Are Women Becoming Less Ambitious?

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I have always thought that it is curious that for all of the talk about the modern-day ‘superwoman’, the only Superman we ever hear of is the cartoon character!

For so long, the party line has been that women are supposed to do it all – just like the super heroes.  Never mind the fact that after working a full workday and then coming home and carrying the major part of the home-based workload, they are often bone tired, and feeling anything but super.

For those of you who have been silently lamenting the wisdom and purpose of leading a life that is consumed with work, and sorely lacking in ‘life’, I hope that you will take comfort in knowing that you are not alone.

Need proof?  Well, consider the results of a very interesting survey that came out last week.  The survey, which was conducted by More magazine, in conjunction with Polling Company Inc./WomanTrend,  found that:

  • Only 1/4 of respondents said they are working toward their next promotion.
  • 2/3 would accept a smaller paycheck.
  • 73% would not apply for their bosses job. Why not?  15% said because of the demands of the household and childcare.  38% said they didn’t want the pressure, office politics or responsibility which come along with such positions.
  • 43% said they are less ambitious than they were a decade ago.

Looking at the survey, it appears, on its face, that women are indeed becoming increasingly less ambitious.  But is there more to the story than a mere lack of ambition? 

Of the women who have chosen not to further their careers as far or as quickly as they could have, I would argue that many of them would have stayed in the game or gone further in their careers if they believed that the workplace and society were structured in a way that makes these career moves possible.  For some women, a choice between making Director (requiring an overload of work and very little life), and remaining in a managerial of lesser position (where the work still significantly overshadows life), is not a real choice at all.  Especially when, unlike their male counterparts, they do not have the luxury of having a stay at home wife to hold down the fort at home.

Sadly, it is inevitable that most people seeing these survey results will assume that once women have children, they are not as committed to their work and would rather quit and stay home.

From my personal experience this is often not the case. Many women, after having their children, fully expect to continue working at their previous level, while raising their families.  But when reality and fatigue set in, they yearn for a work environment that is more conducive to family life. In fact, According to an NBC Nightly News report, those surveyed said that it is not that they do not want to work hard – they want the flexibility to do things outside of work, and they are willing to exchange a higher title and more money for more time.

The logical solution for these women would be to cut back on their work hours, right?  Wrong!  We all know that this is simply not acceptable.  In fact, 1/3 of those surveyed believe that it is career suicide to ask for flexibility on the job, and I happen to agree with that.

What do the results of the survey mean for the future of women and work?  In an interview with USA Today, More magazine’s Editor-in Chief, Leslie Kane Seymour said that she hopes that the survey is a reflection of the stress and negativity of difficult economic times and not a permanent trend.  I am not so sure that this is the case.  I would be surprised if the women surveyed developed their current opinions about work as a result of the economic downturn.  After all, women began limiting their professional aspirations and/or opting out of the workforce long before there was any hint of a recession, and I believe that this trend will continue long after the economy gets back on track.

We in the United States are supposed to be the shining beacon of equality and progress for women.  And yet, here we find ourselves in a situation where, according to the NBC Nightly News report, women in emerging countries are now far more likely to consider themselves to be ambitious than American women.  It is my hope that the women in these countries will not have to learn as many of us here have, that sometimes the personal price for career success is too high.

Have you experienced a decline in your own career ambition, and if so, why?  Do you believe that women are rejecting higher positions due to a general decline in ambition among career woman, or is there something more going on?

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4 Responses to Are Women Becoming Less Ambitious?

  1. Randy Pena says:

    I finally decided to write a comment on your blog. I just wanted to say good job. I really enjoy reading your posts.

  2. I believe you are right about women being afraid to ask for more flexibility on the job as I too see how that can be career suicide. Really enjoyed your blog on this topic. Looking towards the future I want I have often wondered how on earth people expect us to balance it all. I feel like there is a lot of pressure for women to get as far up the ladder as we can as quickly as possible before we have kids as that will change our outlook on making the climb later. Now I see that I wasn’t the only one who was thinking that and that there are other women out there who are on the other side and seeing the effects. Thanks for sharing your outlook.

    • @21stcenturygal: I am glad that you enjoyed the post. I have come across countless women who are also recognizing and suffering from the effects of the do it all mentality. Unfortunately, most of them do not voice that opinion out loud – again fearing career suicide. Hopefully this will change so we can start to openly discuss this issue, and push collectively for work environments that provide flexibility without penalizing the employee requesting it. Thanks for your comment, and I look forward to your next visit!

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