Women feel less ambitious, says survey

Before you read on, I'd suggest that you pour yourself some whiskey. Or bourbon. Or gin. Or whatever it takes to make bad news go down a bit easier.

If you're a female lawyer (or aspiring to be), you might be wasting your energy on the wrong endeavor. In fact, if you're gunning for any high-paying, high-profile job in a male-dominated field, you might as well put the brakes on right now. Not only are your odds of success remote, but you won't be happy.

That's seems to be the message at the moment. In More magazine's latest survey of 500 women (all had college or higher degrees), ages 35 to 60, the news is that women are getting less and less ambitious:

In the search for balance, women are sacrificing ambition. When asked point-blank, 43 percent of women described themselves as less ambitious now than they were ten years ago; only 15 percent reported feeling more ambitious.

The survey gets even more discouraging:

These women want to work . . . they just don't want to advance. A full 73 percent say they would not apply for their boss's job. Why? Thirty-eight percent say they don't want the politics, pressure, and responsibility.

What women really value, reports More, is flexibility. Ninety-two percent say that's their top priority. "It's about control over how you work," explains More deputy editor Jennifer Braunschweiger. "It could be a more compressed schedule, being able to break during the day to take care of other things." She emphasizes, though, "it's not about working less or going part-time."

Look, I totally get the flexibility thing. I'm a huge proponent of job flexibility. But what I find discouraging is that women seem to have thrown in the towel on going for the top spots. Is it that impossible to have flexibility and corporate success? Are women completely discouraged about making it in man's world?

Seems that way. In More's list of top ten careers for women "who want a life," law (not surprisingly) didn't make the cut. So what was on the "good" list? Jobs that allowed women to go solo--like being a personal financial adviser, Web professional, accountant, public relations consultant, or a technical or Web writer.

I'm all for entrepreneurial careers. But here's what I found really jolting: Most of the other recommended careers are already female ghettos. That's particularly true in the health care field, where the "good" jobs are dental hygienist, nurse, and doctor's assistant. (Interestingly, medicine allows greater work/life balance than law and finance, according to a Harvard study.) Also on the top ten list are jobs where women have already staked a claim—physical and occupational therapist, and social worker.

Don't get me wrong—these jobs are all valuable to our society. It just saddens me that women are counting themselves out as leaders and bosses in the bigger world. The way I read it, the More survey suggests only two viable routes for women--either go out on your own, or be a helper to the (male) movers and shakers.

Braunschweiger tells me she prefers to see it in a more hopeful light. "It's a wake-up call to the American workplace," she says. "There will be a talent crunch unless companies change the workplace."

Gee, I'd like to believe her.

(Published by The Careerist - November 6, 2011)

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