The Ambition Gap


We draw on the Boston Consulting Groups suggestions as to how to improve the ambition gap within workplaces and improve women’s sense of belonging in organisations.

Just four months into a 12 month maternity leave contract, my boss suggested we fast track to a permanent arrangement. Why so soon when? Because this was my predecessor’s second baby… so she was very unlikely to come back: “They usually don’t,”  he informed me with confidence. It is still commonly assumed that women, once they become mothers, are less ambitious than men. And that is especially the case for those seeking to work part-time: according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, while women make up nearly half of the workforce, full-time women comprise just one in five employees. And only 6.1% of management positions are part-time.

It begs the question: do women opt out for love of their children? Does having a baby cause a woman to lose her professional ambition?

A new Boston Consulting Group survey of more than 200,000 employees – including 141,000 women – from 189 countries has turned those questions into myths, revealing their unequivocal findings that:

  • having children does not make women less ambitious, and
  • ambition is influenced by company culture.

The survey showed that the ambition gap between women and men aged 30 to 40 was 17 per cent at firms that employees felt were least progressive on gender diversity. At these firms, 66 per cent of women sought promotion, compared with 83 per cent of men.

But there was almost no ambition gap between women and men aged 30 to 40 at firms where employees felt gender diversity was improving. In these firms, 85 per cent of women had sought promotion, compared with 87 per cent of men.

If talent is distributed equally between men and women, then these findings suggest businesses that are the most progressive on gender diversity will win the talent war.

Are you doing enough to ensure your female talent feel like they belong, rather than just fit in?  And when a talented female leaves, do you really know why?

Boston Consulting Group recommends four steps to close the Ambition Gap:

  1. Build a gender-diverse leadership team with the right role models.
  2. Change the informal context.
  3. Make and relentlessly promote structural changes such as flexible work.
  4. Track progress and involve everybody.

You can read the full article here.