Women’s ambition has recently been the focus of a considerable amount of research and surveys. Time and Real Simple, Lean.Org and Mckinsey, Bain and Company, and Harvard Business School are among the many organizations that have studied the current level of ambition of professional women. The conclusions of these studies are clear; that women face many challenges in the workplace, and that these challenges affect their confidence and their ability to sustain their ambition over the course of their careers.
Workplace practices are still ingrained with gender bias and stereotypes. This pervasive bias, the lack of female role models and opportunities, little managerial support, as well as women’s discomfort with power are cited as some of the key reasons women become disenchanted with the goal of attaining top leadership positions. What’s evident is that women are becoming increasingly frustrated with the system and internal politics. Many are questioning if it’s worth the stress to be ambitious in a male dominated environment that still considers them outsiders.
In order to sustain ambition, it is necessary to master a skill and receive acknowledgement and recognition for that skill. It is that recognition that provides the encouragement we need to stay in the game. In her book, Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women’s Changing Lives, Anna Fels states that in order to maintain ambition, one also needs to believe that their goal is reachable and that the rewards are worth the effort.
How does this apply to women in the workplace today?
Women now have the opportunity to master their skills. In fact, we are receiving college and post graduate degrees in record numbers, outpacing our male counterparts. But mastery of the skill is only one part of the equation. As we see from the above mentioned studies, women lack the recognition and role models and, therefore, the subsequent encouragement and belief that they can reach leadership positions. They look at senior leadership in their companies and see only white men. They don’t see a clear path to achieving their goals. As a result, they become frustrated and lose the ambition they might have had earlier in their careers.
Certainly, the workplace culture as we know it today needs to change to meet the needs and values of future employees. The current culture of working long hours and 24/7 availability is challenging for most women. But changing the culture takes time and the reality is that women today can still maintain their ambition in a number of ways.
Here are 7 ways women can own their ambition today:
Examine your own mindset and bias about ambition and power.
Many of us have deep seated beliefs about ambitious women that hold us back. Unconsciously we have adopted societal norms and expectations around gender. These beliefs create an internal conflict and result in our ambivalence about ambition as we struggle with the balance of motherhood and career. We also associate power with ambition and we are challenged with the notion of having professional power as the Harvard study suggests. It is therefore critical that examining your own mindset be the first step to owning your ambition. How is your mindset holding you back?
Create a strategic career plan.
Define your career goal and put a plan in place to reach that goal. A strategic plan assists you to stay on track despite obstacles and helps you to evaluate opportunities as they present themselves. If at some point, you decide to have children you can assess the options available that will keep you marketable and relevant. Options might include flexible work, job sharing, telecommuting and virtual work, or deferring your career temporarily. These options can be defined in your strategic plan and will support your ambition over the course of your career.
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