The Career Confidence Cliff

Picture two co-workers: While one is slightly timid about voicing opinions in meetings and spearheading projects, the other is clearly more ambitious, openly striving for a seat in the corner office someday.

Who's the man, and who's the woman?

Well, if the co-workers are relatively recent hires, there's a good chance the more self-assured one is a female. But 10 years later? That go-getter is probably a guy.

That's according to new research by Bain & Company, which suggests that, while men become more confident and ambitious over time, women's motivation tends to deteriorate.

Specifically, the study found that, when they're in the first two years of their position, as many as 43% of women aspire to reach top management, while only 34% of men do. At that point, men and women are equally confident that they'll be able to attain that top management position.

But among employees with at least two years of experience, the tables turn. While 34% of men still have their sights set on a managerial position, just 16% of women say the same. What's more, women in this stage of their careers are 50% less confident than they were early on, while men are about as confident as they were starting out.

The researchers suggest the problem lies in the lack of support for women in the conference room. In other words, women already receive some support in the classroom, before they launch their careers, and in the boardroom, once they officially make it to the top. But mid-career women are often left to fend for themselves.

In fact, the study found that many women at this stage in their careers feel they don't fit stereotypes of the typical worker, that they don't have women role models and that their supervisors are unsupportive of their ambitions. Though perhaps surprisingly, these results didn't differ between mothers and non-mothers.

Regardless of your gender, sometimes the best way to make the leap to the next level in your career is to ask for help. Read up on why one economist thinks sponsors are the key to professional success.

This post originally appeared on LearnVest.

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