Wall Street Journal

by Nikki Waller and Joann S. Lublin / September 30, 2015

Why aren’t there more women in the upper ranks of corporate America?

Cue the broken record: Women rein in career plans to spend more time caring for family. What’s more, they are inherently less ambitious than men and don’t have the confidence that commands seats in the C-suite.

Not so fast.

Something else is happening on the way to the top. Women aren’t abandoning their careers in large numbers; motherhood, in fact, increases their appetite for winning promotions; and women overall don’t lack for ambition and confidence that they can take on big jobs. Yet when asked whether they want a top role in their companies or industries, a majority of women say they would rather not grab the brass ring.

Yet advancement through flexible work arrangements seems out of reach for many. Most companies canvassed by Lean In and McKinsey offer flexibility and career-development programs, but participation is low, as employees fear being penalized. “More than 90% of women and men believe taking extended family leave will hurt their position at work,” the study stated.

That observation is hardly new. The Families and Work Institute has monitored worker attitudes toward flexibility benefits for years, and has never seen a decrease in the percentage of employees saying “working flexibility will damage their careers,” reports Anne Weisberg, the New York group’s senior vice president for strategy.

Fueling the ambition gap may be the current culture of work, one which does no favors for men or women, and one in which fealty to work is all—at all hours—as caregiving and family life are shunted to the margins.


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