Project 28-40 Report

Executive Summary / Introduction


If you are serious about change, CEOs and senior leaders need to take the lead on women’s progression, moving this from a diversity initiative to a core business priority. Set aspirational targets for the numbers of women you want to see at each senior level in your organisation.

Prioritise the development of excellent managers at every level of your organisation

Create a truly agile organisation, with women and men able to work in a way that makes them productive and engaged. Look at job design, technology, agile teams, and defeat the flexible working stigma that holds women back. Allow for non linear careers – your top talent will have times in their lives they need to take a step back.

Recognise that harassment and bullying still occurs, despite well-meaning policies. Call it out, deal with perpetuators, and make it simple and straightforward to report.

28 – 40 women: Build your network – be in a position to know about opportunities as they come up. Get real on sponsorship – identify senior people who will advocate for you. If you want a mentor, ask them.

Key Findings

  1. This report is a reality check for UK employers - there is a gap between organisational policies and the actual experiences of women at work, particularly women aged 28-40, including real challenges around bullying and harassment. 
  2. Women want excellent line management and expect the basics at work – this is far more important than creating more female-only programmes.
  1. There is plenty of good news – women are ambitious, confident, and are actively seeking opportunities to advance their careers. Companies are also trying hard, but their efforts are often off-target. 
  2. Not all women are the same. It is important for employers to recognise several phases and different evolutions of women’s careers and ambitions as well as to recognise that women of different backgrounds and identities may face particular challenges.
  1. Flexible working is essential to women in balancing their many and varied commitments, yet the stigma attached can be an obstacle to progression. If companies get this right employee engagement and productivity can be enhanced – for everyone.
  1. Women returners – an opportunity for employers. Many mothers feel their employer is not doing enough to back them up in balancing their responsibilities at work and home – they want to work hard, but want to be measured for outputs, not hours worked. Before they have children women are nervous about the impact of parenthood on their career. Role models and honest conversations with managers can help.
  1. The lives of senior executives appear unappealing – despite women’s ambition, their perception of lifestyle at the top is putting them off. We need senior women and men to speak about what they enjoy about their jobs, and how they make it work.
  1. A perceptions gap between women and men is creating an obstacle to solving the gender imbalance. Women see unfairness in pay and in access to career progression opportunities and feel that their organisational culture is male-dominated. Men do not recognise these barriers. When men, who hold the majority of senior leadership positions, can start to see the challenges women face, we will make progress. 
  1. Whilst the emphasis is on employers to change, women can contribute to creating their own opportunities by speaking up and strategically planning their careers.

Project 28-40 is about making work better for everyone – our survey found that many workplace priorities are shared by women and men. This is a chance to radically reassess and  create modern working practices and more highly engaged employees.

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The Full Story

Project 28-40 seeks to identify the hidden tensions within workplace cultures that may explain why UK employers are struggling to create a more gender-balanced workforce. Workplaces have developed over time on the basis of underlying assumptions about what is needed to be successful – full time, long hours, and no commitments. In the 21st century workplace, this male breadwinner model has to change. Read the full report and learn how to make the workplace truly inclusive.

Take Action

Project 28-40 Recommendations
Organisations need to get the basics right. Women want better management of their talent and stronger support for their career development. Regular, fair and transparent performance reviews, clear definition of roles, better role-models, along with mentoring and coaching opportunities. The recommendations contained within this document will not be relevant to all organisations but represent a collation of the action points raised by Project 28-40.
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