An April, 2004 article in the Harvard Business Review examined whether women lacked “ambition.” According to the article, women generally hate the word “ambition” and associate it with egotism, selfishness, self-aggrandizement or the manipulative use of others for one’s end. As a result, many women refuse to admit that they are ambitious.
Take a step back and think back to the time when you were a child. What were your ambitions? To become a famous marine biologist working with dolphins, a famous novelist, an Olympic gold medalist, an astronaut, the President of the United States, a rock star, a famous actress or director? However, what happened to your ambitions when you entered the workplace?
A recent study from Bain & Company of men and women in the workplace found that women and men were equally ambitious when they had fewer than two years on the job. However, within five years, only 16 percent of women still held that ambition compared with 34 percent of men who began their careers confident that they would reach the top and remain so after two or more years of experience. Specifically, the study found that aspirations for top management posts dropped more than 60 percent among women as they progressed in their careers, with 43 percent of new women employees aiming for the C-suite, while only 16 percent of women with 2-5 years of professional experience aspiring to do the same. Additionally, the study found that confidence among women demonstrated a similar decline with 27 percent of new women employees believing they could reach top management positions. However, mid-career, this number dropped by nearly half. Compare that with a man’s confidence which remains about the same as they progress in their careers.
There have been several articles written about what companies can do to help women maintain their ambition. Suggestions include providing women with role models, providing stronger encouragement, allowing more flexible work schedules, encouraging people to actually use those flexible work schedules and celebrating those ultimately use such schedules. However, what can women do to help themselves or other women retain their ambition?
- Make sure you are clear with yourself what it is you want out of your career. If you are unclear what you want, it’s hard to develop and follow ambition.
- Create high expectations for yourself. Women often set the bar lower than men in terms of career expectations. Don’t sell yourself short. Aim high.
- Be confident and don’t give in to self-doubt. Because achievement is linked to confidence, women with lower confidence are less likely to achieve career ambitions. Don’t be afraid, go ahead and do your own thing.
- Don’t be afraid of risk and stretching yourself. Women tend to be more cautious than men in applying for jobs and promotions. Men are much more willing to apply for positions where they don’t fully meet the criteria or job description. Many women prefer to play things safe and only apply for positions when they meet the job description “fully” or “pretty well.” Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and stretch.
- Seize opportunities to learn new skills and broaden your horizons. The more you master your craft and develop new skills, the more confident you will become.
- Seek out other ambitious women as role models and mentors.
“Become the leader of your life. Lead yourself to where you want to be. Breathe life back into your ambitions, yours desires, your goals, your relationships.” – Dr. Steve Maraboli
This post was written by Lisa Mueller.