What Men And Women Want From Their Career

The world of work is evolving at a rapid pace, driven in no small part by the increased longevity of the average human life.  Children born today are likely to live until they’re 100, and this will have profound implications on the three stage life of studying, working and retiring that we have grown familiar with.

The modern career is instead characterized by regular work interruptions as we take breaks from work to study, refresh ourselves and make the longer working life we will have more endurable.  This kind of non-linear approach to work was first documented in the Kaleidoscope Career Model.  It outlines three core factors that need to be aligned for us to enjoy and be satisfied by our career:

  1. Authenticity – this is defined as our need to work in a way that is consistent with our core values.
  2. Balance – which is defined as the level of work-life balance we’re able to strike, and whether we’re happy with this level.
  3. Challenge – which refers to the need for our work to provide us with intellectual stimulation that stretches and challenges us whilst also providing a degree of progression and advancement.

Suffice to say, our priorities in terms of each of these vary at various points in our life and career, but the key is to strike the right balance between the three to ensure we’re as happy as possible.

There is an understandable difference in how this model is applied by men and women however.  For instance, there are two main patterns that have been identified over the years.  The first (alpha model) of these sees challenge as the main factor, whereas the second (beta model) sees balance as the priority.  Typically people want to have it all in the early stages of their career, but then around midlife they prioritize.  It’s at this stage that gender differences appear most starkly.

Career priorities

A recent study identified five distinct career stages where this divergence is greatest.  For instance, up until the mid point in the careers of women, balance was the most important factor, but this was much less so for men.  In authenticity however, they were broadly the same until the mid point, where it became more important for women and less so for men.  Challenge was similarly important for both, with it consistently declining in importance over time.

The findings suggest that in midlife, the transition from the alpha to beta is particularly pronounced among women.  The authors believe that this has important implications, not only for individuals as they seek a career they’re happy with, but also for recruiters and HR managers as they seek to attract talented individuals at various stages of their career.

In our new age of portfolio careers, this requirement for different things at different stages in our lives is only likely to be exacerbated.  Hopefully it provides food for thought for anyone interested in career development.