Usually, when we talk about success in terms of how it’s defined and experienced by men versus how it is by women, we call out the differences, which tend to fall along stereotypical gender lines. According to a 2006 study that appeared in the journal Sex Roles, for example, when women talk about success, they talk about the importance of relationships and feeling valued. Men focus more on material success. Surveys, like one commissioned by Citi and LinkedIn, further perpetuate the notion that women want balance while men want achievement. Women want to “have it all.” Men just want money. It’s an easy generalization to uphold, especially in a culture that still promotes the idea that men should be if not the primary breadwinners, then pretty significant contributors to the family pot.
But women want money, too. In fact, although the most widely hyped statistic pulled from the Citi/LinkedIn study was that 96 percent of women think they can “have it all,” with only 17 percent of women considering reaching the height of success in their field a factor in such an assessment, money ranked second in terms of how women define success. That’s because for many, male or female, money is tied to feelings of security and self-importance, and often very directly related to how much a person is worth at work. And so when women talk about wanting to feel valued, is it so different from when we talk about wanting to feel prestigious?
A survey of more than 4,000 male and female professionals by management consulting firm Accenture found that there may be more similarities than differences between men and women when it comes to defining success. More than two thirds of females—and the same number of males—surveyed felt they could “have it all.” More than half turned down a job due to concerns about its impact on work-life balance. Both genders, meanwhile, ranked the qualities of career success as work-life balance first, followed by money, recognition, and autonomy. And in the end, 53 percent of women, and 50 percent of men, said they are satisfied with their jobs. A 2010 study of male and female business school graduates published in the Journal of Behavioral Studies in Business, meanwhile, asked 2,000 men and women, “What is success to you?” Women answered “career goals.” Men, “personal growth.”
Our views of how men and women define success are shaped by social and cultural expectations: there is the expectation on the mother to say she’d rather be home with her child, or that she wishes she worked a little less; there is the expectation on the father to go out and earn if not all the money, then a good chunk of it. That is, the surveys are flawed: women may say they value family over work, or work-life balance, because that’s what they think they should say.
Although men say they want balance, too, are they willing to give up their paycheck to get it?
The Sex Roles study suggests that the different expectations that women face—that is, the fact that they’re conditioned to be caring and nurturing—may indeed lead them to express—though, notably, not necessarily feel—different values and concerns. Which means that we’re not asking the right questions—though we’re starting to. The Accenture study makes clear, if there is a female-driven commitment to work-life balance, it will likely not be so gender-specific for long. How’s that for having it all?
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