Ambitious men and women want more or less the same thing. But it seems that if you are a woman,you won’t get what you want – unless you are prepared to “marry down”.
A survey of Harvard Business School MBA graduates (just about the most ambitious people in the world) found that men and women are equally interested in work-life balance. They’re just as likely to want fulfilling and stimulating careers, and women are even more likely than men to want “opportunities for career growth and development”.
But while men and women had similar priorities, of the 25,000 graduates surveyed, spanning from baby boomers all the way through to millennials, men were consistently more satisfied in their careers.
“Whereas about 50% to 60% of men across the three generations told us they were “extremely satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their experiences of meaningful work, professional accomplishments, opportunities for career growth, and compatibility of work and personal life, only 40% to 50% of women were similarly satisfied on the same dimensions,” The Harvard Business Review reports.
Why are women less satisfied? Probably because they have every reason to be. Women are given less responsibility, less senior roles and less people to manage. And none of this is because women are “opting out”.
Only 11% of the women surveyed left the workforce when they had children, and the overwhelming majority of Gen X women (74%) were working not only full time hours, but a whole lot of overtime too, averaging 52 hours a week.
While women were more likely to take time off from work to care for children (44% of Baby Boomer women took off more than 6 months, and 28% of Gen X women did likewise), women were also more likely to make the decision to work more flexibly, slow down their career pace or move laterally, but the Business Review states “none of these factors explained the gender gap in senior management.”
To understand what does explain this gap, you have to look at the stats for the men. Not just what they were doing, but what they were thinking. Only 2% of men took more than 6 months off to care for a child across the Baby Boomers and Gen X. Which makes sense when you consider the fact that 86% of Boomer and Gen X men expected their partners to be the primary child carers, and the majority of Gen X and Boomer men expected that their careers would take priority over their wives’ – which is exactly what happened 71% and 74% of the time respectively.
Meanwhile, Gen X and Baby Boomer women expected they’d have relationships where their careers took equal priority, and they expected to share childcare equally with their husbands, neither of which actually happened.
There’s this idea that if you’re a powerful, ambitious, successful woman, you probably want a man to match. Every Amal deserves a Clooney. That sort of thing. But trying to date within your league is just about the worst thing you can do for your career.
Here’s the thing.