“What makes women tick?” is a question that vexes (almost) every man, marketer, recruiter, salesperson, media executive and politician.
With women still only 7.4% of the Fortune 500 CEOs, executives, recruiters, and advocates are wondering what needs to happen for more women to ascend to those roles.
A brand new study conducted by Green Connections Media (GCM) in partnership with IDS Publishing may provide some answers, especially for those in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math). This survey is called the Reiss Motivational Profile (“RMP”), a “scientifically developed, comprehensive test of what motivates an individual,” originally developed by the late Professor Steven Reiss, detailed in his book, “Who Am I? 16 Basic Desires That Motivate Our Actions, Define Our Personalities.”
“What the RMP helps people to do, is to think about what they really want out of life, what’s really important to them,” Maggi Reiss, Cofounder and President of IDS Publishing told me on my podcast Green Connections Radio recently.
Briefly stated, IDS Publishing’s RMP identified “the 16 fundamental motives” as follows: Acceptance, Curiosity, Eating, Family, Honor, Idealism, Independence, Order, Physical Activity, Power, Romance, Saving, Social Contact, Status, Tranquility, and Vengeance.
What Motivates High-Achieving Women
The GCM study was distributed to and through GCM’s extended network of women in STEM, climate, energy, sustainability, corporate responsibility and beyond, including via social media, alumni groups and professional organizations, during the late spring and early summer of 2020. It was also shared by people in those groups, reaching various types of people. No corporations or other organizations sponsored this study; the only parties involved in conducting it were GCM and IDSP. (Full disclosure: I am the CEO and Founder of GCM.)
The respondents were asked specifically if they identify as “focused mostly on being high-achieving in my professional career,” or “focused mostly on priorities other than professional achievement.” These findings reflect women who responded as “high-achieving,” which was roughly 50% of the respondents and 89% of them said they are in the United States (this study was entirely anonymous; no respondent data was collected).
This new RMP study found three motivations, or “basic desires that characterize (self-described) high-achieving women,” as compared to women not focused primarily on professional achievement:
Power: As Reiss told me, “The Power motive on the Reiss Motivation Profile is basically a measure of how achievement-oriented you are…how much you want to be a leader, how much you want to make your mark in the world professionally….” She added that this person “sets very challenging goals for him/herself, is willing to work very hard for those goals” and “is very determined, wants to excel in his/her career.“
The RMP information further clarifies it as “the desire for influence of will…People with high scores on Power value competence, productivity, and excellence.”
Status: “Status…is defined as the desire for respect based on social standing. So, these are people who value wealth, fame and prestige,” Reiss explained, adding, “In our society, your profession has a big influence on how people perceive your social standing….And, it makes sense, because if you’re interested in being high-achieving, that’s going to get you the career that you want…and the sense of importance you’re looking for….You can also have a desire for respect based on achievement; that would be the power motive.” People with this motivation, the RMP profile information says, “place great value on their reputation and some choose a profession based on its perceived level of prestige.”
Curiosity: “Curiosity…is the desire for understanding, they like to think, they like to analyze complex issues, they like to discuss intellectual issues, they like to read,” Reiss said. “the higher you progress in a career the more opportunities there are for thinking, so it makes sense.” This includes a desire for problem-solving, for “theoretical understanding and ideas” even if they aren’t directly relevant to your work or life.
This new RMP study also found one other motivation that the women from both groups in this study scored significantly higher on than most women across the RMP datasets:
Idealism: All women respondents to this particular survey “score much stronger on Idealism…than the typical female” (as reflected in the RMP global female dataset of about 35,000 women), according to Reiss. “Idealism is the desire for social justice. They place great value on fairness, equality and helping others.”
This may reflect the particular methods used for recruiting respondents to this study, or it may reflect women in STEM careers more broadly, or women in energy-climate-sustainability and corporate responsibility more broadly. More research would need to be done to determine which specific subsets of women are motivated by “idealism.”
One of the other fascinating findings in this survey, is that both groups had low “Acceptance” needs, which Reiss said reflects that these women are self-confident and not afraid of failure. Reiss extrapolated that the women who are not making their career a priority are perfectly happy with their choice “This is what they want to do with their lives.”
What does this study mean for your career path?
“If you have a strong need for something, you need to do things to satisfy that need,” Reiss explained that you will go out of your way to fulfill those needs. Since “work is a big part of your day,” it’s natural to want your work to satisfy your strong needs.
Reiss put it in context for our own career choices this way: “I think it’s important to know yourself….When you know yourself, you can put yourself in situations where you can thrive….When you know yourself and you know somebody else that you’re close with, you can appreciate that if you have a difference with them, it’s a difference in values. It’s not that their right and you’re wrong, it’s that you differ in your values.”
You can listen to my full interview wit Maggi Reiss on my podcast, Green Connections Radio and wherever you like to listen to podcasts.