Interesting study by Julie Coffman and Bill Neuenfeldt of Bain & Company, “Everyday moments of truth: Frontline managers are key to women’s career aspirations” (June 17, 2014):

We surveyed more than 1,000 men and women in the US at all career levels, asking specifically about their interest in pursuing a top management position (board, CEO level, and one or two levels below CEO) in a large company. We discovered that 43% of women aspire to top management when they are in the first two years of their position, compared with 34% of men at that stage (see Figure 1). Both genders are equally confident about their ability to reach a top management position at that stage. This suggests that women are entering the workforce with the wind in their sails, feeling highly qualified after success at the university level. However, over time, women’s aspiration levels drop more than 60% while men’s stay the same. Among experienced employees (those with two or more years of experience), 34% of men are still aiming for the top, while only 16% of women are. As they gain experience, women’s confidence also falls by half, while men’s stays about the same.



The authors identify three possible factors to explain this phenomenon: the ideal-worker stereotype, which over time women disproportionately regard as unattainable or undesirable; inadequacy of supervisory support; and the comparative dearth of role models.




The ideal-worker stereotype looks to be especially problematic. Here’s a very revealing chart on the subject:




Take note. What this chart shows, it seems to me, is damning but unremarkable. The measure of a person’s value to a business is determined by her usefulness to those who stand one or more rungs higher on the ladder. The fact that she’s a great boss and employee — in the chart, see “Receives positive upward feedback” and “Praises teammates and subordinates” — is relatively unimportant.


Surprise! The person who makes the decision whether to promote Jane Doe cares more about what she does to help him than what she does to help the business itself.


There is one bit of encouraging news that emerges from this study. Namely, the fact that women emerge from college and grad school with the “wind in their sails.” In other words, if you’re looking for a place where quality of work, not the appearance of quality, gets recognized consistently, visit a classroom.



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