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Ambitious isn’t a bad word, or is it? The gendered way many of us use language will ruffle a few feathers if we’re speaking about women and their goals when using this word.
In 2017, I saw a pink sweatshirt with the word “ambitious” printed in bold red capital block letters and thought, “How amazing and provocative.”
After promptly purchasing the sweatshirt, I wondered why I considered ambition to be “provocative” when describing a woman and her pursuits? For example, “Oh, she is so ambitious,” or “She is an ambitious woman.” Some of you are probably cringing while reading these sentences. Why? Historically, women have been cruelly judged, ridiculed and even killed for wanting too much of anything, including having ambition or career-driven dreams and goals.
What is ambition?
Good ol’ Merriam Webster has two results for the definition of ambitious:
- 1a: having or controlled by ambition: having a desire to be successful, powerful or famous
- 1b: having a desire to achieve a particular goal: aspiring ambitious for power
- 2: resulting from, characterized by, or showing ambition an ambitious film
As women entrepreneurs, don’t we at least want to be successful? Don’t we also want to achieve our goals? Having some power sounds good, too. Isn’t that why we became entrepreneurs — to have success, be empowered and achieve our goals — just like our male counterparts?
Statistics from 2021 compiled by the Small Business Association (SBA) show that women-led businesses employed 10.1 million workers and accumulated $1.8 trillion in receipts in 2019. The number of employer firms owned by women grew 6% between 2014 and 2016, which was twice the growth rate of employer firms owned by men.
As more women embrace entrepreneurship, it’s time for us to own our ambition and honor it by being unapologetic about our dreams and stepping fully into our power to reach our personal and professional goals.
I have seen too many women entrepreneurs afraid or ashamed to own their power. After years of being guided by patriarchal societal rules to downplay our achievements and talents, I understand why and empathize.
But now we know better, so we can do better not only for ourselves but for the next generation of women business leaders. Here’s some advice for women entrepreneurs or women looking to become one in the future:
Embrace taking risks and set audacious goals
Starting or even growing a business can be a considerable risk, but it can also be massively rewarding. Only you know your risk tolerance, but periodically you will have to push beyond it to achieve your goals.
Every big business seen in the news with record earnings began in your position as a small business. Bumble, founded in 2012 by Whitney Wolfe Herd, is now a publicly-traded billion-dollar company with over 700 employees. Her ambition and audacious goals helped her achieve this level of success. Go big with your goal setting — really big — and then go after it. The point is to stretch outside your comfort zone beyond what most people believe is reasonable. Let your ambition match the risks you are willing to take to reach your audacious goals.
Find a like-minded business community
You might think, “My partner does not support my entrepreneurial aspirations, so I can’t pursue my dreams of becoming a business owner.” Not so. Would it be easier with your partner’s support? Possibly, but it’s not a requirement. Many in-person and online communities and groups specifically help women entrepreneurs pursue their dreams. Finding one that gives you real accountability, access to funding options, tools and resources is better than a partner’s support for your business.
The opportunities from being a part of women-centric entrepreneur communities are limitless. But it can also help you find a business mentor or accountability partner who understands your ambitions and wants to help you succeed. Having a business mentor or coach will supercharge your growth, helping you achieve your audacious goals much faster.
Know your worth and charge the appropriate amount
As taboo as talking about ambition is women talking about money. It’s time to charge what you’re worth. Stop doing favors, bartering or even giving discounts. We know too well about the gender wage gap, so let’s stop perpetuating the issue by undercharging — own your ambition, price accordingly and get paid well for your talents and knowledge.
As women, we should be able to actively pursue our ambitions with the same enthusiasm as our male counterparts and not get penalized for it. Creating a thriving, beautiful business of your dreams is possible if you fully embrace your ambitions and have the support that every entrepreneur requires to accomplish their lofty goals.
So next time you hear a woman being called ambitious, applaud her for it.