Posted by: brittanybranch | March 14, 2018

The Importance of Encouraging Ambitious Women

Hi everyone – I hope everyone had a great spring break!  I’m excited to dive back into our discussions of Women & Leadership.

I’ll start this blog post by saying that whenever I read my gal Marie C. Wilson, I get fired up about SOMETHING.  That woman nails it on the head for me every. single. time.  In this post though, I’d like to focus on her discussion of ambition in Chapter 4 of her book Closing the Leadership Gap: Why Women Can and Must Help Run the World.  Wilson claims that “ambition in men is an expectation and a virtue”, yet in women “it can be a kiss of death” (p. 55).  Though I have personally never felt ashamed of or tried to hide my ambition and drive, I have known plenty of women who have diminished their ambition, especially in the prescence powerful men.

My family is from a pretty conservative and traditional small town in Western North Carolina.  In my experience, most of the women in this area shy away from opportunities to advance in the workforce or take on leadership positions.  Despite the women being some of the strongest, smartest, and creative females I know, many opt to forgo career success in favor of more domestic roles such as wife and mother.  This ties back to Wilson’s discussion of appropriate ambition.  She claims that “not all ambitions are created equal” and that roles beyond being a wife and mother fall behind in priority (58).    Wilson argues that society places limitations on women’s choices when it comes to ambition.  Limited support is provided to women seeking opportunity for advancement in fear that a successful, career-oriented woman will shy away from wanting to be a married mother of five (Wilson).   I experience this firsthand when I visit my hometown, especially when sharing about my life with my older male family members and friends.  I have noticed that when I share about my success at CNU, my desire to travel the world, and aspirations for the future, the conversations always seems find their way back to when I plan on getting married and having children (you know, because the “most valuable jobs women do are done in the home”).  Another thing that I’ve noticed is that when speaking with my female friends and family back home, they always seem to be very intrigued by my experiences as if they have never been encouraged to seek similar ones. Of course there is importance in relationships and bearing children, but to me, placing an emphasis on equal female ambition is just as important.

That being said, my favorite part of this particular reading from Wilson was the section titled “Women Helping Women Help Everyone” (71).  This section reminded me of one of my favorite sayings “empowered women empower women” (I actually just ordered a sticker that says this for my laptop!).  Wilson starts this section by prompting the reader to think of a woman that would have experienced more success in her life if only she had been given encouragement.  I can think of plenty.  Wilson calls her readers to action and states that we can’t wait for change to happen.  She proceeds to say that we can push for change now by even just the simple act of encouraging a woman with a lot of potential to foster her ambition rather than stifle it (this seems to tie back to Meyerson’s and Scully’s idea of tempered radicalism).  In my own life, I see this in the way that my sorority sisters push one another to go out for leadership positions that the individual might not have given much thought to before.

Overall, I wholeheartedly agree with Wilson’s claim that “without the leadership of women, nothing would change for women – or men” (72).  So what do you all think?  Are women limited in the ways that they can display their ambition or seek opportunities for success?  Have you ever experienced this before?  What are some other strategies that we can implement to combat this issue?  What does this look like on CNU’s campus?


  1. It’s interesting because my experience with my family is so different. My family is very liberal and woman oriented. In most dynamics, women are the head of the household and make the decisions. Both my parents went to the women march and have always encouraged me to do what makes me happy regardless of my relationship status or possible income. My mom is a teacher which is a feminine field but is a strong masculine leader and loves being a spokesperson for minorities at school board meetings. My mom has always empowered me. When I go to family events they always ask about school and tell me how smart and capable I am. Most of my family doesn’t know I have a boyfriend or that I don’t want children.

    It’s always interesting to me the way people are brought up. It seems to me that regardless of family interactions, our generation is full of strong women that want to break molds and empower others. Encouragement and confidence in a woman’s abilities has a such a huge impact on what she is able to accomplish in her life. Many women who lacked such encouragement seek to encourage younger women. Other women who did enjoy encouragement also want to encourage younger women to continue the trend and increase empowered women in the world.

  2. I also agreed with Wilson’s chapter and found myself able to think of examples from my own life for most of the ideas she addresses. I definitely agree that we need the leadership of women in order to change anything and I also agree that women need to continue to empower other women. My mom always talks about the women who got her to where she is today and she has made it a priority to establish both formal and informal mentorship programs for her organization. Working in the Intelligence Community, she, and her few female colleagues, are surrounded by political appointees and 4- and 5- Star Generals who are used to be listened to the first time around, no questions asked. That is a really hard situation for women, most of whom are just coming out of college, to deal with. The mentoring programs being implemented focus on building confidence and developing strategies to deal with these “alpha male” personalities, who aren’t used to having to listen to and work with female analysts. By developing this program, the goal is to create a cycle in which female leaders in the organization help new hires, who will one day be leaders, who, at that point in time, will help new hires, and so on and so on. In this case, it’s like Wilson said, empowered women are working to empower women and improving their organization as they go.

