Business women and ambition

Published on September 23rd, 2015 | by Nancy F. Clark

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Why Are Women Losing Ambition In Their Careers?

By Stephanie Wiseman

A recent Bain & Company report revealed after just two years of working at their first job out of college, women begin to lose their aspiration and confidence.

Why? What happens to women in those two years?

Director Ashley Maria experienced this phenomenon first hand after graduate school. Growing up, Ashley Maria was an average American girl. In high school, she could be whatever she wanted to be; in college, she began to harness her dreams and develop her skill set, and while getting her Master’s at the top film school in the world, she became armed to take on the movie industry.

Nevertheless, her promising, successful (even prestigious) career was being chipped away by off-handed comments and systemic bias. She was losing her pioneering attitude toward her work and career. Why?

Why was she hearing things like, “Wow, you’re a woman and still accomplishing so much!” Why was she always referred to as a “woman director” instead of simply a director? Why was she compelled to dress down—to not wear make-up or have an appearance that could be characterized as “girly”? Why?

Ashley laughed, “If you had told me 5 years ago my first feature film would actually become a life mission, I would never have believed you.”

However, after hearing her female counterparts express how they too were experiencing similar incidents and confirming an “uphill battle” attitude in their careers, Ashley decided it was time to find out why.

“I had to know, was it just us, just me? What was I doing to make it look like I don’t know what I am doing?” she pondered. “And then I had this life changing thought:  what if this is normal?”

Finding Answers Through a Lens

In late 2013, armed with her most valuable tool: a camera, Ashley set out to get answers.

“It was tough at first because I was looking for answers to questions nobody wanted to talk about,” says Ashley. “And ironically, I was facing assumptions about my ability as a filmmaker, my ability to tackle this issue, because I was a woman director.”

But she pushed through, and found experts and industry leaders who have achieved success in their careers and were willing to talk openly about this issue. Leaders like Susan K. Land, Deputy Program Manager for the Missile Defense Agency, Kat Cole, Group President of FOCUS Brands, Sarah Bird, CEO of Moz shared their experiences and tips for overcoming challenges.

Ashley spoke to men, too, like Brad Feld, Managing Director of the Foundry Group and current chair of the National Center for Women & Information Technology, dedicated to gender work equity. She also captured the stories of women just starting out in their careers as well as students who know their careers are on the horizon.

And the documentary Pioneers in Skirts was born.

Lessons Learned

“Each interview led us to another revelation,” explained Ashley. “For example, my Producer, Lea-Ann Berst, and I noticed the women who had achieved success shared a common experience:  they all played some sort of sport.”

“At first I thought sports was a stress reliever, but when we interviewed North Carolina head coach Sylvia Hatchell to better understand sports and the millennial generation – I learned Fortune 500 companies regularly call her and ask if she has a student studying this or that (like finance or science). These companies value women who participate in team sports because they learn how to be competitive and play as a team at the same time.”

“This led me to consider the impact of competitive team activities. We discovered robotics competitions. Since robotics is a team event but often a male dominated activity, we attended a district competition in Raleigh, North Carolina. That’s when we met Maddy and Sophia and decided to follow them for the film since they epitomize young girls going against the norm.”

Teens Who Dream of a Future

“Maddy and Sophia have dreams but are just now discovering their career goals,” says Ashley. “They reminded me of myself as a teenager:  determined to succeed yet unaware of any obstacles they may one day face.”

But the obstacles are there:  Maddy and Sophia first learned about engineering while on a middle school co-ed robotics team. When their mentors noticed the girls were hesitant to step up and work on the robots, they moved them to an all-girl team. The experiment worked. A year after being on an all-girl team, Maddy and Sophia are now on a co-ed team; and they are the first to jump in, the first to grab the drill, and the first to share their ideas.

During the interviews surrounding Maddy and Sophia’s journey, Ashley observed first-hand that even though a girl goes through high school fully aware of her dreams and with full intent of achieving them, soon after her college years, she starts to feel confused, as if she is fighting a battle she doesn’t understand, which often leads to her changing her original goal, or simply giving up.

A Catalyst for Conversation and Change

Due out in 2016, Pioneers in Skirts is a social impact film that aims to advance the conversation about women in the workplace; that will, in the end, influence organizational leaders, lawmakers and policy makers to become allies who support working women.

“I’m making this movie for those who are hesitant to say an issue exists because that’s who I was until I was blown over by it all,” added Ashley. “Pioneers in Skirts is a film for women and men of today, and for future generations. Lea-Ann and I have learned what the solutions are, and we can’t wait to share them with the world!”

Find out more about Ashley Maria and this social impact film by visiting www.PioneersInSkirts.com, and follow her on Twitter @AshleyMaria.

I welcome your comments! Let’s continue this conversation about women in the workplace.

Stephanie Wiseman is a storyteller and writer with experience creating sales and marketing materials, blogs, news articles, training materials, and creative content. She is a skilled interviewer (copy and video) as well as editor. She has a passion for helping non-writers create great content. To learn more about her, please connect with her on LinkedIn. 

Nancy Clark is CEO of PositivityDaily and Director of Forbes WomensMedia. She coaches companies and executives in business skills with the added benefit of training in positive psychology and happiness -- incorporating the latest scientific studies on changing brain patterns and habits. Clark believes that positivity is the next necessary step to engage employees.

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About the Author

Nancy Clark is CEO of PositivityDaily and Director of Forbes WomensMedia. She coaches companies and executives in business skills with the added benefit of training in positive psychology and happiness -- incorporating the latest scientific studies on changing brain patterns and habits. Clark believes that positivity is the next necessary step to engage employees.



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