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Four in ten women are less ambitious, survey says

Thursday, November 17, 2011  
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A significant number of women describe themselves as less ambitious in the workplace than they were a decade ago as they turn away from the politics, pressure and responsibilities of advancement, according to More magazine’s third annual workplace report. Instead, more American women are looking for more workplace flexibility.

More than four in 10 women described themselves as less ambitious now than they were 10 years ago; only 15 percent reported feeling more ambitious. The exception is African-American women, who are twice as likely as average to say they are more ambitious, according to the nationwide survey of women’s attitudes toward their jobs by More magazine and the polling company inc./WomenTrend.

While one-quarter of the women surveyed are "always looking for the next professional promotion,” nearly three-fourths said they would not apply for their boss’s job. The reason? Thirty-eight percent don't want the politics, pressure and responsibility. An expected reason for not wanting to advance -- family obligation -- was not a huge factor in their lack of career ambition. Few women (15 percent of respondents) said household or child-care duties are holding them back, the survey revealed.

Women are looking for workplace flexibility, however. A full 92 percent now consider flexibility to be important in a job, up from 73 percent in 2009. That’s second only to salary, which 99 percent of women consider important.

Indeed, more than 20 percent of women said flexible work options are one of their top two most important criteria for a job. Salary is in the top two for 57 percent of women; health benefits rank up there for 31 percent.

Workplace flexibility is not about working less, according to Meryle Mahrer Kaplan, a senior vice president at Catalyst. "Women take work seriously and want to be taken seriously at work,” she told More magazine.

However, workplace flexibility comes with a penalty, according to one-third of the women surveyed, who believe most companies’ employees with flexible schedules are promoted less often than employees who work regular hours. Thirty percent of women agree that asking for a flexible schedule is "career suicide.”

"We're bemoaning the lack of women in top Fortune 500 companies or women in political office," said More Editor-in-chief Lesley Jane Seymour. "We're sliding backwards, and here's your answer. It's because we have thrown ice water all over ambition."

When it comes to career advancement, one-fourth of the women surveyed said reluctance to give up their life and time to their career has held them back. But a lack of opportunity has held back 24 percent of respondents.

Other factors preventing women from advancing professionally, women report, include their own inhibitions (17 percent); unsupportive bosses (15 percent); their husbands’ or partners’ careers (11 percent); lack of a good network (10 percent) and elder care issues (6 percent).

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