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April 16, 2004

Do Women Lack Ambition?

Do Women Lack Ambition? is a new article in the Harvard Business Review. The author focuses on how women want their work to be recognized, but not necessarily the attribution or any personal recognition. One purported reason is that to value recognition means giving up one's prized femininity because in most cultures, valuing recognition is a masculine quality.

The general motivation for this article can be summed up with this quote: "In addition, for a woman’s ambition to thrive, both the development of expertise and the recognition of accomplishments outside of the family are required. The elimination of the barriers that have historically kept women from mastering a subject—such as restrictions on admission to professional schools or the habit of doing business and advancing careers inside men-only clubs—has brought women a long way toward realizing their ambitions. But the pressure on girls and women to relinquish opportunities for recognition in the workplace continues to have powerful repercussions."

The article discusses women's tendency to underestimate their ability, their willingness to give up recognition so as to not be perceived as masculine and their increased likelihood of taking on supportive or educational roles that will lead to someone else being recognized.

Anyhow, it's a really fascinating article. Email me if you don't have access to the HBR and you want me to mail you a copy.

Posted by zephoria at 09:22 PM | Permalink

Comments

I don't have access to HBR (but don't necessarily have time to read the article in any event), so I'm basing my reaction on the passage quoted here.

In essence: I'm not surprised by the content of the article -- I've read many articles that reach similar conclusions, but I still have a hard time understanding why this happens. I guess because it seems so unnecessary. What benefit accrues to women who decline recognition? What's so bad about being thought "masculine"? I can guess the answer to these questions, but being a woman and being recognized for your work seems so clearly worth fighting for.

This is well summarized by the tagline to this very website, "Well-behaved women seldom make history."

Posted by: Caterina at Apr 17, 2004 12:29:01 AM

I don't have access to HBR (but don't necessarily have time to read the article in any event), so I'm basing my reaction on the passage quoted here.

In essence: I'm not surprised by the content of the article -- I've read many articles that reach similar conclusions, but I still have a hard time understanding why this happens. I guess because it seems so unnecessary. What benefit accrues to women who decline recognition? What's so bad about being thought "masculine"? I can guess the answer to these questions, but being a woman and being recognized for your work seems so clearly worth fighting for.

This is well summarized by the tagline to this very website, "Well-behaved women seldom make history."

Posted by: Caterina at Apr 17, 2004 12:29:11 AM

I don't have access to HBR (but don't necessarily have time to read the article in any event), so I'm basing my reaction on the passage quoted here.

In essence: I'm not surprised by the content of the article -- I've read many articles that reach similar conclusions, but I still have a hard time understanding why this happens. I guess because it seems so unnecessary. What benefit accrues to women who decline recognition? What's so bad about being thought "masculine"? I can guess the answer to these questions, but being a woman and being recognized for your work seems so clearly worth fighting for.

This is well summarized by the tagline to this very website, "Well-behaved women seldom make history."

Posted by: Caterina Fake at Apr 17, 2004 12:29:18 AM

I think it's obvious, though kind of pathetic and horrid to admit. We want people to like us. There aren't many examples of well-liked women who are very ambitious or who are recognised for their achievements. We worry that if we're too sharp-elbowed, men (colleagues, friends, brother-in-laws and lovers) will feel threatened and will avoid us, and that we'll lose our companionship with women as well.

I feel that way, anyway, although in many ways it's nonsense.

The cure, at least in part, is to hang out with other women who enjoy their work and want to be successful. And to acknowledge that you may feel anxious about doing stuff and being visible and then to just do it anyway.

Perhaps men get anxious about these things too? Somehow I doubt it. Men are *supposed* to be ambitious and visible and successful. They have to excuse themselves if they're NOT these things.

Posted by: Jill at Apr 17, 2004 1:58:40 PM

i absolutely agree. tough girls, don't get to be invited to play with other girls.
acceptance, is like everything.

Posted by: madame butterfly at Apr 17, 2004 3:27:42 PM

"acceptance, is like everything"

No wonder women get paid less than men if that is your attitude. To complain about unequal pay levels between men and women and then to state that being accepted is more important than doing your job it's not surprising that people think of women as second class citizens.

It's the same in sexual harassment cases, women accuse men of harassing them in the work place when all the women are doing is using their womanly wiles to "be accepted".

With statements like that it's no surpise that equal rights is not just a worthless cause, but a hopeless one.

Posted by: Bebop at Apr 17, 2004 7:52:39 PM

i'd love to see a copy of the article if you don't mind. much thanks!

