Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Ambitious Woman

On the last page of every Working Mother magazine is an editorial feature called "The Last Word."  This morning I read that editorial by Carol Evans, President of Working Mother Media, from the February/March 2012 issue and I want to quote a bit of it for you.
I hear the lamest excuses for the lack of business power entrusted to women.  "We can't find qualified women." is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Women make up 50 percent of the workforce, and qualified women are all around us.  Companies need to give them the power positions to get them ready to advance.
"When women have babies, they go off the career track" is another lame excuse.  Most women have babies, but they can also create a viable career path even if it doesn't look like the typical steady upward climb men can achieve.
"They don't want it" is the worst excuse.  A lot of executive men don't aspire to be CEO either, but no one says men don't want to succeed.
"Women aren't ambitious" reflects conflicted social norms.  Being an ambitious woman can feel wrong, like living in an '80's movie with the big hair and stilettos.  We need to reexamine "ambitious."  [Is it] greedy, unprincipled and cold?  No.  Ambition is the desire to succeed, to get to the next level of responsibility and trust - a strong desire in women.
We need to get past the subconscious feeling that men are better, stronger, more suited to lead than women.
What do you think?  Does Ms. Evans make a valid point?  Based on my personal observations, I agree that in the typical American workplace there is a double standard between what's expected and what's rewarded to men and women.  And that's not right to have such a lopsided system not only in place, but in wide acceptance.  At the same time, men and women are created differently.  We do have different outlooks, different work styles, different strengths.  Perhaps the bigger problem is how those outlooks, styles and strengths are valued.  Perhaps it's in how we, as women, value them ourselves.  Because it is different, is our contribution less valuable?  Or do we accept receiving less than full value for it?

I have, in the past, worked for female managers in male-dominated industries.  I wasn't always a happy employee in this situation because it felt like, in the effort to be taken seriously in their managerial role, many of these women caved and became the stereotypical nag.  They were hard, harsh, often cutting and cut-throat.  I felt less valued as an employee much more frequently with a female supervisor.  Thinking about it then and now makes me sad.  But to analyze from a distance, I think it's because they tried too hard to be something they were not and so their actions came across as insincere and incongruent.  I'm not trying to assign fault, just to make an observation that  when we act outside of our core values and beliefs it's noticed and we never gain the respect and authority we seek that way.

Perhaps women would do far better to embrace our differences and create products, information, position, power and influence based on our God-given strengths instead of trying to become what we innately are not.

Anyway, that's my ambition!

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