While women and men are equally interested in being promoted to leadership positions, new findings released by an Iowa leadership development company claim women are less likely to move into these roles due to their opportunities to take on "stretch" assignments or roles at work.

Cedar Rapids-based consulting, research and leadership training business Be Leaderly recently released "Out of the Comfort Zone: How Women and Men Size Up Stretch Assignments — and Why Leaders Should Care." The research report focused on professionals’ perceptions of stretch opportunities, which are defined as:

  • A stretch assignment — a temporary, internal learning opportunity that helps an employee acquire new expertise.
  • A stretch role — a new, permanent position that challenges an employee to expand responsibilities or learn new skills.

However, these career-making opportunities can be harder to find for women. According to the study, the largest portion of women don’t feel their employers make it easy to gauge if they are ready for a promotion, while the largest portion of men think their employers help them know whether they are prepared to advance.

"We know stretch opportunities can be disproportionately career-making, especially for those reaching top ranks  and yet women consistently obtain fewer of these plum assignments," Selena Rezvani, who led the study for Be Leaderly, said in a news release. "The more coveted the stretch opportunity, often the more political and unclear the path is to obtain it. That perception, plus a lack of organization-wide coordination or oversight over who gets stretch opportunities, can hinder women’s involvement."

Study data also show that women (55 percent) are less likely than men (65 percent) to be comfortable applying for a stretch role with only the "bare minimum" requirements. Women (73 percent) are also more likely than men (60 percent) to disagree that they "round up," or overestimate, their skills rather than underestimate their skills when considering a stretch job opportunity.

The results are based on a survey of more than 1,500 U.S.-based professionals working in a broad range of fields, including financial services, health care and technology.

To read more findings and view the full report, click here.