How your company can dispel the gender ambition gap myth

November 03, 2020

The gender ambition gap is a theory that women are less ambitious than men when it comes to their career. That age and motherhood cause women to lower their career goals compared to their male counterparts. However numerous studies have shown this to be untrue. One of the most recent, by Boston Consulting Group, had over 200,000 respondents from around the world. It showed women's ambition levels varied but not because of external factors like age or becoming a parent. They varied because of the culture and attitude within the company they worked for. 

Findings showed women had similar levels of ambition to men at the beginning of their career. Nothing changes, once their organisational environment fosters and encourages women to advance. All women, including mothers, are eager for promotion. 

Ambition is not a fixed attribute; it is cultivated or damaged by day to day interactions at work. If women do not feel as valued, over time ambition abates too. It is another element that feeds into the gender pay gap which the World Economic Forum (WEF) believe has been further slowed by the current Covid-19 pandemic. 

Fortunately, there are things HR departments can do as part of diversity and inclusion to change this trajectory and accelerate female promotion in the workplace:

1. Build a gender diverse leadership team

“If she can’t see it, she can’t be it” is a phrase used to refer to gender diversity in sport and male dominated industries, but it is also relevant to leadership teams in business. Next time there is a board meeting, look around the table. Is there balanced representation from a gender perspective? If not, this is the place to start. 

As a HR department avoid masculine coded language in job specs like ‘chairman’, ‘guys’ or ‘workmanship’. It can deter female employees from applying to more senior roles. When shortlisting, ensure there is a gender balance in candidates put forward. Finally consider making interview panels more diverse. Global IT business, Intel improved gender diversity by 15% by ensuring all interview panels contained at least two women/underrepresented minorities. In only 2 years their gender and racial diversity increased from 30% to 45%. 

2. Change the informal environment

Analyse your business’ informal environment, particularly at management level. Is it relaxed and inclusive? If women are not present, look for ways to encourage a broader range of inclusive activities. If you aren’t sure where to start, try surveying existing women employees to find out where their interests lie and help them pursue them while at work.  


3. Flexible work

Flexible work is shown to be one of the main drivers when it comes to company advancement. Enabling parents to work at times that suit and providing benefits like parental leave, part-time work or job sharing improve the chances of men and women advancing within their companies. Nearly 60% of both genders cite the challenge of meeting commitments outside work with increased job responsibility as a reason for not choosing to advance in their company.


4. Track progress

Finally, measuring progress is essential. Get a benchmark for diversity as it exists now. Senior management and HR departments should track all initiatives with the goal of improving gender diversity and if it is improving the number of female employees applying for more senior roles within your business. 


There is no quick fix for improving the gender balance in a business. However businesses with more diverse leadership reported innovation revenue that was 19% higher than those with less diverse leaders. So it makes business as well moral sense to make gender diversity a priority


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