Bad Company Culture Holds Women Back, Not Motherhood

A recent report from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) dispels the myth that women’s ambition in the workplace decreases at the hands of motherhood, revealing that the lowering of women’s career goals is actually a result of company cultures failing to implement diversity and inclusivity.

The BCG discovered that men and women display equal ambition levels at the onset of their careers—when they do, varying by company, not family status—and that these aspirations decline over time for both genders. However, women’s ambition dwindled significantly faster at companies behind on gender diversity.

The study found virtually no ambition gap between women and men age 30 to 40 at companies where employees feel gender parity is improving, with 85 percent of women and 87 percent of men seeking promotion. Conversely, at companies where employees reported the least progress in gender diversity, the ambition gap was 17 percentage points; 66 percent of women sought promotion, versus 83 percent of men.

“Both genders are equally ambitious and equally rational. If leadership looks possible, employees want to be leaders. If it doesn’t, they will lower their ambition,” stated Matt Krentz, senior BCG partner and report coauthor. “Ambition is not a fixed trait; it is an attribute that can be nurtured or damaged over time through the daily interactions and opportunities employees experience at work.”

The importance of recognizing and understanding the factors damaging women’s ambition in the workplace is paramount. To say that women don’t rise in the ranks because they are preoccupied with children, don’t work hard enough or possess the proper experience is flawed reasoning. This manner of thinking finds women culpable without analyzing the company cultures in which they work and are expected to succeed.

Consider the amount of women who are being held back by companies not empowering their workforce or focusing on embracing gender diversity. This is a loss for women, the workplace and economy as a whole.

BCG emphasizes the fact that solving this “ambition gap” is well within a company’s control. By implementing gender diversity and instilling confidence in all workers, organizations can create and source the drive for future success.