Study: First Two Years Are Critical for Women’s Career Ambitions

How much of a difference can two years make? If you’re a young woman just entering the workforce, it turns out the answer is: a lot.New research from Bain & Company found that women start their careers with levels of confidence and ambition that drop drastically after just two years on the job. Among the new female employees in the study, 43 percent had aspirations to reach top management someday, and 27 percent reported they were confident they had the skills to get there. Among experienced female employees—those with two or more years of work experience—only 16 percent had management aspirations, and only 13 percent felt confident they could eventually reach the C-suite.In contrast, men stayed the same in ambition after two years (34 percent of both new and experienced employees had top managerial aspirations), and only dipped slightly in confidence (with 28 percent of new employees and 25 percent of experienced employees confident in their ability to reach the C-suite). It appears that a lot more women are losing their appetite for corporate power.The study challenges a conventional narrative about the lack of women in management: that women decide to scale back their careers when they become mothers. Rather, the study authors argue, “these findings suggest that an employee’s experience at work in the early years of their career shapes their choice to either pursue C-suite roles or stay behind.” They cite a number of factors that may be changing women’s minds, including a perception that women don’t fit an “ideal worker” stereotype, a lack of supervisory support for young women, and too few female role models in senior-level positions.This isn’t terrific news for women’s leadership advocates, but it is important news for us to note as we pivot to ask: what can we do to break this pattern? Annie Lowrey at New York Magazine suggests “allowing for more flexible work schedules, encouraging people to actually use those flexible work schedules, and celebrating people who succeed using those flexible work schedules.” What are your ideas?