Should women be as ambitious as men?

Leon Panetta just became a hero to American women by announcing that the U.S. ban on women in combat positions will be lifted. It’s hence an interesting  moment to look at gender equality in business. In this short video Tory Burch talks about how women entrepreneurs should find their passion and be just as ambitious as men:

Let’s hope it doesn’t take too long for the Pentagon to live up to Panetta’s promise. For about half a century women and men have been equal by law in Sweden. But inequality between the sexes is still so bad the government is of the opinion that to achieve equality in the business world it will be essential to legislate.

Out of 100 start-ups in Sweden only 23 are started by women and they are less likely to get financing than a company started by a man. So much for me telling my Saudi girl friends that in Sweden we are equal.

Davos: Women are important to the world economy

In Davos this year the World Economic Forum, for the first time, had a discussion on getting more women into economic decision making.  Prominent women such as Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust, European Commissioner Viviane Reding, Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and Saudi business leader Lubna Olayan took part. They discussed how the gender gap at the highest levels of business can be closed.

Their conclusion was that ambitious women are often regarded as aggressive. The Harvard president pointed out that’s because women are judged according to the stereotypes we grow up with. It was also said on the panel that successful women are frequently disliked by both men and women. Why? According to them it’s again all to do with  the stereotype of a woman. It’s hence essential that we move away from such old fashioned stereotypes.

Lubna Olayan pointed out that King Abdullah has now appointed women to 20 percent of the seats in the shura council. (that’s as close to a parliament they get in Saudi Arabia). Immediately the objection was that the women were not qualified but appointed just because they are women. Their CV’s were published and that clearly showed that they were indeed qualified, not only highly educated but experienced as well.

We need more female business owners

Tory Burch who you watched in the video, started her company in 2004 and nine years later her clothes are sold in more than 800 stores all over the world.

She also leads the Tory Burch Foundation that offer mentorship and provide micro loans to women entrepreneurs. Her advice to female entrepreneurs is “don’t give up. There are so many times it seems insurmountable but keep the hard work going. It’s worth it and you and your hard work can make a difference”.

There is a need to make more woman start up their own companies and succeed. And get more women to sit on boards. Tory is not alone in having a foundation that makes a contribution in this respect. There are an abundance of such programs and with the European Union making it clear they want  to get more women into high level business it makes sense.

In the World Economic Forum panel discussion, Viviane Reding talked about how the EU first tried to persuade companies to get 40% women in leadership positions on a voluntary basis. Nothing happened. The EU hence legislated to get talented, educated women into top positions in companies. The law is intended to allow women to make a breakthrough into business, taking into account that 65% of university graduates in Europe are women. The first year saw 3% more women in senior positions in corporate Europe.

Do you believe it’s a good thing that Leon Panetta has lifted the ban on women in combat? Is it a good idea to close the gender gap at the highest levels of business? Should women be as ambitious as men not only in the military but in business as well? Do we need more female business leaders and entrepreneurs? Is it fair that successful women are regarded as aggressive? Would it be a good idea to have more qualified women on corporate boards? Should there be equality between the sexes when it comes to getting funding for a start-up? Has the time come for women to be proud of their accomplishments and be treated as equals in the corporate world? 

Video: stanfordbusiness

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52 Responses to “Should women be as ambitious as men?”

  1. Geek Girl Says:

    My point of view is that the reason women are not 'equal' is that men are threatened by strong women. Men have had a stronghold in all aspects of society for so long that the idea that women can take over those positions actually do a better job scares them. It's like when they make comments about a women's hair or the way she dresses. It takes the focus off of men and their shortcomings. I could go on but you get the idea.
    My recent post Author Interview – Cheryl Bradshaw

  2. Geek Girl Says:

    My point of view is that the reason women are not 'equal' is that men are threatened by strong women. Men have had a stronghold in all aspects of society for so long that the idea that women can take over those positions actually do a better job scares them. It's like when they make comments about a women's hair or the way she dresses. It takes the focus off of men and their shortcomings. I could go on but you get the idea.
    My recent post Author Interview – Cheryl Bradshaw

