Review Subscribe Sign In
Companies Drain Women's
Ambition After Only 2 Years
by Orit Gadiesh and Julie Coffman
May 18, 2015
Bain & Company recently launched a study that asked more than 1,000 men and women in a mix of U.S. companies two questions:
"Do you aspire to top management within a large company?" and "Do you have the confidence you can reach top management?"
Women with two years or less of work experience slightly led men in ambition. But for women who had more than two years on the job, aspiration and confidence plummeted
60% and nearly 50%, respectively. These declines came independent of marriage and motherhood status, and compared with much smaller changes for men, who experienced only a 10% dip in confidence.
When we asked more senior managers the same questions, the percentage rose for both genders, but women never regained the level of aspiration that newcomers had. It remained 60% lower than men, whose rates shot up. Most jarringly, the percentage of male more-senior managers who have confidence that they will reach top jobs is almost twice the percentage of female managers.
One woman recounted her firm's recent management retreat: "Watching middle-aged white male after middle-age white male tell their war stories of sacrificing everything to close the sale was demoralizing, I just kept sinking lower in my chair and thinking that I would never be able to make it to the senior ranks if this was what it took."
This culture is reflected in the answers to a second set of questions: "Do you see yourself fitting into the typical stereotypes of success within the company?" and "Have your supervisors been supportive of your career aspirations?" New workers of both genders had similar responses to the questions. But more experienced workers answered very differently. Women's confidence that they matched the corporate ideal dropped by 15 percentage points, men's by just 9 points.
Women's sense that their supervisors supported than career goals was 20 points lower; men's was just 3 points lower.
Some women told us their direct supervisors don't know their career aspirations, or what to say or do to support them. Others reported feedback like "you're not cut out for" top management, or "you don't really want it."
What's not happening are discussions of goals, career strategies, job satisfaction, overall trajectory and-especially-the simple giving of real encouragement, all in a business culture that rarely celebrates women's role models. While every insecure overachiever
(the definition of strivers) needs encouragement, our research clearly demonstrates that, because of gender differences, men get it more frequently than women. One study by the Center for Talent
Innovation even showed that two-thirds of male managers balk at counseling more- junior women; if the conversations don't take place, the needed affirmation simply can't happen.