Growing up, I guess it was something I never really noticed. I was lucky enough to be raised by the most supportive mother and father in the world, who reminded me on a daily basis that believing in your own self-worth is necessary to achieving your highest potential and becoming the best leader possible. I was constantly surrounded by the greatest female teachers, and the strongest female coaches – for everything from math class to sports teams. Now, as a twenty-year-old woman, it is something I notice. And by “it,” I simply mean the unprecedented inequity between men and women and their leadership roles in the workplace. As that same twenty-year-old, I recognize the importance of education and opportunity. We continue the work of the women who came before us, to ensure that our daughters have no limits on their dreams and no obstacles to their achievements. Today, it has become increasingly important to recognize the “girlbosses” that surround us, acknowledging what they bring to the table and where we can find them. More importantly, we need to look towards the future of the leadership ambition gap and move forward together to close it.
The Harvard School of Business states that: “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.” This quote resonates with me deeply, reminding me that every day I am given the opportunity to make a difference in the world in which we live. I recently started to read “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” by Sheryl Sandberg and I can wholeheartedly say that this book has become a manifesto for myself – posing ambitious challenges but also providing pragmatic advice to women of all ages, in all steps of their professional lives. I was introduced to the concept of the “leadership ambition gap” through this book, and suddenly the statistics and facts I have always been told about women and men and their leadership in the workplace began to piece together.
I can personally remember times in elementary school where I was praised for raising my hand politely in class to be called on, and only then would I speak out with an answer. The boys around me seldom raised their hands and rather chose to just speak out loud. Sandberg brings to our attention that these taught behaviours have translated to performance in the workplace where women often take to the sideline and wait for male colleagues to speak first. Although this patience practiced in the classroom was often praised, it hinders women in the workplace.
Closing the Leadership Ambition Gap
Career progression is dependent upon taking a risk, and speaking on your own behalf, owning your ideas – something that does not come easily to women who have been waiting to get called on for their entire lives. I have heard the facts. I know that men are more likely to apply to a job even if they fit only 20-30% of the requirements, whereas women will not apply unless they fulfill 70-90% of those same requirements. Only now do I understand that professional ambition is expected of men, yet seen as optional for women. Sandberg makes a point in saying that “She is very ambitious” is not a compliment in our culture, it is seen as aggressive and charging.
We see that the root of our problems come from how women see themselves. Millennial women are less likely to describe themselves as leaders, visionaries, self-confident, and willing to take risks in comparison to their male counterparts. Confidence is lacking in working women and Sandberg challenges us to talk about what we would do if we weren’t afraid. She makes it clear that women are able to combine professional achievement with personal fulfillment. Lean In is a call-to-action to seek challenges, take risks, build confidence, and pursue goals.
The Vigor Behind the Girlboss
We are now left with the challenge of recognizing the girlbosses around us. A girlboss is a woman who reaches higher and pushes harder. There has never been a better time to be a woman than right now. There has never been a generation of women more passionate to break through glass ceilings and breakdown barriers to success. “Girlboss” is a movement that I want to sweep the nation. I encourage you to find confidence within yourself, self-advocate, and know that you are more than worth the chance at a leadership position – sit at the table and lean in.
Women are consistently outperforming men in the classroom and earning more undergraduate and masters degrees. The education is there, but the opportunity is waiting. Sheryl Sandberg discusses two important ideologies. She states that “Women need to shift from thinking ‘I’m not ready to do that’ to thinking ‘I want to do that and I’ll learn by doing it.” She also explains that the “perfect fit” in terms of opportunities does not exist, you need to make the opportunity fit for you. This is rooted in confidence. I ask you to compliment yourself, compliment others – remind yourself that you are strong, smart, and worthy of having it all. Look around you and realize that you and the women who have built you are all girlbosses.
Progress and Potential
Fortune favours the bold. Today, I encourage you to be bold. I encourage you to sit at the table, engage in conversation, and own your ideas. Find the ambition to lean in and run the world. To the women reading this: help the women around you recognize their own worth and believe in yourself enough to achieve your highest potential. To the men, support the women that surround you in the workplace and at home – you will be pleasantly surprised at the combination between professional achievement and personal fulfillment. To the 20-year-old women like myself reading this, in the words of Hillary Clinton: “Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.” Imagine the future of gender equality, of female leadership, and recognize your own potential. I stand with Sandberg in saying that in the future; there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.