(Cross posted to “SA Women Lead” – sawomenlead.com )
Time to chalk up another win for Twitter.
Not just for being a great social networking platform (for me, that’s a given). The win comes from Twitter’s ability – yet again – to make me think about something I would not normally consider. This time – it caused me to consider my own comfort level with the concept of ambition.
Recently, a quote was tweeted by Bobbie Denise Cole, a fantastic young professional in residence life, that talked about ambition. Here’s the tweet:
@BDeniseCole Bobbie Denise Cole
13 Feb via Twitter for BlackBerry®
This call, from researcher, author and executive coach Debra Condren, is something difficult I believe for women to do. Ambition in and of itself is not a dirty word. However, ambition in women has long been perceived by women and men alike as a negative combination. Generally socialized to be conciliatory and peace-makers, women are not “supposed” to be ambitious; rather, we are expected to “play nice”, “let others win” and be “happy with what we have”. This relational straight-jacket has long relegated women to play second fiddle to men in a variety of venues, most notably the workplace. In stark contrast, ambition in men is considered to be something to admire. Questions like, “What are your ambitions?” are correlated with positive perceptions for men, whereas the same questions are viewed negatively for women, unless the “ambitions” expressed by women are acceptable female goals (i.e. “My ambition is to have a family”). Research about this information is available in both Dr. Condren’s book, Ambition is Not a Dirty Word, and Sara Laschever and Linda Babcock’s book, Women Don’t Ask).
Something about all of these perceptions, expectations and assumptions really leaves me cold. And quite frankly – it’s a load of crap.
Why is it that it’s NOT okay for me to state publicly what I want out of life? Why is it, simply because of my gender, I am not allowed to openly discuss what my long-term goals are. And, if I am viewed as assertively pursuing those goals, why I am viewed quite negatively because of it?
I realize that many people reading this entry right now would immediately say, “We would never view a woman in aggressive pursuit of her goals in a negative way.” To you, I offer this challenge. Really think about the last time you interacted with a woman who was openly and articulately clear about her goals, and was working very hard to achieve them. Perhaps she was volunteering to take on projects and tasks. Perhaps she was openly expressing her concern about an issue facing the team at work or at an organizational meeting. Maybe she was offering up specific and definitive solutions to some problem facing your organization. Or perhaps, after an issue was brought up and others in the room negated her perspective, she kept bringing it up in an attempt to convince the group the direction was the right one to pursue?
What were your thoughts about her then?
Reflect on that for a moment. If you’re like me – that type of reflection is like a bucket of ice water being dumped on my head. I have found myself, thankfully in my own mind and not through external means, saying things like, “Who does she think she is?” and “Can’t she just stop – she’s really coming on way too strong.” Well – too strong for who? For me? Or for the society that continues to categorize women as passive, compliant and peace-making members of our society? Or maybe for both?
My challenge for anyone wishing to take it is simple. The next time a woman speaks up or stands up for herself – celebrate and support her willingness to do so. If a woman undermines herself as they discuss their dreams or goals – encourage them to stop belittling their own abilities and to start championing their skills and contributions. Sponsor, don’t just mentor a woman, and talk about them to other people as vehemently and in similar terms as you would a male colleague. For women – own who you are and where you want to go, and don’t apologize for doing so. It’s your life – make it count and do so on your own terms.
The truth is, women’s voices are important, but so is their right and ability to own, voice and aggresively pursue their dreams. We all need to embrace and support this idea if things are to truly change not only for women, but also for men – so let’s start now.