Posted by: nadine low at Apr 20, 2004 3:19:37 PM

wow. this article (thx danah) raises some of the same points about gender (and you can extend them to race) as in "Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America."

the HBR article hit it on the head: women have become so used to deferring to others because NOT doing so isn't womanly / feminine. in day-to-day interaction, you're forced to "shift" -- to borrow the phrase from the book -- so often that it becomes a part of your self.

but let's not forget that being seen as "too aggressive" can backfire.

"assertive," for men becomes "agressiveness" or "bitchiness" for women (and becomes "arrogant" or "an attitude problem" for black women, but that's a post for another 'blog). such a rep can also hinder your career.


Posted by: tiffany at Apr 22, 2004 1:58:40 PM

I would like to see the article too. Most things I read or hear on this subject pitch the idea of non-aggression or non-competitiveness as if it's a desire to appear "feminine" - i.e. sexually attractive - to men. However I think that women's communities function on consensus and on the principle of not standing out or asserting individuality. This hive mind effect, where everyone is hyper-aware of the other women's possible feelings or ideas or desires and is constantly making micro-adjustments, can be very comfortable and functional. A shared reality develops gradually over time. Aggression, assertiveness, wanting individual credit or recognition, boasting, and sometimes, even self-confidence, perturb a solely female community.

Well, that's what I think after a lifetime of getting evil looks and being snubbed for speaking up in class or at meetings and for insisting that what I do is important. Constant public self deprecation seems to be necessary not just to placate or attract men if you're hetero, but to make and keep women friends.

Yes I feel a little bit bitter about it at times. It is very hard to find other women who are supportive.

And I don't think for a second that it's some essential biological built in thing tied to gender. It is a survival mechanism, and one that works reasonably well, of an oppressed class.

Posted by: badgerbag at Apr 25, 2004 1:26:42 AM

I thought it was everyone whose accomplishments were destroyed, and that the only accomplishment was through the citation by others and continued value added. Still, who wants this 'customer of the year' award?

Posted by: S Nordquist at Apr 29, 2004 3:44:37 AM

I am interested in this article " Do Woman Luck Ambition ? but I don't have access to the HBR and I don' t have your Email address. Would you mind to copy this article to me(pkjanmanee@yahoo.com). Thank you.I look foreword.

Posted by: pk at Nov 19, 2004 4:30:39 AM

I have not read the article, since I have nothing to do with Harvard. Hope one of my kids will grow up to have something to do with Harvard. :) However, I totally, totally disagree that women lack ambition. For sure, I am not one of them. However, in my 20 years' of profession in Technology field, I learnt from first person experience that it is NOT easy to succeed in U.S. business. Many male supervisors are very insecure, and do try to suppress intelligent women. Women in general tend to be more of a doer, than a back stabber bullshit artist. Women are usually better managers, better team players and usually out-done men, if given the opportunity. But it is hard for women to make it up there. Not because they lack of ambition or talents, but often due to the fact that they simply are not in the circle.

Posted by: Mai Wah Cheung at Nov 24, 2004 1:43:59 AM

I had a cursory glance over the HBR article... anyway...

It is perhaps a bit limiting to classify human traits as being either
"masculine" traits or "feminine" traits. Certain traits are
obviously more suited to certain circumstances, and it seems likely
that they've become associated with the respective genders largely
because of the historical gender division. Perhaps there are some
"masculine" and some "feminine" traits that helped to temper the
historical division, but I think they are more limited than some
people believe them to be.

For example, a certian amount of (controlled) aggression is a
useful business trait, because one is competing for scarce
resources. There is nothing particularly masculine about this.
Women show it towards each other, but less so towards men, which
ought not to be the case. On the other hand, a more gentle touch
for handling children is required. This is certainly not a
characteristic female trait, and should not be viewed exclusively
as such.

I personally believe that a certain amount of responsibility
rests with women to say "enough", and to start asserting themselves
more strongly. I am disappointed by the number of apologies one
finds even in feminist literature about why women are different.
This is not necessary, and there is nothing noble about not
being "arrogant" or "egoistic".

You don't have to be a "bitch" (some women think they are very
dynamic and powerful when they take on the "bitch" persona; they
are however perceived as being very defensive and intimidated,
as well as just being nasty people). Just assert yourself.

I know that it is difficult with so many chauvenists around,
and I know that I cannot appreciate what women have to go through.
But somewhere women must start developing confidence, and there
is no better time than now!

Posted by: Wynand at Jan 8, 2005 11:44:14 AM

hi..
great blog. i'd love a copy of the HBR "do women lack ambition" article. i've been mulling over this topic for quite some time. thanks. my email is thofert@mac.com.

Posted by: taryn at Jan 3, 2006 12:12:06 PM