Women expect 4 plus career switches in a working lifetime

London Business School sees signs of unprecedented mobility 
Women are more likely than men to opt for a total career change – and a majority now expect to have to do this at least four times during their working lives.

They are also willing to move continents in order to move up the career ladder – at least once.

For the first time, London Business School’s annual Women in Business Conference asked women how often they expected to switch careers. A startling 59% of almost 2,000 respondents said they would have four or more careers, with two-fifths of those expecting to shift at least seven times.

Experts in organisational behaviour and executive education at London Business School suggest a range of reasons. These include later retirement – affecting men and women equally - to a gender difference in how people view work. There are also dwindling benefits for loyalty to one company. 

London Business School’s Director of Learning Solutions, Adam Kingl said: “As employers find it harder to offer a proposition that adds value, due to the dwindling power of pensions and the lack of a clear promotion or development plan in many cases, the high number of employers in a lifetime is set only to increase. 

“We are looking at a future where top talent fully expects the number of employers they will have to enter double figures. Is this a wake-up call to reimagine the employer's value proposition? Have we crossed a meridian? There is scant evidence to suggest otherwise.”

Nigel Nicholson, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School, said: “Men change rapidly and then settle down to career stability; women are more liable to keep moving throughout their careers. 

“Different attitudes to careers accompany this pattern. Men are goal-seeking, women are value-driven. Hence men find, invent and sometimes move targets, to ensure they are always thrusting forward towards an end purpose. Women are more apt to consider at any point, how does this fit with who I am and how I feel? Hence they are more liable to switch.”

Employers have become more flexible about career breaks – for men and for women – yet the survey suggests that there is a high degree of nervousness about the impact that these can have. Of the women who responded to the survey – ranging from business executives to MBA students at the start of their working lives – 70% admitted they would feel anxious about taking a career break.

They are confident, though, about crossing continents: 72% said they would relocate for a year or more to improve their promotion prospects. Of those willing to travel, 40% would aim for Europe, 28% for North America and for 14%, Asia is the goal.