to report feelings of disconnection, struggle, and general negative experiences. The especially large thriving deficit for early-career women may be exacerbated by hybrid work environments where junior staff don’t get as much face time, support, and mentorship.


What organizations need to consider

Organizations need to think about how to best support women in the early stages of their career – to ensure they stick around and can utilize their talents to contribute to the positive shaping of company culture (eventually) at the senior level. Those seeking to boost engagement and retention would benefit from developing initiatives focused on younger team members that take into account their needs for meaning, empowerment and growth, which includes fostering connections and mentorship with senior leaders.

Employers have a critical role to play by providing the conditions, culture and work experience that support its junior/early career staff and enable them to thrive – and importantly, a space and place for them to stay, contribute and emerge to lead. When it comes to young women in the workplace, this is imperative.

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