There’s been a lot of press comment around the suggestion that women are not vertically ambitious, that they prefer to do a job they enjoy rather than ruthlessly compete for senior management roles. Plainly wrong, since there are also plenty of men who don’t want a top job either; it is not that women who are unambitious but that people find fulfilment at work and in life in different ways.
Ambition is the driving force behind individual and organisational achievement, with the power to motivate you to be the best you can be; but it varies so much from one person to the next. My interest was piqued by another article in which a young woman asked if it was okay not to be ambitious but to settle for a job she quite liked, even though it was not challenging and not aligned with her real interests.
If you are not ambitious for career success because you prefer something else – as a creative or a carer, or if you want a contemplative life, perhaps, then that’s a worthy aim and great things may come of it, besides the satisfaction of pursuing your first choice. If, however, you can’t be bothered to find out how to qualify for the job of your dreams or to work hard for your ambition; that’s a waste and there’s not much sadder than wasted potential. Ambition helps you uncover the real motivations that bring you full engagement and create conditions that put you in the flow.
Mastery and motivation
Sometimes thought of as the acceptable face of greed, ambition can be defined as the desire for more. We all know about wanting more, research has shown that ambitious people achieve greater levels of success, whether that be a higher level of education, a more prestigious job, a higher income or more satisfaction in life. It has to be acknowledged that just because you are ambitious that’s no guarantee of success; plenty of people risk all and fail… but learning from failure is important too. Real accomplishment requires mastery, otherwise you’re not ambitious, just hopeful.
If you are ambitious you also probably want others to recognise your accomplishment. Research demonstrates that recognition is one of the key motivational drivers for the development of almost any type of skill. Motivation to achieve is predicated on two factors; the likelihood of achieving the desired goal and the value of the perceived rewards. Ambition, achievement and risk-taking tend to be valued in our society, though not by everyone, of course. Diversity of opinion at work is important too; it drives innovation and creativity.
10Eighty looked at women in the workplace earlier this year to examine what helps their careers and what hinders. Many see gender equality as a matter of fairness, but for business, it’s about access to talent. Achieving gender parity will make the workplace better for women and men as all will benefit from programmes that support flexibility in juggling professional and personal commitments.
Gender parity at work
Research by Catalyst (2004) and McKinsey & Company, (2010) found that women in leadership roles bring a diversity of skills and experiences to the decision making table. More diversity in the type of people involved in leadership is often used as a proxy for more diversity of thought in leadership. Greater numbers of women in leadership roles bring more diverse skills and experiences to the decision-making table.
The ILM points out that it makes sound commercial sense to promote women to senior positions, and reflect the broader consumer base of many businesses. Women are increasingly powerful consumers with a growing share of the UK’s personal wealth and 80% of purchasing power.
Given the increasing skill and leadership talent shortages, supporting ambitious, well-qualified women to make the most of their skills represents a good return on the investment made in their education and career development.