How Companies Make Women Less Ambitious Over Time

In Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, the Facebook executive acknowledged the structural sexism that women face in the workplace but sought to address the “barriers that exist within ourselves.” She argued that women “hold ourselves back” by becoming less professionally aggressive when, for example, they anticipate a pregnancy. Thus the title’s exhortation to “lean in” to the workplace: “We lower our own expectations of what we can achieve…. Compared to our male colleagues, fewer of us aspire to senior positions,” she wrote.

Now the Lean In organization, partnered with the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, has released a new study based on surveys of nearly 30,000 people and 118 businesses. And the findings cut against the idea that women simply don’t try as hard as men to get to the top. They start out equally hungry, but the workplace itself grinds them down.

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