According to a 4,000-person survey from Harvard Business School, a noticeable gap exists between the ambitions of men and women.
More specifically, men simply want powerful jobs more than women do.
Here are some of the highlight/findings of the study:
- Women may have more life goals than men, but they are less focused upon power.
- Women associate more negative possibilities with positions of power.
- Both men and women tended to believe they were capable of obtaining power positions, but men desired those positions more.
- Men perceived professional power as more desirable, overall.
- Women are less likely to apply to professional power positions than men.
The study was published recently in full in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Entitled “Compared to Men, Women View Professional Advancement as Equally Attainable, but Less Desirable,” the study shows that “even in the most progressive, gender-balanced households, on average, women seem to think about a greater diversity of pursuits.”
Alison Wood Brooks, an assistant professor who worked on the study, had this to say: “We wondered if women may think about things that men don’t. You want to be an amazing employee. You want to be an excellent leader at work. But you may also want to dress well. And make sure your children are fed. And that the nanny got to the house in time for you to leave for work. And remember to check in with your close friends. And find time to jog three times a week. And so on. Even in the most progressive, gender-balanced households, on average, women seem to think about a greater diversity of pursuits.”
To begin their research, they surveyed working adults and had them list their core life goals. Women had twice as many goals as compared to men. And men had a greater number of goals that were about professional power.
After this, the study became more focused, and surveyed men and women who were from the same professionally ambitious demographic: in this case from the Harvard MBA classes of 2014 and 2013.
Participants were asked about how high they could realistically climb on the corporate ladder and what their ideal position/level would be. Women and men both had similar estimates of how high they could climb. However, when it came to their ideal position, women on average picked a lower rung than men.
Of course simply knowing that women tend to desire power positions less than men was not enough.
To further the quality of the study, the researchers then sought to understand why women wanted lesser career advancement. So they asked participants to describe how they would handle a situation where they were offered an advancement in the work place.
Stress was put on how they would handle the added pressure, work tasks, and responsibilities. Surprisingly, both genders predicted the same percentage of positive scenarios, but women tended to fixate and expand upon negative ones more so.
Further studies were performed to test if the results would remain the same in other demographics. Two exercises were performed with groups of students from different school programs and the results were almost identical. Even in a survey of undergraduates, the results did not budge from the expected revelations.
Reflecting on their study, the researchers stated that the results were “descriptive, not prescriptive” as: “Based on these data, we cannot make value judgments about whether men and women’s differing views of professional advancement are good or bad, rational or irrational, at any level of analysis (e.g. , for individuals, for organizations, or for societies).”
Although women may hope to one day become the CEO, they are much more open to a wide variety of potential life paths, as opposed to the more power hungry men surveyed in the study.
Speaking on the potential criticisms that could face the results, Brooks stated, “The findings in the paper could be construed as anti-feminist, but one could also argue that they represent true feminist ideals. It’s fascinating that women have more goals than men. At this point in Western culture, women are pursuing more things. It’s empowering to have a long list of goals, and to try to pursue them all. We hope our findings encourage men and women to be more aware of their own goals and preferences, and respectful of others’.”
Brooks and partners are already putting plans in motion to further their studies in the area in the future. Currently, the next state of research is focusing on what point in life men and women begin developing different viewpoints about professional advancement opportunities.
Taking on the same approach as they did with the current survey, they hope to find revealing results that will help with future professional guidance for both genders. “We might have to go much younger than college undergraduates,” Brooks said in reference to the challenge, “Maybe even younger than high school.”