I was a single mother with two young children when I started my career. Newly divorced, I had no choice but to find a good paying job in order to survive financially. The sacrifices I made to build a career were many and I struggled every day with my desire to be the best parent as an ambitious woman. Work life balance was indeed a myth. There was no balance; just an ongoing conflict of how to focus my energy and time.

mid adult italian business woman banging her head against a wall outside office building. Vertical shape, copy space

Women make sacrifices every day for their career aspirations. My curiosity about the subject led to my research on women and ambition with special attention to how women manage their ambition over time.  In my survey of 615 professional women from ages 22 to 50+ from a variety of industries, 74% of the respondents stated that they are extremely/very ambitious. Yet it is apparent that these women make significant sacrifices for their careers. Companies seeking to retain top female talent need to listen to women to better understand not only the obstacles they face in the workplace, but the stress and sacrifices women make to manage their careers.

The most commonly cited sacrifice was being able to focus on and devote time to romantic and family relationships. These sacrifices fell into the following categories (in order of how often they were mentioned).

  • Time away from loved ones: missed time with family and friends

“I basically didn’t really see friends and family for 6 years. Vacations always working. Late nights trying to teach myself the industry because I wasn’t invited into the transitional analyst program since I didn’t fit the mold. I wish I could go back and spend more time with my family, it’s the only regret I have from being head down for many years.”

  • Relationship with partner/spouse: damaged relationship, hurt partner’s career

“Time away from home and spouse led to a lack of connection and rift that almost resulted in divorce. Too much focus on work and not enough on my physical and emotional health led to mental and physical health issues.”

  • Postponed or didn’t get married: prioritized work over romantic relationships and personal relationships

Many women described specific sacrifices related to children.

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