The Ambition Gap

In the first chapter of Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg states that women have a “Leadership Ambition Gap.”  We don’t see ourselves as ambitious or becoming a member of the “C-suite.”  Sandberg is quick to point out that as young girls and women, we learn quickly that assertiveness or aggressiveness translates to “bossy” and as a result women quickly back away from these traits.  Many would agree with Sandberg’s view – and I do as well, but only to a point.

As a child, I had my fair share of being labeled as “bossy” and yes, I also wanted to be a princess because let’s face it, I’m a tiara type of gal.  However, rather than thinking about how Prince Charming was going to sweep me off my feet, I was plotting how I would knock Prince Charming off his throne and take over the kingdom.  Seriously, yes, we are labeled as children and young adults but that doesn’t have to stunt our professional growth.  As we mature, we learn quickly to adapt to our environment.  If we’re told we’re too bossy, we don’t become demure “little women,” rather, we get smarter at understanding corporate cultures and personalities and determine the best way to navigate the organization toward success.

Also, we’re not alone.  I’ve witnessed many conversations focused on men who were labeled as “rough around the edges” or too aggressive.  The stereotype barriers are crumbling and our role is to make sure they dissolve faster and to call out situations where women are being unfairly labeled.

Sandberg also shares that the perception of many working women is, let’s just say not flattering.  I agree with her view.  We’re either portrayed as witches – or something like that – or as overwhelmed multi-taskers ready to collapse any minute.  As I think about it, I can’t recall seeing a picture of a man so overwhelmed by being a working professional and a parent that he is about to lose his sanity.  I have, however, witnessed uncontrollable sobbing over a missed putt.  Just kidding gentlemen! Often I am asked – and mostly by women – questions that feed these stereotypes.  Here’s a sampling:

“Do you ever get to see your son?”

“Do you ever sleep?”

“How does your husband feel about you having such a big job?”

“Are you OK?  You look so tired!”

So ladies (and gentlemen, because we hope you are reading this blog too!), do we have a leadership ambition gap and if yes, why?

Speak loudly, step boldly!July 24th, 2013 9:02am Beth Bierbower Sheryl Sandberg women in leadership