  3. Geek Girl Says:

    My point of view is that the reason women are not 'equal' is that men are threatened by strong women. Men have had a stronghold in all aspects of society for so long that the idea that women can take over those positions actually do a better job scares them. It's like when they make comments about a women's hair or the way she dresses. It takes the focus off of men and their shortcomings. I could go on but you get the idea.
    My recent post Author Interview – Cheryl Bradshaw

  4. Geek Girl Says:

    My point of view is that the reason women are not 'equal' is that men are threatened by strong women. Men have had a stronghold in all aspects of society for so long that the idea that women can take over those positions actually do a better job scares them. It's like when they make comments about a women's hair or the way she dresses. It takes the focus off of men and their shortcomings. I could go on but you get the idea.
    My recent post Author Interview – Cheryl Bradshaw

  5. Geek Girl Says:

    My point of view is that the reason women are not 'equal' is that men are threatened by strong women. Men have had a stronghold in all aspects of society for so long that the idea that women can take over those positions actually do a better job scares them. It's like when they make comments about a women's hair or the way she dresses. It takes the focus off of men and their shortcomings. I could go on but you get the idea.
    My recent post Author Interview – Cheryl Bradshaw

  6. Geek Girl Says:

    My point of view is that the reason women are not 'equal' is that men are threatened by strong women. Men have had a stronghold in all aspects of society for so long that the idea that women can take over those positions actually do a better job scares them. It's like when they make comments about a women's hair or the way she dresses. It takes the focus off of men and their shortcomings. I could go on but you get the idea.
    My recent post Author Interview – Cheryl Bradshaw

  7. Geek Girl Says:

    My point of view is that the reason women are not 'equal' is that men are threatened by strong women. Men have had a stronghold in all aspects of society for so long that the idea that women can take over those positions actually do a better job scares them. It's like when they make comments about a women's hair or the way she dresses. It takes the focus off of men and their shortcomings. I could go on but you get the idea.
    My recent post Author Interview – Cheryl Bradshaw

  8. catarinaalexon Says:

    Amen, Cheryl.

  9. Kelly Andria Says:

    It is not only men who have these fears about strong intelligent women, it is women themselves as well who try to sabotage them sometimes. And I not talking about these poor women in places where they are brought up to serve men and you know which places these are, but also older generation women in advanced societies share somewhat the same view, only a few women are equal to men!
    You see the justification of the model that women are there to pick up after men and not the other way around is hard to break. It is not about comments by men it is about broadening the scope of women that have accepted this "norm" for too long.

    My recent post This year I lucked out again! I had it all!

  10. Hola Backgrinder Says:

    I've heard pretty mixed reviews from American women on Leon Panetta's announcement, you may want to modify your statement to say he has become a hero to some American women, it would be a lot more accurate. As far as women entrepreneurs being regarded as too aggressive, I know several and have a business partnership with a woman who is an entrepreneur, and I have never seen this in real life. The women I know who own businesses and create startups have been shown a tremendous amount of respect and appreciation in every single interaction I have witnessed.

  11. catarinaalexon Says:

    Amen, Kelly. Sheryl Sandberg talked about that in the panel discussion on gender equality in Davos. In her opinion successful women are disliked by both men and woman and considered agressive while men are considered ambitious. And that's the way it works in Sweden as well as Saudi Arabia.

  12. catarinaalexon Says:

    Thank you for conveying your thougths "Hola Backgrinder". Glad you have good experiences of women in business. How many women did you talk to about Leon Panetta's announcement?

  13. Susan Oakes Says:

    I think women should be ambitious if they want to or not. It is the same for men. I also think that aggression in men or women or not desirable and this gets confused with assertiveness. You can be assertive and some women who succeed are but I would not call them aggressive.

    However I do not agree that boards should be forced to have women as directors. The smart companies that do know the benefits.

