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Women say lack of confidence stops them getting to the top

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by Cancer Research UK | News

27 January 2014

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Cancer Research UK’s new ‘Women of Influence’ initiative to support female scientists aims to help path to leadership

Over a third of all women (38 per cent) say lack of confidence in their own abilities and reluctance to push for promotions (37 per cent) is making it harder for them to reach their career goals, according to a new survey by Cancer Research UK.

“Women of Influence initiative will make a huge difference not only in the lives of the researchers but also in the fight against cancer.” – Tamara Box, chairwoman.

And more than half (57 per cent) believe that expert mentoring will equip them with the skills to reach their potential.

The survey of 2,000 women was carried out to launch Cancer Research UK’s pioneering ‘Women of Influence’ initiative.  The scheme, which is chaired by Tamara Box, Partner and Head of Structured Finance at Reed Smith, has established a unique network* of senior businesswomen to support the charity’s exceptional young female scientists and clinicians as they move up the career ladder to progress into senior positions. It aims to enable these talented women to reach their potential in becoming inspirational science leaders of the future and raise £1 million to support their life saving research to help beat cancer sooner.

“Confidence helps us reach higher in our careers” said Tamara Box, Chairwoman of the Cancer Research UK Women of Influence board: “Cancer Research UK currently has many well-educated and capable female scientists who should be rising to the top of their professions; our Women of Influence initiative hopes to provide business mentoring as well as financial support in order that their work may be continued even while they have full, multifaceted lives. They in turn will become role models and leaders for the next generation. I’m really thrilled to be part of this inspirational project and am confident that Cancer Research UK’s Women of Influence initiative will make a huge difference not only in the lives of the researchers but also in the fight against cancer.”

The survey also reveals that one in five women (20 per cent) believe that gender discrimination at work has made it more difficult for them to reach their career goals. Interestingly, a quarter of women (26 per cent) felt that adopting stereotypical male characteristics in the workplace could help them to get to the top of their field.**

Maybe unsurprisingly, lack of flexible working arrangements to allow time for childcare are also seen to be a barrier by 27 per cent of women, as are the negative attitudes of employers and colleagues to balancing work and family life (25 per cent). And over half of all women (55 per cent) say those without children are more likely to reach senior positions in the workplace, and close to half (44 per cent) think having children has held them back at work.

The majority of women said that flexible working (68 per cent), training (66 per cent) and financial support for childcare (61 per cent) would aid career progression.

Tamara Box added: “I’m urging other exceptional business women to step forward and help us raise money – the money we raise now will not only fund research to develop new cures sooner so that more people survive cancer but will also ensure that we support and encourage the future female leaders in science.”

Cancer Research UK Fellowship*** awards are given only to the most talented male and female scientists to enable talented young researchers to set up their own research groups at a critical time in their careers. However, as in many sectors, we see a lack of female researchers reaching the most senior positions****.

David Scott, Cancer Research UK’s director of science funding said: “The research we fund will save lives in the future so we need to fund the most talented male and female scientists at all career stages. We see a lack of female researchers moving to the highest levels and we want to address this by supporting our female scientists to achieve their potential, becoming future role models for younger scientists and ultimately helping us to beat cancer sooner.”


For media enquiries contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 8315 or, out of hours, on 07050 264 059.