Women lack the confidence needed to be ambitious

Wonder Woman
We can’t all be career-baby-children-life-relationship-house-juggling super-heroes

There’s been a lot in the press recently about gender differences in the workplace. Three things in particular have caught my eye (and ear):

  • This CMI survey on the gender pay gap highlighting that male managers earned average bonuses twice as big as their female counterparts over the last 12 months
  • A discussion paper from CIM on Women in Marketing asking if women in our profession are victims of a glass ceiling
  • A broadcast on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour: ‘Be Ambitious,’ which begins with the phrase “A woman is bossy, a man is the boss”. You can hear the broadcast here:

It’s this last piece that is of most interest to me. The presenters (MD, writer and presenter Heather McGregor, and Careers Consultancy Chief Exec Penny DeValk) discuss the notion that an ambitious woman is not necessarily attractive and that this is in part why women seem to have a problem with reaching the top in business.

We are advised to take chances and to focus, perhaps a bit like a man would, on what we want from our career. Success is a result of confidence and ambition and these two behaviours are intrinsically linked. Women fall down because we lack the confidence needed to be ambitious, and therefore are less successful.

What suppresses ambition in women?

McGregor says that “Women are ‘aspirational’” and that the difference between aspiration and ambition is “doing something about it”. So why aren’t we doing enough to achieve our goals?

According to the CIM discussion paper, it could be because women are not very good at putting their hand up to take the credit for work done well and this has led to a lack of female role models. I have certainly found this to be the case in my career. I look around me and find that I can’t identify with a lot of the women I deem to be ‘successful’.

I think this is broadly because MOST of these women don’t have children, or if they do, then these women are career-baby-children-life-relationship-house-juggling super-heroes and this is not something I can hope to be like at this stage in my life (and nor do I want to be).

Unlike men, women on the whole, are not very good at career planning. Men will often apply for a job they are only 20% qualified for whereas a woman will wait until she’s 100% qualified. Perhaps this is to do with the fear of failure. Perhaps it’s to do with being ‘aspirational’ and not ambitious- being ‘hopeful’ of achieving success, rather than taking action.

So how do we become more confident?

McGregor says that taking small steps such as placing the Financial Times in your handbag so that people can see it when you walk in the room can build confidence. I think tactics like this can help but I plan to take more assertive action.

I’m going to surround myself with powerful, successful women, and if I can’t find these role models at work, then I’ll look elsewhere- the CIM, LinkedIn perhaps. I’m also going to write a career plan with action points showing how I’ll maintain my capital as a credible marketer through learning and skills development, so that my career stays ‘on track’.

And do you know what…? I’m going to start shouting loud about my successes, and my contribution to the bottom line so that when that dream job comes up that I think I’m only 80% qualified for, I have the confidence to go for it. (I doubt I’ll ever be someone that feels comfortable going for a job I can only do a fifth of).

I’m going to start taking a few more chances. Are you? 

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4 thoughts on “Women lack the confidence needed to be ambitious

  1. Here here! Good points Katie. I’m definitely of the mind to take more chances these days. It has dawned on me that there are plenty of mediocre people being very successful in life, so why can’t I be one of them!

  2. I don’t think women are less ambitious, rather they are ambitious in many areas simultaneously – like looking great, being a good mother, having a perfect house, nice garden… having a successful career… and they do not focus on one thing only. Show me a man spending 2 hours in a bathroom in the morning and being successful in his career 🙂 but if YOU cut your hair short so it’s convenient, you’ll just look strange 🙂
    But I agree sometines we tend not to be confident enough.

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