For years, the statistics about women in business have been disheartening. In the U.S., for example, 40 percent of small businesses are owned by women, but women-owned businesses account for only four percent of the profits. And less than five percent of the Fortune 1000 companies have female CEOs.
And yet, a recent study showed that executive women actually have more ambition to reach the next level in their workplaces -- not less.
Where is the disconnect, then? I think that maybe, as women, we are ambitious about different things.
What does ambition mean to you?
I heard from a couple of women recently that ambition is a dirty word. They mentioned that women are reading things like Lean In to work on speaking up, being heard and recognizing that ambition is a good thing.
I always believed that ambition was good -- and I felt like there was something wrong with me when I was not especially ambitious! (At least at work.)
Clearly, I am in the majority in terms of not jiving with the traditional type of ambition, yet I have huge goals. I have big dreams. I want big things for myself and my life.
Over the past few months, I've realized that I am ambitious -- but I am ambitious about having a great life rather than a traditional measure of success, like a corner office.
Ever since I started my own business as a business strategist, I have been incredibly passionate about pursuing my goals for a great life. My first milestone was getting to the point where I could support my partner while he stayed home and start his business. And then, it happened! But I still felt incredibly driven in this business and I wasn't sure why.
Then, I realized I am ambitious. I am ambitious with this business and the success it can achieve for my clients and for myself. But it isn't about the money -- OK, it's not all about the money. I want to earn a comfortable living to support my way of living. It's not about a number I have to have, but a lifestyle I want to achieve.
Finally! I found my ambition! But it's true that it looks very different from what might be considered the traditional ambition model.
I'm ambitious -- are you?
There's actually research showing that the kinds of rewards (monetary, psychological) that go along with that traditional (male, corporate) kind of ambition don't mean as much to women.
Men tend to get lots of job satisfaction just from being in charge, while women need different things to feel satisfied. We need to feel as though we've contributed, as though we're heard. We need to feel that we're making a difference.
So, is it any wonder that women feel ambivalent about traditional ambition?
I know tons of women -- clients and friends -- who have grand ambitions for their lives: they want to create life-changing communities and programs for others, they want to build a lifestyle where they can be mothers and entrepreneurs, they want to make enough money to travel the world with their partners and families.
These are big, ambitious dreams -- they just don't happen to involve a corner office or a Fortune 500 company.
Embracing your ambition
For me personally, it took a long time to find my "work" ambition, but I've realized that it all ties into being ambitious around what I want in life, and I think that's a good thing.
There's nothing wrong with being ambitious about your meditation practice or spiritual life. You can be ambitious about how you want to raise your children or support your marriage. Work may (or may not!) be just a piece of those ambitions that speak to you on a deep, personal level.
In this amazing world we're living in, I don't think there's one proper definition of ambition. Whatever your definition looks like, I urge you to lean in to that! Don't like the traditional definition? Make up your own! It's what I think we women are best at: creating our own path to success and fulfilment.
What are your ambitions?
Looking at ambition through this slightly different lens, what are your ambitions?
Are you more traditionally ambitious, or ambitious in other areas of your life?
I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below...