  14. b2bkingdom Says:

    Great post Catarina,

    Most female entrepreneurs can certainly relate to this post. I was also in the U.S. military so I share a huge personal connection with these ideas :)

  15. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad we agree, Susan. Good points. How can you get more qualified women into top leadership positions and on boards without legislating? The EU tried to achive that on a voluntary basis and it did not work.

  16. catarinaalexon Says:

    Seems we agree that we need more gender equality in business as well as in the military.

  17. Kelly Wade Says:

    Its very unfortunate that women are criticized based on stereotypes made up by society. Yes, women should be as ambitious as men in business, but to not be so harshly judged it may take a little more creativity to get where we want to be without being thought of as "aggressive"- although thats not a bad thing. Its unnerving that we as a gender are still fighting for equality across the world, even in such advanced societies.
    My recent post Do Body Wraps Work for Weight Loss?

  18. @patweber Says:

    There's still debate going on as to whether Panetta made the right move.

    Years ago I met a women in a women-owned business organization. She believed that in life, women have all the power. We talked it through: men go to war to protect – their women and families, men work – to secure a good like for their women and families, men do much – for women and families.

    So when women realize we have the power, we won't sabotage ourselves to take anything less, if we want to. And if we want to be in business, we can, and if we rather be in the home, we can. It's an individual choice.

    My recent post What’s the chance you will stick to your goals, resolutions or intentions!

  19. catarinaalexon Says:

    Yes Pat, we have a choice. But do you really believe it's OK that women are paid less for the same job? That it happens in a country like Sweden were we have been equal by law for half a century.

    By the way, women have served in the Isreali army since the country was founded. And they do very well:-)

  20. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad we agree Kelly.

    Have never had any problems because of my gender. But when I held a senior management position in Saudi Arabia some of the men were calling me agressive behind my back. And you read in the article what Saudi men said about the women appointed to the shura council i.e. not qualified just got appointed because they are women. Isn't it interesting that men in Saudi Arabia and the United States who are not happy with gender equality use the same arguments.

  21. Jeannette Paladino Says:

    Yes, women should be praised for being ambitious not regarded as being too aggressive and "un-feminine." Just because the U.S. has opened the doors to women to hold positions in combat, not every servicewomen will want that role. The point is to offer the same opportunities as men. Each of us should be permitted by law to achieve our highest potential. The argument is that women won't meet the physical requirements in the military. Guess what? A lot of men can't meet the physical requirements, either. My niece joined the Navy three years ago and went through officer's training, which is a very difficult boot camp. Out of 100 recruits — with the vast majority being men — she graduated from officer's training school second from the top in physical fitness, second only to a man who was a former Navy seal. And she's 5 feet 3 inches tall and I don't think weighs 125 pounds. But she's tough and during camp, because of her physical skills, was appointed to lead the physical regiment for half the recruits while a man led the other half. She has brains as well as brawn and is now a Lt., jg.

  22. catarinaalexon Says:

    Excellent points Jeannette.

  23. Susan Oakes Says:

    Maybe it was the way they did it that didn't work as there are always different approaches to get a solution. I don't know the answer but I am against legislation as my perception is it does nothing to make women equal if boards are forced to do it.

  24. findingourwaynow Says:

    Time will tell how history will view this move. My belief is, if you have a drive and desire to pursue that as a career then you should have the opportunity to go for it. I do believe that women are equal in many ways but there are obvious differences. One being able to bare children. We should celebrate how we're different and enjoy and embrace where we are equal. My thoughts… :-)
    My recent post Fritz Winery Pinot Noir 2002: Wine

  25. JeriWB Says:

    I'm ambitious, but in an artistic sense, not in a corporate sense. While I don't have kids, I think many women are held back from being as ambitious as they want to be due to the constraints society places on women as being seen as mother's first and committed to successful business practices second. If legislation is needed to continue to level the playing field, I'm all for it.
    My recent post JeriWB Writes: Finding Inspiration (Guest Post)

  26. catarinaalexon Says:

    Susan, I also think legisation is a bad idea. But for some reason if the choice is between a qualified woman and a qualified man the man is chosen in the majority of cases. Somehow there has to be a way of getting gender equality without forcing it. It seems to be a case of getting away from old fashioned stereotypes.

