Are women really "less ambitious" than men?

Friday, 5 October 2012

The results of an exclusive poll conducted for The Telegraph claim to show that women are less ambitious than men and that we're facing an "aspiration gap" between men and women in the business world.

The findings are the subject of a couple of stories published in the paper's newly-launched women's section called "Wonder Women", which is being billed as content that this generation of women will actually enjoy and identify with, rather than consisting of the usual "lipsticks, handbags or BMW - bitching, moaning and whining" (more on this later).

1,000 18-35 year olds were surveyed and it was found that just 16% of young women aspire to run their own business one day, and just 3% want to be the chief executive of a company - compared to 22% and 6% of men. It also looks like women aren't as concerned by earning a high salary, with 16% aspiring to take home £100,000 a year compared to 20% of men. 16% of those surveyed said they were happy to take home £30,000 a year, compared to 12% of men.

This, apparently, is indicative of the fact that women are less ambitious and less concerned with "climbing the corporate ladder" than their male contemporaries. But is this a bad thing? The article happily details the fact that a "surprising" percentage of both men and women have no desire to become a line manager or head of department - so is it a case of unambitious women, or both sexes being disillusioned with the traditional concept of "success"?

The idea that women are "less ambitious" than men is problematic from the outset, because it equates "ambition" with wanting to earn a high salary and become a chief executive. This leaves no room for the fact that there are many, many ways to be ambitious, and that money isn't the most important thing in plenty of people's lives. Andrew Hunter, co-founder of the company that conducted the survey, said he thought that young people "would have a little more aspiration than this". Surely it's not difficult to understand that the corporate world isn't everyone's thing?

More and more, it's being reported that people will take job satisfaction and a good work-life balance over pots of cash and an important-sounding job title any time. In my experience, the current economic climate coupled with 21st century workplace culture has made people reassess their priorities - and while everyone wants to make enough money, that's as far as it goes for a lot of people. We know that the job opportunities of years gone by aren't there any more, which is probably why so many of those surveyed were keen to work freelance or set up their own business.

It's also possible that people aren't interested in working their way up to management because they're unwilling to become part of a power structure they're not totally comfortable with. Leadership can be worked out in many other ways.

So is it cause for concern that women, in particular, don't seem so interested in that sort of life? No, not really. As someone who has plenty of ambition but has never aspired to corporate glory and a six figure salary, I can't see what all the fuss is about. It's suggested that we should be doing something about this supposed lack of drive in young women. By all means, we should be offering encouragement and resources if they need help realising such ambitions. But otherwise, I'm not so sure.

What the survey actually appears to suggest is that women are more interested in other career paths, and don't see business and cash as their route to "having it all", something I know is true for me and for many of my friends. It found that careers in the public sector and charity sector are the most desirable, followed by those in the IT and digital sector, and the media.

Speaking of which, you'd think that a so-called "sassy" new women's section would avoid going down the cliché-ridden route of stories about "Having It All". The same goes for illustrating said stories with stills from The Devil Wears Prada and pictures of Sarah Jessica Parker. It would be nice to see a move away from all that nonsense and towards a more up-to-date take on these issues, a take that doesn't see the woman who "has it all" as a woman with several children, a job in banking, the perfect relationship, and a house worthy of Elle Decoration. I'll be interested to see how Wonder Women pans out in the weeks to come.

One of the better points raised by The Telegraph's coverage is that childcare arrangements and attitudes towards mothers remain a major barrier to women achieving their career ambitions, and could explain the difference in aspiration between men and women. The cost of nurseries these days is the highest in Europe, which means it's not economically viable for many women to return to work, even if they're keen to do so. In my opinion that's worth addressing and something the government really needs to act upon, because it does affect the lives and careers of many, many women. Maybe then we'll see a change in the disparity between men's and women's ambitions.

This post originally appeared on BitchBuzz. Image via victor1558's Flickr.


OrigamiGirl said...

I agree totally about this perspective that wanting money = ambition is missing the point. If I had answered that salary I would have been one of those 'unambitious' people who doesn't want a high salary or a chief exective position for all the reasons you say.

I do have ambition. I want to become an expert on something, to write a book, to be a leader in a field. But that's all intellectual satisfaction and ounces of pride. I want to feel good about what I do.

Also, once I had a corporate-type job. The boss was scary I told myself I never wanted to be a manager if it made me like that.

I'm glad there are some people who can recognise that ambition /= money

lipsticklori said...

"The idea that women are 'less ambitious' than men is problematic from the outset, because it equates 'ambition' with wanting to earn a high salary and become a chief executive" -- Yes! For years I thought I wasn't ambitious because I didn't want to be a manager or run my own business. I don't care about power and high salaries, I just want enough cash and free time to do other fun things. I am not impressed with this Wonder Women section at all :-/


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