Significantly more girls than boys say it's most important to have a career in which they can help others, but few girls see business as a way to do this, the national survey found.
The survey of more than 3,000 girls and 1,200 boys in grades 7 to 12 across the country was conducted by The Committee of 200, an organization of top businesswomen, and the Simmons College School of Management in Boston, the only business school in the world designed specifically for women.
"The direct connections between business and helping people is largely invisible to teenage girls," study author Fiona Wilson told United Press International.
"We're concerned far too few girls, 40 percent less girls than boys, say they are interested in a business career," Wilson said.
"This study is a wake-up call for us all," said Connie K. Duckworth, chair of the Committee of 200. "Despite the progress women have made in the corporate and entrepreneurial worlds, we're clearly not doing enough to underscore for girls that women can thrive and make a difference in business."
While 80 percent of the girls said they expect to work full time as adults, only 9 percent listed business as their first choice, compared to 15 percent of the boys. The survey found that 49 percent of the teenage girls favored careers in medicine, law or architecture.
"One of the biggest findings is that girls much more than boys value helping others in their future careers," Wilson said.
Making money was ranked as a top priority for 75 percent of the boys.
A prime consideration for 73 percent of the girls was a desire to balance work and family and to be in a profession that would allow them to help others.
Girls also appeared less confident than boys about their business-related skills and their knowledge of business.
"Their aversion to business careers seems to stem from a lack of familiarity with business and a sense that it's 'what men do,'" Duckworth said.
Patricia O'Brien, dean of the School of Management, said the research shows that many girls "don't understand or appreciate the power of business to change the world."
She said, "Fueling the pipeline with talented young women excited about business is critical for change."
With so few women choosing a career in business, it would appear breaking the glass ceiling would remain difficult for future generations.
The lack of women at the top "is alarming," O'Brien said. Only 6 percent of corporate leaders are now women.
"The issue really is about having a strong pipeline of younger women aspiring to leadership positions in entrepreneurial settings," Wilson said, and without a strong pipeline "we will never redress the balance."
(For more information, go to the Web site simmons.edu/som.)