Women And Men Are Just As Ambitious – But Only At The Start Of Their Careers

Turns out, the obstacles facing women in the workplace are stopping them from aiming higher than they would otherwise

We all know women are under-represented in leadership roles, and Michelle Ryan, a professor of social and organisational psychology at the University of Exeter in the UK, has completed a study to find out exactly why that is. But her results make for a rather depressing read.

According to her study, women start out just as ambitious as men in their careers, but this tends to decline over the years as they deal with various barriers – glass ceilings, gender pay gaps and bad treatment in the workplace.

Ryan explained, ‘We’ve done the surveys for numerous professions, and whether it’s police officers, surgical trainees, or women in science, men and women have absolutely equal levels of ambition and want to make it to top in equal numbers.’

‘But while men’s ambition increases over time, women’s decreases. My research suggests that this drop is not associated with wanting to have kids, or to stay home and look after them. It’s related to not having support, mentors or role models to make it to the top, and the subtle biases against women that lead to their choices.’

A recent Bain study of 1,000 people also found that when first starting out, 43 percent of women aspired to get to the top while two years in, just 16 percent did.

Studies have found that unlike men, women are penalized for coming across as too ambitious, and are labelled ‘pushy’ and ‘bossy’. It’s titles like this that stop women from working harder to get ahead, and Ryan added, ‘We often put the ownership on women, telling them to lean in and speak up, but if the workplace culture isn’t supportive or appreciative it’s an uphill battle.’

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