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Women in leadership: Generation Ambition

Rhian Morgan

Two-thirds of women would stab their work friends in the back to get ahead in the workplace, according to a recent magazine survey. Do our future leaders really believe regressing to stereotypical hair-pulling behaviour is the way forward, asks Rhian Morgan?

We would all like a nice lifestyle but would you stab your best friend in the back to get it? Unfortunately, according to a recent Grazia magazine poll on women in work, two-thirds of the 1,000 women surveyed say they would. Even worse, some women say they are prepared to go to any lengths to succeed, with more than 10 per cent admitting to spying on a colleague by raking through their drawers and reading their emails.

One in 10 has also taken the credit for a colleagues work, while 40 per cent have lied to their boss to avoid getting in to trouble. Grazia interviewed women of an average age of 30. Editor Jane Bruton euphemistically says the survey reveals a new Generation Ambition among women. I asked around and no woman was willing to go on record to say she had ever behaved like that in the workplace. However, I did hear plenty of stories from women who had been on the rough end of treatment.

One top manager told me: A fellow manager saw everyone as a threat to her hard-won position of authority and, instead of encouraging or fostering our talent, she sought to crush it through lack of acknowledgement or, worse, public humiliation." So what motivates these women to get to the top, no matter what it takes? Success, power, self esteem? Actually, the answer is a lot more basic. Six out of 10 working women said they would accept more money even if it meant losing their work/life balance, and even 50 per cent of mothers agreed.

Bruton commented: " Work is more important than ever to women and ambition is no longer a dirty word. The days of keeping our heads down during the difficult landscape of recession finally seem over. Its great that women are getting their work mojo back and feeling confident and ambitious again. However, our survey also shows that ‘Generation Ambition’ is showing a new ruthless streak at work which is probably a response to the combination of rising living costs and living through an economic slump – they simply can’t afford not to make it to the top.”

But is it true? Do women feel like they need to ruthlessly cut down their colleagues just to earn a living wage? Seeing as riches seems to be the main motivator, I think not. Forty per cent aim to earn more than 50,000 as soon as they can, while 16 per cent said they wouldn't be happy until they were earning more than 100,000.

Yet how much is enough? Its admirable that women want to reach the top of their field but, as my last blog revealed, the most fulfilled women are actually on quite low salaries.

What is a positive is that the women surveyed feel they do not need to act like a man to get ahead in the workplace and only five per cent said they would flirt to get ahead. However, 30 per cent had still experienced sexism in the office.

I wondered who the women being surveyed are. Who is the typical Grazia woman? Apparently, she's an Alpha female, one of the highest earners, yet still young, aged between 25 and 45. These women are our leaders, our managers, they run the companies and the country. They could be you.

So at first glance, is it rather disappointing that the role model of the role models for about half of them is a WAG (Victoria Beckham, 51%)? The other women envied for their careers are a tarnished celebrity chef (Nigella Lawson, 11%), a film critic (Claudia Winkleman, 10 per cent), and a newsreader and Strictly Come Dancing contestant (Susanna Reid, five per cent) celebrities, basically, and celebrities who all came from privileged backgrounds and had a good start in life. Where are the captains of industry, the chief execs of charities, the world leaders? And where's the social mobility, the women who are completely self-made, and not related to someone who can give their career an almighty push-start? After all, 72% think talent alone will get you where you want to go but their choices of role model belie this.

Well, six per cent did at least vote for Hilary Clinton, a woman who came from an average background but, through sheer talent and hard work, made it to the top of the field, becoming Secretary of State and being merely a whisper away from making it to the top job in the US - president.

Beckham, for instance, has indeed had a privileged stage school background, boasts classic good looks, and marriage to the most famous footballer in the world and no doubt these all contributed to her success. But she is a talent in her own right, a successful fashion designer whose personality (and husbands contacts, admittedly) have made her a force to be reckoned with. Many journalists even tell me she is actually a funny, friendly, woman's woman.

Lawson is another woman's woman, who still emerges as a domestic goddess despite all the mud-slinging at the moment. When asked if she is a feminist recently, she expressed shock that anyone would even need to ask such an obvious question.

Winkleman also seems like the type of woman you'd like to go on a night out with interesting, earthy, and one of the girls. While Reid is a woman who, like Beckham, seemingly has it all a loving family whom she is looking to put before her work. If recent reports are true, she is rumoured to be looking for a more family-friendly role without the long commute and choosing to do Strictly was just a means to an end.

So I prefer to look on the positive side. Women may brag that they're the Mean Girls of the business world but their role models show they may actually be more Working Girl.

What do you think? Are you one of the readers surveyed? Do you think women need to walk over everyone else to succeed? Or do you think the best managers are team players? Post your comments below.

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