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30 March 2015updated 07 Sep 2021 10:17am

What do women want?

Study shows women don't desire professional power and status as much as men

By Emad Ahmed

New research shows men and women see power and achievement differently from each other, with women showing more caution regarding professional success.

The study by Harvard Business School professors Francesca Gino, Alison Brooks and doctoral student Caroline Wilmuth asked different groups of men and women their opinions on success, the desire to achieve professional goals and their associated outcomes.

One part of the survey asked participants about their long-term or “core” goals, and were given two minutes to write a list of up to 25 aims. Using statistical analysis, the researchers found women had more goals than men, and some weren’t related to the acquisition of power or professional success.

There were also follow-up questions asking how desirable and attainable these goals were, and any positive or negative outcomes of career progression. Women were just as likely as men to state their career goals were attainable, but had less desire to do so. It’s because women listed life goals that weren’t just linked to their careers.

Previous research has shown women hope to reach their targets in a shorter space of time compared with men, creating a conflict when a success in their career doesn’t align with their other objectives.

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This difference in desirability between the genders is further backed up by previous research showing men are more likely to begin negotiations and place themselves in competitive environments, “behaviours likely to facilitate professional advancement” according to the authors.

They also asked a set of undergraduates how they’d view a scenario of being offered a powerful and significant job after graduation. The female cohort listed more negative reactions to this prospect than men, and weren’t as keen about working in a high-flying job.

There’s no question we need more women at the upper echelons of government and business. Less than ten per cent of Fortune 500 chief executives are women, and moves are constantly being put forward by pressure groups around the world for a quota of female representation in boardrooms and around cabinet tables.

However, women are still seen as being less competent than men, biases perpetuated by both genders, which makes this an incredibly complex issue to solve given the link between personal goals and gender discrimination. CULTURAL EXPECTATIONS etc. This research gives us a fresh insight that although women see professional goals as attainable just like men, they desire more than just being able to bang a fist on the conference table.

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