4 Ways Women Can Embrace Their Inner Ambition


Just 31 percent of women say they are proud to call themselves ambitious, according to a 2020 survey from American Express and The New York Women’s Foundation. 

However, despite their hesitancy to claim the label publicly, more than half of survey respondents said they do identify as ambitious.

In other words, while most women are ambitious, they don’t want to admit it. This is because when women speak up and pursue their goals, they often experience something called the backlash effect in which people perceive them as less likable, hirable or promotable. Research has shown avoidance of the backlash effect, not a lack of drive, is what keeps many women from self-promoting and fully embracing their ambitious side.

While the responsibility of addressing these shortcomings lies first and foremost in workplace culture, here are some strategies you can use to take ownership of your ambitions.

1. Identify your ambitions in communal terms.

Although goals are often driven by individual interests and values, framing them in communal terms—that is, how they can benefit your company or cause as a whole—could help you feel more comfortable sharing and openly pursuing yours.

2. Share your goals with allies.

Although you might experience the backlash effect by sharing your ambitions publicly, confiding in a few trusted allies can give you a valuable support system. These individuals can serve as both cheerleaders by encouraging your progress and advocates by calling out biased reactions to your ambitions.

3. Celebrate your accomplishments.

Acknowledging your accomplishments publicly can be uncomfortable, but getting into the habit of celebrating your achievements in private could help you take more ownership of them. 

Start by keeping track of your accomplishments in a daily journal, and be sure to appreciate your own ambition. As you start to feel more comfortable with the process, try sharing some of your wins with your allies. 

4. Advocate for others in the workplace.

According to the 2020 survey above, only 27 percent of women have had someone advocate for them in their career. If and when you find yourself in a position of leverage or leadership, consider using that opportunity to advocate on behalf of others.

Normalizing practices like self-promotion from all employees, acknowledging implicit gender biases and holding workshops on how to recognize and combat the backlash effect are strategies that can better support all ambitions in the workplace.

Read next: 10 Things Successful Women Do Differently

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2020 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Photo by @wilsvanzyl/Twenty20.com

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Stefanie O’Connell is a financial expert, Gen Y advocate, speaker and author of the book, The Broke and Beautiful Life.

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