  27. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad we agree. However, the fact that women bare children should not stop them from being taken seriously in the corporate world or be paid the same amount of money for the same job as men.

  28. catarinaalexon Says:

    Agree with you Jeri. It's really a shame that legislation seems to be necessary. It shouldn't be.

  29. Tom Phelan Says:

    Anyone seriously interested in female equality should begin at the beginning.

    When religions no longer discriminate due to gender, then we will have made a major and
    absolute necessary step towards true gender equality. You can't pay lip service to the Corporate
    world claiming gender equality while allowing the world's religions to continue serving sexism.

    A good start is to read Anthropologist Merlin Stone's book, "When God Was A Woman".

    Archaeologically documented, it is the story of the religion of the Goddess where women’s roles were far more prominent than in patriarchal Judeo-Christian cultures. Merlin Stone describes this ancient system and, with its disintegration, the decline in women’s status.

    Evidence that God was a woman, i.e. Goddess, predates all religions and dates back 40,000 years or more.
    or more.

  30. GuyW Says:

    Good post, Catarina. There was an item on the news in the UK last week where a survey showed that women entrepreneurs were actually earning more than their male counterparts on average (I think the delta was 17.5%), so there's no question in my mind that women are increasingly taking up the senior roles.

    Of course, there's always the issue of women taking a break from their careers to raise children, and the extent to which this can/does set them back: this is the subject of an article on its own… Perhaps this is why they are increasingly turning to entrepreneurial roles where they can decide the scope of their work, etc.

    So, in summary – women are now (at least in the UK) ahead of men in certain areas of business life. In the more formal sectors they still lag, although the gap has closed significantly in recent years, and will continue to do so.

  31. findingourwaynow Says:

    I do agree and that is fast becoming the norm. Partly because of the upcoming generations and how they perceive each gender not as lesser or greater but equal with differences.
    My recent post On The Beach: Story

  32. catarinaalexon Says:

    True Guy, it's probably because of child bearing women are increasingly turning to entrepreneurial activity. Has the gap in senior management positions and on boards closed more than 3 % in the U.K (the average in Europe)?

  33. catarinaalexon Says:

    Thank you for letting us know your opinion Tom.

  34. Archie Says:

    Why not?

    Marie Curie discovered radium and Mary MacDonald invented the non stick frying pan.

  35. catarinaalexon Says:

    Exactly that's proof of gender equality, Archie.

  36. GuyW Says:

    To be honest, I'm not sure how quickly the gap is closing in the UK – haven't seen figures on it. There is a good deal of talk/scrutiny of women on boards, and in senior management, so imagine it is closing for this reason.

  37. catarinaalexon Says:

    Most likely it's closing very slowly just like in Sweden and the rest of Europe.

  38. Sudhir Rasane Says:

    I feel yes but in some selected field. If it will happen in every field then it will difficult for the run of society.

  39. catarinaalexon Says:

    Thank you for conveying your opinon Sudhir.

  40. Doreen Pendgracs Says:

    Hi Catarina: I've been self-employed for the past 20 years. One of the 1st things I did when joining the world of entrepreneurship was to join the Women Business Owners Association in Winnipeg. It was a terrific thing to do, as it introduced me to like-minded business women from throughout the province who became mentors and friends.

    I'm not fond of the word "ambitious" but I would certainly say that women are and should be as driven and motivated to succeed as their male counterparts. And indeed they are.
    My recent post Chocolatouring: enjoying the chocolate tours at Hotel Chocolat Boucan

  41. catarinaalexon Says:

    Yes joining women business owners organisations is a good idea. However in my experience gender equality is not a big issue amongst entrepreneurs. It is at, especially high levels of corporations that it is a problem. All over the world you hence have organisations that want to get more women to sit on boards. Qualified women I should add, not just any woman:-)

  42. CDowns Says:

    As part of my final project at University, I have been extensively researching what it is that contributes to the perception of a glass ceiling in a business environment. One of the main factors I have come across is that women are less likely to outwardly show their ambitions, despite being reported to have the same aspirations as men. My research is currently demonstrating that women who are in business do not differ in their ambitions and therefore it seems unjustified to have such a large gender difference in a modern society.

