Success — It’s Different for Women

success conceptYou thought so, isn’t that what you’re telling yourself? That of course the definition of success is different for men and women. However, according to statistical research, the difference is a surprising one: Men are the ones for whom success is more about having a family not about having money. That goes against all gender stereotypes and reflects how radically things have changed over the last few decades, with women becoming much more independent in every aspect of their lives, but most importantly in their thinking. Let’s see some figures from a Citi/LinkedIn survey titled “Today’s Professional Woman Report”, the third one that explores what is important for women in career and financial matters, based on information garnered from more than 1,000 professionals.

A balance between work life and personal life seems to be equally important for both genders, with men putting a slightly greater emphasis on it, at 50%, than women, at 48%. As for the “having it all” ideal, 79% of male respondents in the survey said for them this was having a loving family. The same was true for just 66% of women. And what about children? For 86% of men kids were part of the definition of success but they were such a part for fewer women, at 73%. So, it seems that women are no longer finding it necessary and natural to equate success with having a family and raising kids. What’s more, women are more liberal when it comes to marriage: while a quarter of female respondents said it’s enough for them to be in a loving relationship, not necessarily a marriage, the same was true for just 14% of male respondents. There is also a portion of women who don’t even factor in relationships at all in their definition of success, and this portion, 9% in 2013, was almost double the figure from the previous year which was 5%.

So, if family and relationships are not necessarily an ingredient of success for all women, what is? According to the Citi/LinkedIn survey, when it comes to career, there are a few factors that women consider to be key. Among these, the most important one — the one identified as important by the greatest number of respondents, at 90% — is the flexibility of their work schedule and the ability to work from home. The same is important for 72% of men. Also, 87% of women say that the availability of resources and training for professional development is important for them, versus 78% of men. A good maternity and paternity leave policy at a company was defined as important by 56% of women and 36% of men.

In light of these figures, a question may arise about whether women have become more career-focused than men. This is one possibility, but one could also speculate that having a family is not necessarily considered an element of success, because it’s part of the natural course of things.  Maybe there are many women who do not consider their family a personal achievement. Of course, at the same time more women are shunning the idea that a woman can only be fulfilled if she is a mother and a homemaker. Certainly, more research on the issue needs to be made on the subject but it seems safe to say that just because not all women factor family in their success equation this doesn’t mean it’s not important for those who do. What’s more, it could be argued that the reason not all women consider family the ultimate mark of success is because empowerment has led them to embrace the traditional male definition of success.

This is what renowned journalist and book author Arianna Huffington suggested in a TV interview last year. She says that women have bought into the male definition of success that focuses on having money and power but this is not working for either gender. This traditional view of success has turned stress and overworking into more of a norm than an exception, ultimately leading to unhappiness. But things are changing, as evidence by the Citi/LinkedIn survey, where the majority in both genders said that doing something meaningful and enjoyable was more important than financial security. A separate study was carried out by the Huffington Post among its Twitter and Facebook followers and it revealed that doing something meaningful and impactful is a main ingredient for women’s definition of success today. Among the other things that constituted success for the respondents to the Huffington Post survey were making your family happy, helping others be successful, being proud of yourself, doing your best and being able to appreciate the good things in life and doing something you really love for a living. No mention about money at all.

Huffington herself is a great proponent of redefining success in a way that will take away the focus that is traditionally being put on material wealth and power.  The third metric, as she calls it, the other two being said money and power, involves wellbeing, wisdom, wonder and giving. This idea seems to reflect in no small degree the mental shift in Western culture that is being spearheaded by the millennial generation. Millennials are the ones pushing for careers that are meaningful, that have a wider impact on society rather than just on the bottom life of a single company, that involve giving and not just giving your time and skills to your employer but giving to others. Feeling good about what you do makes people happy and isn’t that what success is all about? According to the majority of women that took part in the Citi/LinkedIn study, it is.

The idea that success should be redefined to include things that are intangible but essential for happiness is also supported by scientific research adding proof to common sense beliefs such as that happiness makes you more productive and being appreciated at work also has a beneficial effect on productivity and, at the end of the day, happiness. In fact, researchers are strongly advising businesses to shift their focus from simply urging their employees on with eyes on short-term financial performance goals, to really appreciating their work and their contribution and saying so. After all, we all like to feel valued.

To recap, the notion of success is changing and it’s not changing just for women. For most of them, however, success is equal to happiness and the main ingredients of happiness are doing something that you love, wealth and a balance between professional and personal life. WEalth, though it may seem to add a materialistic edge to women’s concept of happiness could in fact be seen as financial security. The Citi/LinkedIn survey found that financial concerns are a much greater burden for women, so it’s only logical that having financial security in the form of sufficient income should be one of the keys to success and happiness, especially in view of the growing number of single-parent families in which the mother is the one single bread-earner. And still, making money doesn’t trump the importance of doing something that you love.

Success is actually an individual thing, it’s different for everybody and more and more people are starting to wake up to this truth. It’s getting easier nowadays to throw off the shackles of cultural expectations and a pressure to conform to some generally accepted idea of success and pursuing your own, individual version of it. Hence the women who don’t equate happiness with a family and the men who don’t equate it with a fat paycheck. The world is moving in the right direction if people of both genders are no longer feeling the need to fit some gender-specific stereotype in order to be able to consider themselves successful.



1. Olson, Lindsay. “The Path to Professional Success for Women.”

2. “New Survey from Citi and LinkedIn Explores the Factors that Shape Men’s and Women’s Professional Paths – and Their Varied Definitions of Success.” Business Wire, October, 2013.

3. Gray, Emma. “19 Things That Mean ‘Success’ For Women.” The Huffington Post, July 2013.

4. Schawbel, Dan. “Arianna Huffington: Why Entrepreneurs Should Embrace The Third Metric.” Forbes, March 2014.

5. Ryan, Liz. “Why Millennials Annoy Their Elders.” Forbes, February 2014.

6. “3 Tips To Improve The Productivity Of Your Team.” Women’s Empowerment Initiative, May 2014.