“Ambition is Feminine”

I had the pleasure of attending a breakfast event this week in downtown Chicago that featured Campbell’s Soup Company CEO, Denise M. Morrison.  It was a lovely event in which Ms. Morrison talked about the importance of courage and the presence of women in powerful positions.  I enjoy attending leadership events such as this one and am always interested in the presenter’s insights.  However, I usually leave feeling like I did not get many answers or in the speakers’ defense didn’t quite grasp them.  And, in a cruel twist, I usually feel like I am less destined to do something great than when I walked into the room.

I am not sure why these events produce these feelings, but I am certain that it is beneficial in the long-run.  Questioning my career choices, future prospects, and leadership style as I depart the building is a helpful exercise.  Disappointment is a strong feeling that if harnessed could probably solve the world’s energy problems.  The question really becomes how to turn this feeling and the experience into positive action.

Upon reflection, Ms. Morrison said something that did provide me with some answers.  She recounted how her mom would always say to her and her sisters, “ambition is feminine.”  I found myself going back to this phrase in my head as I chatted with the financial service professionals at my table.  They happened to all be women.  As the speaker reflected on her observations of women at Campbell’s Soup, I thought to myself, what if we could reprogram our minds and think that:  ambition is maternal; ambition is for the poor and wealthy alike; ambition is for moms and dads alike; ambition is for girls.

Disappointment and ambition have something in common.  We would not feel disappointment without having ambition.  I wonder what the state of affairs is for women in the financial services industry.  What is the balance of disappointment versus realized goals?  Next time I am in front of an audience, I won’t shy away from sharing my disappointments.  It is easier to share success stories, but perhaps equally as important is to share what I want to see changed.  Next time you are in front of an audience, especially young women, share your successes and disappointments as a way to reassure yourself that ambition is a driving force and disappointment just a symptom.  This small amount of truth telling may in fact help solve some challenges by simply giving them voice. In turn, this should help all our organizations realize greater success in attracting, retaining, and promoting ambitious women.