Powerful forces are currently encircling women in the workplace, but rather than pulling them in the direction of the boardroom, the signs are they're actually pushing them towards the exits.
While business and government debate female pipelines and board quotas, it appears that the majority of women are looking in another direction altogether. Through our work with women leaders, Aspire surveyed more than 1,200 female executives and managers about the current status of their careers and where they saw themselves going.
Their responses revealed that the corporate world is actually harbouring a mass of would-be "altrupreneurs", entrepreneurs with an altruistic social conscious, just waiting for the right moment to spread their wings. In fact, more than three quarters of the women we heard from (78 per cent) said they were considering leaving their high-flying jobs to start their own businesses.
Making a difference clearly matters to women and as part of the move away from the corporate world, many will actively seek to fulfill a need in their community or even further afield - thus enhancing their value by contributing to a triple bottom line of people, planet and profits.
Our research also highlighted how companies are falling short when it comes to offering most women the key career motivators they are looking for - namely challenging, passion driven work, recognition and the ability to make a difference. As a result, female patience is beginning to wear thin and if it wasn't for financial concerns, coupled with a fear of failure, the exodus may already have happened.
If corporates are to re-engage these demotivated women and stop the exodus, they must embark on an urgent public relations mission. Companies have to demonstrate they can offer the balance of opportunities women are seeking, while accommodating their authentic leadership styles (rather than trying to change them) and providing specific support for those wanting to make it to the top. If they fail to act - or decide not to - a mass of highly talented females will walk away from the corporate world altogether.
Whilst a diminishing talent pool would undoubtedly make looming board quotas even more challenging, from another perspective the presence and sheer number of these female altrupreneurs is something to be welcomed and embraced.
After all, we shouldn't forget the world outside the FTSE. A multitude of dynamic women are already leading successful small businesses and if their ranks are swelled by a further mass of experienced, corporate-savvy females, the impact on the wider economy could be huge. Good news for all you'd think and a case for introducing a measure for women in leadership which isn't based purely on larger businesses.
Experience certainly shows that women are more likely to thrive in an environment of their own making, rather than in an organisation where they feel compromised by their corporate culture. Our research revealed that self employment would offer the chance to be in control of their own destiny, do something they love, benefit from more flexible hours and, significantly, make a bigger difference.
And therein lies further cause for optimism.
Women are viewed as being relationship-oriented and are set up to change the concept of small business and "going solo". Networks of women owned businesses with low overheads and shared power and responsibility could come together to be able to deliver large projects and make a significant financial and social impact. This could entirely break the traditional model of long hours and huge bonuses for individual success.
Armed with this knowledge, the business world faces the choice of either driving its own bottom line by harnessing these women's passions and strengths as part of gender-balanced teams - or carrying on as it is and suffering the consequences.
The clock is ticking.
A copy of the Aspire report can be downloaded from www.aspirewomen.co.ukSuggest a correction