Three-quarters of women around the world want to see action to lift the second glass ceiling

Herndon, VA – Two-thirds of women globally (66%)[1] believe the next generation will receive the flexibility and support needed to stay productive in the workforce for as long as men, with 74% of them urging businesses to drive this change.

The findings come from newly commissioned data, summarized in a BSI report entitled Lifting the Second Glass Ceiling, exploring why some women leave the workforce early for reasons other than personal choice. The research finds that 73% of women say experienced female mentors can benefit the development of younger women, yet 42% say it remains uncommon to see women in leadership roles, and a similar number have themselves lacked the opportunity to learn from such mentors.

The report by BSI, the business improvement and standards company, explores the perceived barriers to organizations supporting the retention of experienced women and the economic and social benefits to be realized from addressing this. It concludes that this is, in fact, not only an issue for older women as male colleagues and different generations can also contribute to creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture of care.

The report reveals the desire for action from organizations and policymakers, with 76% saying greater flexibility would be valuable and 72% wanting organizations to support women experiencing symptoms of menopause, something a fifth specifically mentioned as a barrier to remaining in work. 69% say formal policies around this, difficult pregnancies, or miscarriage are helpful, but only 7% are aware of these being in place, and three in five[2] said they would be uncomfortable raising this with an employer. Within the US, 46% of American women said they would be uncomfortable bringing up these issues with a male manager or employer – compared to just 14% who would be uncomfortable raising them with a woman.

Anne Hayes, Director of Sectors, BSI, said: “Addressing the Second Glass Ceiling (SGC) can offer many benefits, from enhancing productivity to ensuring organizations retain talented people and providing mentors who can draw on their experience to guide newer members of staff.

“As our research shows, there are many factors that can lock women out of the workforce – but there are also clear strategies to address this, from support for workers experiencing menopause to steps in other areas such as working flexibly and breaking down the stigma that could contribute to an enhanced work environment for all. Rather than see the considerations facing older women as a challenge, we can gain by seeing this as an opportunity for investment in current and future generations and an opportunity to boost growth, innovation and accelerate progress towards a sustainable world.”

Asked about barriers to remaining in work, one in three women (29%) specifically cited caring responsibilities – for parents or children, while a fifth cited lack of flexibility, 18% cited lack of progression opportunities for women and the same proportion lack of pay parity. In the US, women are slightly less likely than others to mention health or well-being considerations as a barrier to continuing work (36% to 41% across all countries polled).

Figures vary by sector and country. 56% of women in China said it was uncommon to see older women in positions of leadership, compared with 39% in the US. By sector, agreement with this was higher among women in finance (58%), manufacturing & utilities (56%), arts & culture (55%), IT & telecoms (54%), and HR (53%) and lower among those in healthcare (37%) and legal (33%). Overall, three quarters of women globally said that enabling older women to remain productive in the workforce can contribute to economic growth, while 70% were wanting governments to act.

In a sign the SGC could be lifted over the generations, younger women (66% of 18–24-year-olds and 68% of 25–34-year-olds compared with 47% over 55) were more optimistic that their generation of women will receive the flexibility and support needed to stay in the workforce as long as their male colleagues.

The report makes a series of recommendations to lift the SGC, including:

  • Recognize the benefits of lifting the SGC. Rather than see this as a challenge, organizations can approach it as an opportunity.
  • Open the dialogue - ask women what they want – uncovering solutions that can reverse the trends and enable more women to thrive throughout their professional lives.
  • Ensure support is available and accessible, whether around menopause or other considerations.
  • See flexibility as an asset and recognize that small adjustments, where possible, can help ensure an accommodating workplace.
  • Institute a broader culture of care - prioritize people by promoting individual needs.
  • Share best practices - collaboration across organizations, sectors and countries can drive progress.

The research follows extensive work by BSI to help organizations meet the needs of employees experiencing menopause or menstruation. In May, BSI published the Menstruation, menstrual health, and menopause in the workplace standard (BS 30416), setting out practical recommendations for workplace adjustments. Last year BSI published best practice guidance creating an age-inclusive workforce (BS ISO 25550:2022)[3]. BSI’s Prioritizing People Model© is a best practice framework for human high performance focused on culture, engagement, and well-being over the whole career lifecycle.

Kate Field, Global Head Health, Safety and Well-being, BSI, said: “There are clearly many reasons women decide not to stay in the workplace, and when that is a genuine choice, it should be celebrated. However, the data shows there are those who would like to remain in work and would welcome greater support from their employers to do so.

“Organizations have the opportunity to partner with their people to build diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace cultures with the potential to bring enormous benefit to individuals, organizations, and society. As BSI’s PPM sets out, when organizations build a culture of care that addresses everyone’s well-being, including physical, psychological and fulfillment needs, the result can be an engaged, committed, and productive workforce.”

As a purpose-driven organization, BSI is committed to advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals, making a positive impact for the benefit of everyone. Lifting the SGC can help us all take steps to fulfill these goals, including Goal 5 (gender equality), Goal 8 (decent work and economic growth) and Goal 10 (reduced inequalities).




Notes to Editors

The report was developed by Malvern Insight which draws on a survey of 5,000 women across four continents, including one-to-one interviews and an in-depth evaluation of economic and social data.

Censuswide surveyed 5,074 people who self-identify as women (18+) in the UK, US, Australia, China and Japan between May 11th and 17th,2023.

For all media inquiries including interview requests, please contact Chad Quinn, PR Manager, Americas, BSI, at: or 571-758-8638; or Carrie Winans, H+K Strategies, at or 201-970-0962.

For more information or to read the report in full, please visit the dedicated homepage.


About BSI

BSI is the business improvement and standards company that enables organizations to turn standards of best practice into habits of excellence, ‘inspiring trust for a more resilient world’. For over a century BSI has driven best practice in organizations around the world. Working with over 77,500 clients across 195 countries, it is a truly global business with skills and experience across all sectors, including automotive, aerospace, built environment, food and retail and healthcare. Through its expertise in Standards and Knowledge, Assurance Services, Regulatory Services and Consulting Services, BSI helps clients to improve their performance, grow sustainably, manage risk, and ultimately become more resilient.


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[1] 59% of women of all ages, including 66% of 18–24-year-olds and 68% of 25–34-year-olds

[2] 58%, only 14% disagreed)

[3] BS ISO 25550 providing guidance for our ageing workforces.