Informed in Five: “Do Women Lack Ambition?”

Do Women Lack
by Anna Fels. Harvard Business Review, April 2004.


Women are often less ambitious
than men because they are conditioned to fear recognition of their achievements
due to an unspoken mandate that women should subordinate their needs for
recognition to those of others, particularly men.

Women fear
recognition for their achievements and often talk them down, giving the credit
to others. Men tend to do the opposite.

Essentially the
problem is that different social expectations of the two genders mean that
women dislike admitting to being ambitious because it implies egotism and self-agrandisement,
and involves the manipulation of others for one’s own ends.

Women fear that if
they acquire these attributes their sexual identity will be under threat.
Research such as the Bem Sex Role Inventory in the US suggests that femininity
is perceived only to exist in the context of a relationship whereas masculinity
is seen as operating in isolation.

Male attributes imply
competing and assertion. As a result women feel that their sexual identity is
being assailed when they compete with men for recognition in the workplace.  


solution is for women to get organized to support mothers in the workforce
outside it.

They need
to actively imagine themselves into their futures, and form life plans which
include the potential for receiving earned recognition, based on talent, skill
or work, rather than appearance, sexual availability or subservience.

To succeed
women must be prepared to cultivate relationships that help them progress up
the career ladder, despite their distaste for this. Ambition can be maximized
at any stage in life.

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