Can Women Be Too Ambitious?
More often than not, as women, we’re trapped in a paradox of being told to shoot for the moon, but to take our imposed positions on the ground. We’re told to propel ourselves to our goals, while keeping in mind that they shouldn’t be too lofty, and if there isn’t a path, blaze one for ourselves, and the women behind us.
We’re also told to “think and act like a man” as it’s the only way to get ahead in a competitive field, and to speak up, but typically, when we see women find the confidence to engage in these assertive behaviors, the narrative surrounding their persona is usually negative; they’re considered bossy, bitchy, and… too ambitious.
Portrayal of Female Leadership
Take for example the portrayal of female leadership in the media; When Hillary Clinton was running for President in 2016, she was subject to the misogynistic narrative of not being “maternal” enough, more recently, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, another outspoken female leader, experienced on-the-job sexism and bullying when profanity was hurled at her by a colleague at our Nation’s Capital, and finally, with Kamala Harris’ recent naming as Joe Biden’s VP, it’s been said that she may be “too ambitious” for the position.
It’s no secret that being an ambitious female leaves others (men and women) feeling threatened, but this is no reason to feel the need to retreat back into a space of docile silence, awaiting permission to think, speak, and act. This type of blatant sexism erodes at a woman’s upward mobility and confidence. So, when we’re caught in-between imposter syndrome and being “too pioneering” as women, can we find ourselves being too ambitious?
There’s No Such Thing As Too Much Ambition
In short, the answer is no. Women in leadership positions, especially women in search of a corporate board seat, have more than likely been on the receiving end of an attack for their behaviors, behaviors that men are often praised for. And that’s just an overt example of one of the many types of microaggressions a woman will experience in her daily work life. So, what can we do to fight this type of gender inequality and sexism in the workplace?
Gender Equality in The Workplace
Demand gender equality in the workplace, sparking structural change. This evolution should begin with leadership, but that doesn’t always mean it does. If you’re part of an industry in which women are traditionally underrepresented, find out what company policies can be created or evolved to spur recruitment of women, and especially, women of color.
Organizational Change Starts with You
Simply, work to change how your company or organization recruits. If you want your industry, company, or office to change, you’re going to have to get involved. Organizations all over the country are currently restructuring various departments in order to have a more diverse representation.
We need to get even louder and do so with purpose. Review your rights and policies on discrimination based on sex and gender, and work to protect yourself and your peers. If you’re witness to sexism whether it be benevolent; a woman isn’t invited to attend an important business meeting because it’s assumed, she’d prefer to make it to her child’s recital, or hostile sexism; suggesting that certain tasks in the office are designated for women – tasks in which women serve others, call them out!
Calling out toxic behaviors in work environments is the first step to ending them. These behaviors compound and result in less women being promoted to leadership positions, and if women aren’t represented in leadership, how are we supposed to help other women climb the ladder?
Support Fellow Women
Finally, support other women by making yourself available. If you’re in a leadership position, mentor women, and look to hire and promote more women.
You can also raise your female colleagues up publicly by acknowledging the great idea or solution they proposed in a meeting, crediting a fellow woman for boosting sales last quarter, or helping her to expand her professional network by introducing to some individuals within yours.
In order to fight against the sexist narrative that women can be too ambitious or too aggressive, we have to begin to call out our peers for giving this misinformation momentum. We also have to support, recruit, and promote women and nurture their careers when we see them engage in the same ambitions as men. It’s no coincidence the term was coined, “May the best man win.” It’s time for that terms to progress into, “May the best person win” and that progress begins with you.
If you’re interested in continuing the conversation, Reach out to me directly!
Sheila Ronning, Founder, Women in the Boardroom