  3. Contrary to the views your family holds, mine is a bit different. Personally, I consider my family to be very traditionally conservative in most cases except when it comes to my success as a female. My parents push my independence as a women to strive for every leadership role I can obtain and reach for a career where I can define myself as an individual rather than other people dictating my actions. This motivation aided in my drive to persevere and lead. Although I am blessed to have the support, I have come to the point in my life where I am picturing my future with a wedding band on my finger and kids running around the house; however, the push from certain elements of society is to set ALL those visions aside completely until I have reached the top, ignites an internal battle. I believe there is a happy medium between, “Well, what about family?” and “Don’t let family get in the way.” I have no doubts I will be one of the women who will break through the glass ceiling, but I will do it being a mom as well.

    When it comes to ambition I do believe women are limited in the ways they can display this trait or seek opportunities for success because of the societal bubble we are in. The movement for equality among women has grown significantly over the past few decades. To a degree, I think many women are residing in the gray area on whether the environment in which they strive to obtain opportunities will be accepting of their ambition as a female or whether this fiery drive for achievement will be extinguished due to their gender. The societal norms instilled within many have the ability to control our ambition and empowerment in sought after opportunities because we are fearful of how others might view or judge us. Therefore, although both external and physical limitations are very prominent, I think we are internally limiting ourselves as well.

  4. My family is very open with my siblings and I with the decisions we make. they want us to do our best and be all that we can be, but they do not force us to do so. When I have a conversation with my parents about my ambitions for the next 5-10 years they acknowledge that some of my goals are simply that: ambitious. They have always done their absolute best to put me in a position of success and ways to better myself, which I never truly thought about or appreciated until I left home. Gender has never been a factor that has limited me or my sisters to whatever my parents expected of us nor has it stifled the positive energy they give to us when we want to pursue something. They both have different aspects towards our decision making. My father is the more open minded one who tells us as long as we work hard and can see our self doing it then we should try to make it happen. My mother is more of a realist, she does not turn our plans away but she does make a point to tell us some of the things that could go wrong and that it may be a tough road ahead. Change is a scary thing, but if you’re not willing to change every so often then you remove yourself from being able to adapt, without adaptation you may not find what you are looking for. To simplify: my parents have always empowered my sisters and I and have always treated us as equals except since I am older I get to stay out later and get to go through life first so that my sisters can learn from my mistakes. 😛

  5. I really enjoyed the part of your blog where you talked about your favorite quote: “empowered women empower women”. This idea has really resonated with me since taking this class. The readings and discussions in this course has made me realize that women are so quick to judge other women and I feel like I cannot say that I was not guilty of that as well. Given this change, I now am constantly trying to improve myself when it comes to supporting all women.
    In regards to the other topic of your post, ambition, I definitely agree that women try to belittle their own ambition because they fear as coming across as too aggressive or bitchy or a try hard. I can relate to this tendency on a personal level.
    I also agree that women will continue to be unequal in the work place until they are put into leadership positions. Women need to work hard and fight for the top which means we need to support ambitious women: and once they are at the top, women must support women. We need to end this loop of inequality… it’ll make the world a better place.

  6. Hello Brittany!
    I first want to say that I thoroughly enjoying the reading because it provides a very in-depth perspective. Part of the reason I really wanted to participate and explore women leadership is because I frankly knew little about to nothing at all (frankly I did not see a difference). I 100% agree the best way to empower women is through empowering others, not just women. I often find myself reading this book thinking, “what else can I do?”. I believe that leadership is certainly a changing behavior and without woman leaders, nothing with change for both sexes. I see there are challenges in how they can display their leadership (double bind, etc.) but I think it all comes down to confidence and choosing your battles (tempered radicalism). Women that are able to navigate both can rise to the top, however I find women that are ambitious like this often don’t settle down with their families. Through talking to several professional leaders, I have noticed the most successful women (happiest), are the woman that work hard in the beginning and then take a sabbatical leave and then come back to work with a new focus. Additionally, I think a woman’s goals and ambitions change through different stages of their life (most often before and after having kids due to their involvement in the home. Making sure to keep a strong work life balance (making sure the couple shares the home life load with the kids) will allow for healthier and happier leaders and will facilitate a stronger conversation for shared and diverse power among everyone.

  7. I really enjoyed reading your post! I definitely think that a lot of women attempt to belittle their own ambition for fear of being shut down or because it is simply what they are used to. When interviewing women for our paper I got lots of responses which talked about this and most women didn’t notice they were trying to avoid their ambition until I brought it up. I think that hiding power and ambition is something that a lot of women do without even noticing they are doing it. I love the quote about empowered women empowering over women because I feel that this is the way to truly encourage more women to lead. I think that in regards to CNU we definitely have lots of women who constantly encourage others and in result we have lots of women leaders throughout campus. I can only imagine the impact that we would see if all women followed this concept! In order to get where we want to be we have to encourage and motivate each other along the way!

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