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November 7, 2011 / Anna Louie Sussman

“Women are less ambitious now.” Or something.

Yes, I bit the link-bait. “Survey: More professional women choosing time over money.” It was a USA Today story reporting on a national survey conducted by More magazine. Here’s the write-up from More’s website:

Since the 1970s, women have poured into the American workplace—and now we’re at a crossroads. Stymied in our efforts to advance, confused about how to manage both a full personal life and a promising career, women are asking two questions: “Is it possible?” and “Is it worth it?” Their answers will surprise you.

For More’s third annual workplace report, we partnered with the PollingCompany/WomanTrend to survey women about their attitudes toward their jobs. Their responses make clear that in the search for balance, women are sacrificing ambition. When asked point-blank, 43 percent of women described themselves as less ambitious now than they were 10 years ago; only 15 percent reported feeling more ambitious.

Women are finished living to work; now we want to work to live. For more surprising results from our survey and for the top ten flexible jobs for professional women, pick up the November issue of More, on newsstands now.

I guess I could go pick up the November issue of More, on newsstands now, but I’m put off by the fact that they’re not only hiding the results behind a paywall of sorts (the newsstand), but there’s not even a hint of discussion one about the methodology. When the results are this discouraging and this provocative, throw the internet/blogosphere a bone, will ya? There’s something innately irritating about saying “We did our third annual gigantic supermega poll, and the results will BLOW YOUR MIND. Please go pick up a paper copy so the results may not be easily discussed or linked to online.” How did they phrase the questions? Who were they surveying? How many people? Only More readers? By phone? Online?

Isn’t it ironic that a magazine called “More” would give you so little?

The economist and blogger Echidne (subject of a forthcoming Shoulder Pads interview) wrote up the USA Today story on her blog, reaching many of the same conclusions I did.

Then have a look at the way the results are reported. For instance, the quote above on wanting the boss’s job states that “Almost 2 of 5 — 38% — report they don’t want to put up with the stress, office politics and responsibility that often go hand in hand with such positions.”

Does that means that more than three out of five ARE prepared to put up with those negative side-effects? I couldn’t get hold of the study to check and it’s always possible that some respondents said they don’t know or didn’t answer the question.

Now this would be a fun assignment. Pick the data above and write a post about how many women really are very ambitious at work! One in four of all women are hovering around, ready to grab the job of their bosses! One in four are avidly working towards their next promotion! And so on.

Most men are not working towards their next promotion. I’m willing to bet on that. But because we didn’t study that at all, everything about the interpretations is pure speculation.

Even more disturbing was the MSNBC coverage of the poll, which, at two and a half minutes long, also fails to report on the methodology and recites the same depressing, headline-making statistics and includes gems like these, regarding the reasons women said they were less ambitious.

“The pressure, the responsibility. Most just wanted to have ‘a life.'”

The implication, of course, is that men can handle the pressure, the responsibility, and don’t want to have a life, because they’d rather be successful. And that’s how we wind up with a Fortune 500 list that’s 96 percent male. I am all for work-life balance, but propagating the idea that women are averse to pressure and responsibility and would rather faff around having “a life” (which, of course, presumes another earner in the household, supporting that “life”) is dangerous and irresponsible. And, given that women now hold the majority of managerial positions, it’s also kinda not true. From Hanna Rosin’s “The End of Men.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women now hold 51.4 percent of managerial and professional jobs—up from 26.1 percent in 1980. They make up 54 percent of all accountants and hold about half of all banking and insurance jobs. About a third of America’s physicians are now women, as are 45 percent of associates in law firms—and both those percentages are rising fast.

The MSNBC piece ends with this doozy, which more or less declares “The End of Women.”

“A message from the generation that broke through the glass ceiling to their daughters: Maybe having it all isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

Uh, sure, right, maybe. It’s entirely possible that the survey results truly did include that message. But without any details – who they polled, their ages, how many of them there were, etc. – are we really supposed to accept, at face value, that “women are less ambitious now than they were ten years ago”?

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