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Glass ceiling or poison chalice? Hidden suffering in the workplace

Are women less ambitious than men or just more ready to say no?

In the 1970’s a popular TV series documented the professional and emotional decline of a salesman. Reginald Perrin was seen shedding his clothes and wading into the sea in an attempt to fake his death, while his shrewish stay at home wife poured scorn and judgement down the phone. Home audiences roared with laughter at the premise that a man might want a more emotionally rounded life with family time.

Fast forward to the present day, and how things have changed – or perhaps not. The high profile resignation of Kevin Roberts has once again shone the spotlight on preconceptions of the sexes in the workplace. His statement that women’s ambition was not vertical but rather circular and that their goal was to be happy has been universally deemed inappropriate, sexist and trite.

That may be so but rather than pitting men against women, perhaps the question should be not whether this is true of women but whether a more rounded work life balance is a secret goal of both sexes.

A recent LinkedIn survey found that 80% of women had never heard male colleagues discuss the hardships of achieving a satisfactory work life balance, whereas over 50% of men had heard other men engage in this discussion.

Is there truly a discrepancy in the level of balance felt in these individuals’ lives – or are men traditionally more reticent to admit they are struggling? A Mental Health Foundation survey conducted this year found that far more women indicate unhappiness than men (42% of women compared with 29% of men) but do these figures reflect the true scale of male and female misery or the ability to express it?

Increasingly, statistics show that men are declining job offers which offer a worse work-life balance. This should be good news for everyone who supports common human goals, employees and employers alike. The Corporate Executive Board, voice of 80% of the Fortune 500 companies conducted a survey of 50,000 global workers and reported that employees who believe they have good work-life balance worked 21% harder than those that don’t.

In a society where both partners are increasingly working, there is more scope to achieve your perfect balance, to admit to your limitations. There is room for those that wish to move in a circular fashion and scope for the rest to scale the giddy heights.

What does this mean for those individuals who want to climb? A more level playing field. People, not men or women, but people, are aspiring to more balanced lives and employers are increasingly seeing the benefits of happy, fulfilled employees of both sexes.

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