    I personally believe men and women should be treated equally (especially if there are no differences in how they may influence or perform a certain job or task)

    As I have mentionned, I am conducting a short study on the factors related to the glass ceiling effect including a mixture of personality and environmental factors. I would be very grateful if you would take the time to participate (I benefit no other way than gaining participants for this study)
    http://tinyurl.com/b6dq8ul

    Thank you

  43. catarinaalexon Says:

    Great comment and glad your research show women and men perform equally well in all tasks, C Downs.

  44. keepupweb Says:

    Catarina,
    Women have made great strides towards achieving equality in the workplace and the military but we still have a long way to go. Personally, I find the observation that "successful women are frequently disliked by both men and women" to be very true. (I've blogged about this before.) Many women are not supportive of other women and it's a shame. I've been following Tory Burch for a few years now. She's an amazing example of what an ambitious woman can achieve. I highly recommend following her and embracing her advice.

    As always, thanks for writing a thought provoking post that gets us talking Catarina.
    My recent post Tips for Bloggers | Before You Press that Publish Button

  45. keepupweb Says:

    Catarina,
    Women have made great strides towards achieving equality in the workplace and the military but we still have a long way to go. Personally, I find the observation that "successful women are frequently disliked by both men and women" to be very true. (I've blogged about this before.) Many women are not supportive of other women and it's a shame. I've been following Tory Burch for a few years now. She's an amazing example of what an ambitious woman can achieve. I highly recommend following her and embracing her advice.

    As always, thanks for writing a thought provoking post that gets us talking Catarina.
    My recent post Tips for Bloggers | Before You Press that Publish Button

  46. catarinaalexon Says:

    Thanks Sherryl. Am not surprised we agree. Isn't it amazing that successful women are still often disliked by both men and women.

  47. akandrewwriter Says:

    This is such an really excellent post Catarina, and definitely an issue close to my own heart. I totally agree regarding women in the military, and as you said, hope there's not too much foot-dragging there. Women should absolutely have an equal place with men in every aspect of business whether it's in start-ups or at the corporate level. Unfortunately there do still need to be initiatives such as affirmative action, as in the US, otherwise it will never happen. Women are every bit as capable as men – you only have to think of Hilary Clinton, irregardless of your political views. But prejudices are still ingrained in virtually every country in the world and the perception of women being aggressive comes from the stereotypes we have grown up with about women as you indicated.. Attributes seen as positives in men in business are seen as negatives for women. As Ann Richards said about Ginger Rodger's she did everything Fred Astaire could do only in high heels & going backwards. That comment sums up for me what women have to do to get ahead. Thank goodness we are going in the right direction , but there's still a long way to go.
    BTW. Apologies for being slow to comment. I didn't want an old link up for my webpage.
    My recent post Can Your Computer Drain Your Creativity?

  48. catarinaalexon Says:

    Thank you AK. Glad, and not surprised, we agree. Your Ginger Rogers example sums it up very well.

  49. Sara Says:

    I don't think the issue is our ambition or not. The problem is that we are not seen at the work place, does it matter if we have ambition if we are not noticed?

  50. Christian Says:

    Its great that everyone is thinking equality and all that but I don't think men are threatened by strong women, that's just wrong and untrue on so many levels.

    The phrase "we need more women in this and that" really got my thinking, I think in today society women actually have more rights and opportunities compared to men just because society in general is so afraid of sexism it just forgotten about the equality part.
    My recent post Old Pictures

  51. catarinaalexon Says:

    That's the point I'm making Sara. Does it matter if women have ambition if the fact that they are women are held against them?:-)

  52. catarinaalexon Says:

    Thank you for giving your opinion Christian. Do you think that women doing the same job as men should be paid less?

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