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How might co-workers view your workplace ambition?

10 Dec 2020

These ResumeLab infographics look at attitudes towards ambition in the workplace and the stereotype that men are more driven than women.

There are certain things that we’ve been taught are important to career progression, and that can be especially true for women. We apparently need to speak up more, to say sorry less. We need to be more ambitious.

But what does ambition look like in today’s working world? Does it mean you have to put your co-workers down in order to move ahead? Do you have to work longer hours? Is there a difference between men and women? To learn more, ResumeLab surveyed almost 950 workers in the US.

When asked what being ambitious meant to them, more than half (53pc) of respondents described it as a “desire for achievements, distinction and power”. A further 43pc viewed it as a “desire to develop and grow”. Just 4pc of participants understood it as a “desire to be better than others”.

The vast majority (80pc) said they believed being ambitious was a good thing. Less than one-fifth were neutral towards it and just 2pc said they viewed it negatively. A little more than half said they like it when their colleagues are ambitious, 44pc said they didn’t care and 2pc said they didn’t like it.

However, 46pc of participants said they had at some point felt hostility towards a colleague that showed ambition. This was far more common in smaller companies with between 51 and 200 employees than larger ones.

The ‘ambition gap’

Going back to attitudes about women’s career progression, the ‘ambition gap’ has traditionally been defined as women having less desire to climb the workplace ladder than men.

But according to researchers at the University of Toronto, women are just as ambitious as men. Progression for women isn’t stunted by a lack of desire for success, the researchers suggested, but because they are penalised for showing ambition.

ResumeLab’s survey asked participants if they thought of ambition as a masculine trait and 39pc – 34pc of women and 44pc of men – said they did. It also found that people with more experience put less stock into the stereotype of the ambition gap; 29pc of people with between 11 and 20 years of experience correlated ambition with masculinity, while 18pc of those with more than 20 years’ experience made the same connection.

ResumeLab said: “Those who have had more time to witness their female and male co-workers’ performance know better because the stereotype has been proven time and time again to be false.”

ResumeLab infographic about attitudes towards ambition in the workplace.

Click to enlarge. Infographic: ResumeLab

ResumeLab infographic about attitudes towards ambition in the workplace.

Click to enlarge. Infographic: ResumeLab

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Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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