Women around the globe are blocked from advancing in their careers because of unequal access to high visibility jobs and international experience, according to a new report.
After graduate school, women start at lower level jobs than men and receive less pay, and the gender gap just gets wider as their careers progress, the study by non-profit group Catalyst showed.
"There are certain of those on-the-job experiences that really predict advancement, and they are high visibility projects, having mission-critical roles and getting international experience," said Christine Silva, senior director, research at Catalyst and the lead author of the study.
"The main finding here is that women get fewer of all of these critical experiences than men do," she added.
Catalyst's findings are based on online surveys of 1,660 high potential alumni who graduated from business school between 1996 and 2007. The graduates, both men and women, from Asia, Canada, Europe and the United States are part of a long-term study to understand career paths from the classroom to the boardroom and what is most likely to close the gender gap.
Although women make up nearly half of the workforce in the United States, in 2011 they earned only US77 cents for each dollar earned by a man, making a wage gap of 23 per cent, according to the Institute for Women's Policy Research.
They earned less than men in nearly every occupation.
The graduates surveyed in the study by Catalyst, which works to expand opportunities for women and businesses, were questioned about their career histories, number of direct reports, projects they worked on and their willingness to relocate abroad for a job.
Sixty-two per cent said they thought high-profile jobs had the greatest impact on their careers, while only 10 per cent cited corporate training programmes.
Although men and women worked on a similar number of projects, those headed by males were twice the size of those led by women. More men had bigger teams, greater corporate visibility and roles with critical responsibility, and managed budgets over $10 million.
"Women are just getting smaller projects, smaller assignments," Silva explained. "It was those elements that predicted advancement, not how many projects they led."
They are also being overlooked for international postings in favour of men, according to the study.
Among both sexes who were willing to relocate to advance their careers, 35 per cent of men, compared to 26 per cent of women, got the overseas jobs.
Silva said Catalyst research shows women are just as ambitious as men and use the same strategies to try to get ahead, but without the same results.
"Women seem to be doing all the right things with those strategies but men get a bigger payoff from them," she added.
Silva said it is essential that women have equal access to jobs leading to advancement and suggested they network and seek sponsors to advocate on their behalf to get promotions and key development opportunities.
"It is important to get into these big roles that can help to close the gap," she said.