Women Less Likely to Value Power, but Ambition Remains Strong

As a young woman who recently entered the professional world, it can be discouraging to see so few women in top leadership roles. It has been 95 years since women were given the right to vote in the U.S., but only 5 percent are leading today’s Fortune 500 companies?

Whether I like it or not, studies show there are reasons for this.

Recent research from Harvard Business School indicates that women don’t reach top leadership positions simply because they don’t want to. Through nine studies, “research indicates that women value power less than men,” according to Bloomberg.

One of these studies suggests that women see more negative associations with power than men do. Alison Wood Brooks, a co-author of the paper, said that “women expect more stress, burden, conflicts and difficult trade-offs to accompany high-level positions.” 

This makes sense. As we all know, work can be stressful, and this is especially true when children are added to the mix of trying to achieve work-life balance.

When asked to rank goals, women listed more than men, and fewer of women’s goals were about achieving power. Brooks went on to say that “it is likely that women have more goals in life because pursuing career and family goals simultaneously is a relatively new concept for women.”

New or not, it takes a lot of work to raise a family while working.

But where does power rank on lists of priorities?

In the 2015 Real Simple/Time Ambition Poll, nearly 40 percent of both males and females said enjoying their work is a top priority. Others value flexible hours and money as top priorities, while power and influence came out on the bottom for both genders as well. (Note: Exact figures weren’t printed.)

But not valuing power doesn’t mean women aren’t ambitious.

The same poll finds that 60 percent of women said they are more ambitious than their mothers compared with 45 percent of men who said they’re more ambitious than their fathers. This makes sense, as more women are attending college now, compared to 40 years ago. YaleGlobal Online says that the global university enrollment ratio was 160 men per 100 women in 1970, changing to 93 men per 100 women in 2014.

In the Ambition Poll, a small portion of women (only 19 percent) “find it very or extremely acceptable not to be ambitious at all,” according to the October issue of Real Simple. However, 59 percent of women expressed regret for “not having been more ambitious at some point in their lives.”

Now, how can HR managers kick women’s ambition into high gear? Real Simple and Time’s poll found that 30 percent of those polled think their “ambition could be sparked by a company whose values closely align with theirs.” Similarly, 29 percent thought a raise would also help. When asked about acknowledgement for their ambition, 50 percent of women said they feel pride while only 20 percent said they felt embarrassed by it.

After seeing these statistics, it’s obvious that women’s ambition in the workplace should be harnessed. By providing equal pay, improving company culture and praising everyone for their hard work, more ambition can be drawn out of all workers. More ambition means more high achievers and innovation, both on a small and national scale.

Has your company made changes like this? Go to the comments to share your results!