Every week we learn of more research about how the current workplace culture affects women’s ambition. There is a consistent message that a lack of gender equality and pervasive bias and discrimination sabotages women’s careers. Certainly the reports validate our experience in the workplace. And while this information is critical to affect any cultural change, is it possible that these negative messages fuel our own sense of lack of control?
Deloitte’s global survey of millennials this year shows women (67 percent) are slightly more likely than men (64 percent) to leave their employers within the next five years. 48 percent of female respondents say they are “being overlooked for potential leadership positions.” What is also of interest, however, is that many of these women feel they have no control over their careers. In fact, only 29% feel they have total control.
I conducted hundreds of interviews with professional women to write my book, The Politics of Promotion: How High Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead. These women were all working in predominantly male-dominated industries. Victimized by the politics in their organizations, many felt they had no control. They avoided politics to their peril and subsequently witnessed others less qualified being promoted over them. They blamed the workplace culture and bias for their misfortune. Many were stuck in unfulfilling jobs or left the workforce in frustration. They didn’t realize their victim mentality resulted in giving up their power and control. By learning to be more politically savvy they could have taken control. Control was available but they either didn’t see it or weren’t willing to take it.
Recently, I surveyed over 600 women ranging from 22 years old to over 50 about their ambition. 73% stated that they were very or extremely ambitious! But one third reported that their ambition was sabotaged by specific workplace situations including gender bias and unsupportive managers.
One of the women who took my survey stated, “I always had a passion for pursuing a career at a huge company and after college I did that. I found out how much politics play in corporate America and it turned me off. I went from someone being so sure of what I wanted to do to be successful and now that I have been exposed to the true nature of corporate I have no clue what I should do next.”
Another woman commented, “My last job I was very undervalued and not recognized for going above and beyond all of the time, where others I worked with did little to no ‘extras’. They always reaped the benefits and I was looked past. It frustrated me to no end and it made me want to give up and stop trying”.
What happens when we feel a lack of control over our careers? Often we are frustrated, unhappy, and paralyzed to take positive action. We fall into the victim mentality without realizing it. This contributes to career quicksand and discontent. This feeling of not having control over one’s career destiny is ubiquitous for women today.