Bain: Companies should nurture ambition of women

06 November 2014 4 min. read

Experienced women that came into a company with the ambition to attain a job in the c-suite, lose this ambition after the first few years of their career. This loss in ambition is accompanied by a loss in confidence. According to Bain & Company, this is caused by a lack of support of supervisors and a lack of role models.

Bain & Company recently released a report in which it investigated gender parity and the differences in career paths between men and women in the US, and the reasons for these differences. The 2014 edition of the research focused particularly on the ambition to pursue a top management position (board, CEO level, and one or two levels below CEO) in a large company. For this research over 1,000 men and women in the US were interviewed from all career levels.

The research of the consulting firm shows that in the first two years of working at a firm more women than men aspire to become an executive. 43% of women want a job at the top management level, compared to 34% of men. The confidence of both sexes on their ability to reach such a job is equal at that stage. However, the research also shows that these numbers differ strongly with those of more experienced employees. Only 16% of experienced women aim for a job at the top, which is a loss of ambition of more than 60%. The ambition level of experienced male employees stays the same as that of newcomers. When looking at the ambition level of senior personnel, we see an increase of approximately 20% for both male and female senior employees, with women reaching a level of 35% and men of 56%. As a result of the loss of ambition among experienced women and an ever growing ambition among men, the gap in ambition levels between the sexes keeps growing.

B&C Aspirations to attain an executive position executive position

The consultants also researched the confidence levels of female and male employees to attain executive jobs. It is interesting to see that the confidence level for both men and women is the same in the first years, and while the confidence among experienced men drops slightly from 28% to 25%, the confidence among women is cut by half, leaving just 13% of women confident they will be able to land an executive job. The confidence level among senior personnel rises for both male and female employees. Men’s confidence level rises from 25% to 55%, which is almost the same level of men that have the ambition to attain such a job, showing men’s confidence at that level. Even though the level of confidence among women, which had dropped to a mere 13%, rises again to 29%, this is just slightly above their confidence level in the first two years of starting the job. Commenting on the numbers, Julie Coffman, Partner at Bain & Company and Chair of Bain’s Global Women’s Leadership Council, says: “The difference is striking, we need to unpack what is happening during those early to mid-level years of a career that is changing these aspiration and confidence levels so dramatically.”

According to Bain, this is not caused by the easy explanations such as taking off time or working part-time to start families, because the marital and parental status among women who do and who do not aspire executive jobs did not significantly differ. The consultants state that the reason behind the drop in confidence and aspiration levels is the feeling of a lack of support from supervisors and the feeling of not fitting into stereotypes of success within a company.

Julie Coffman - Bain & Company

Bain’s research shows that to counter the lack of ambition of female employees, supervisors at a mid-management level should encourage a healthier work-life balance among employees. In addition, they should get to know their female employees in order to drive their loyalty and engagement. Another action to be taken is the expansion of the concept and definition of role models; women have far less role models than men when it comes to executives functions. “It’s convenient to point to the boardroom and say it’s a quick fix to appoint some leaders and we’re done. The harder work is at the mid-level when every day you have a supervisor and a supervisee interacting. You have those moments of truth where you are either nurturing those aspirations and cultivating that confidence or you are not,” adds Coffman.