Happy Women History Month. The International Women Day, 2018 theme, “Press for Progress”, sent two major questions down my line of thoughts. “What does progress mean to a woman?” and secondly “What measures should we take to press effectively?” This two questions for me yielded one singular factor, the Ambition Gap. The number of women Heads of State is about 6.3% (about 20) in the world. Africa has only one left – Namibia; And only 3% of the fortune 500 companies are run by women.
The call to action to Press for progress is genuine but it’s also a pointer for us to have a critical, objective and dispassionate look. Why have we made mere marginal progress considering the global effort to support women? Just before we press on, let’s look inwards
Women have been constantly told that gender challenges and societal pressures are the major bane of progress. Hence, the need to continue the gender equality vanguard that has continue to play the victim card for women and create a weaker fabric between both genders. The biggest question to ask every woman is, “What is your ambition?” I asked this question a year ago at one of WELEAD’S Leadership Exchange program for professional women and many said family. This means their ambition resides within the ambit of their personal satisfaction – personal wealth. Only about 7% mentioned profession and only about 2% wanted to contribute to social development – commonwealth.
This brings us to the real scrutiny; How prepared are women to take this opportunity when they come? How ambitious and hungry are we to fill the available opportunity? What is the strength of the female tribe in the professional industry? This is not making a case for women to become more like men or for women to jettison qualification at the foot of gender alignment. It is a call for women to become Leaders. Have we created the enabling environment to breed women of equal mental and professional capacity? Recent survey on millennials under 30 shows that as much as 61% of females were as professionally ambitious as the 64% of male surveyed. However; further studies show that ambition wanes for female as both gender grow older and take on more professional and social responsibilities. There is no shying away from the fact that there are societal pressures setting unrealistic expectations for the woman. There are systemic barriers and stereotypical assumptions that make ambition- aspiration and talent insufficient for women. However, there are many factors within our control that we need to put in place to ensure that a larger number of our hands are strong on the plough as we press on.
Our level of ambition is determined by our desire, drive and devotion. Our desire is what we want to achieve. Ambition must be greater than just meeting your personal needs. It must surpass family survival. It must transcend beyond your desire to own a house in Banana Island or a Yacht in the Bahamas. The desire to reach other people along the way will set a bigger dream. Your drive will be powered by your desire. It will inform how you will get there. If you as a woman desire to run for presidency in Nigeria, your narratives must transcend the four walls of your home, your corporate organization or business endeavours. There is a minimum level of tenacity and doggedness required of a leader worthy of a CEO role.
Be “professionally” ambitious: It’s that simple. Women must exhibit equal hunger and desire to get to the pinnacle as much as men. If you look at the circumstances, you will limit your thinking. But if you focus on the opportunity, you will create solutions. You must stay hungry. Your hunger must be visible to those who can sponsor your ambition. You must adjust the way you communicate. Don’t soften your request; Demand and Deserve the win. What future do you want to own?
Say yes!: We must learn to say Yes! Even when we know we have deficits. This is not about lying but affirming your position of self-believe and your ability to perform. It is about been open about the barrier and understanding that perfection does not exist. Most people who lead are no experts. They decided to give the opportunity a shot. They learn on the Jobs, make mistakes and overcome. Never be too cautious or careful. Some fail and fail badly, but it’s a learning opportunity that couldn’t have been if they were not bold to take the risk. This is the internal capacity, boldness and confidence required to say Yes, even when you know there are skills required for this position. Can you take the risk?
Beyond gender roles: This is beyond the barriers of motherhood or raising a family. Motherhood, Wifehood and whatever challenges go with running a family must never be the only deciding factor when there is an opportunity. We must look beyond the present, and create solution that can bring our desired future, aspiration and ambition to reality. What support system and solutions do you require to succeed?
Don’t underestimate your capacity or performance: Celebrate your performance loud and clear. Celebrate other women in your sphere of influence. When you fail, don’t beat yourself to a pulp and stay there crying like the world will come to an end. Go back to the locker room and re-strategize. Your capacity just got tested, and in return you need to respond with a resounding performance and not a tale.
Be deliberate! Build your tribe: In 2012, Sheryl Sandberg pointed out that women suffer the ambition gap, and that we will never close the achievement gap if we don’t close the ambition gap. The sum of the whole is always bigger than the parts. As a woman, you are succeeding, how many women are in your tribe? How many women have you raised and positioned to take over from you? Leadership is not the position you occupy but the actions you take in whatever climate where your influence is great. Who is taking over from you?
Equity, not equality: Many times the equality agenda often driven by many women group has lost a vital strength along the way. Yes, there is a lot of unequal treatment, parity, a corporate culture which stalls the growth of women. But beyond this, is the avoidance and total abandonment of the effect and contribution of the other “Male” gender to the problem as well as solution has been a total disaster. Where are the men in this conversation? Is there equality even within the female gender?
Parents, teachers and media: The responsibility of closing the ambition lies on the parents and how they choose to raise the children. The girls must be groomed to explore politics, sciences (STEM), business and to succeed in the workforce. What about the boy child? The boys must become ambitious to contribute to the home, learn to cook, change the diapers and support the home. We must start raising balanced kids. Teachers must stop calling girls bossy or assertive when they are just being expressive about their ambition. When boys cry, allow them to, these emotions are required balance in the home. The media, adverts and related communication must stop parading women as sex objects. To close the ambition gap, we must close the confidence gap, the psychological gap and embrace gender equity. Happy International Women’s Day Celebration.
Remember, when you chase the sun, you will catch the clouds, when you long for the moonlight, stories are heralded. Never seek perfection, simply stay genuine.
Dayo Oladele-Ilori is a management consultant, an entrepreneur, an author, a wife and mother. She is the HR advisory at House of Procurement. She is also the convener of WELEAD.