There is a paragraph in Timothy Ferriss’ Book, “The 4 Hour Work Week” which really hits home with me:
“Somewhere between college graduation and your second job, a chorus enters your internal dialogue: Be realistic and stop pretending. Life isn’t like the movies.”
“If you’re five years old and say that you want to be an astronaut, your parents tell you that you can be anything you want to be. It’s harmless, like telling a child that Santa Claus exists. If you’re 25 and announce that you want to start a new circus, the response is different: Be realistic; become a lawyer or an accountant or a doctor, have babies, and raise them to repeat the cycle.”
In the UK over 120,000 women graduate from University every year. The majority of these are between the age of 20-25.
They leave, excited at what the future may hold. Willing to work hard and to push their careers forward. Excited with new ideas and techniques to pitch to their first employers.
Yet by the time they are entering their third or fourth job before they hit 30, this excitement and desire to achieve has significantly dropped. They’re told to be realistic. To accept their corporate fate and work life until retirement. Their willingness to speak up, be heard and promote new ideas starts to disappear. As a society we stop telling people that they can do and be anything they want to be – and as a result their motivation and ambition fades.
Obviously, other factors are in place. For example having a family can cause women to put their careers on hold for a few years and ambition isn’t a focus for them at this time. But what is shocking is how quickly our determination is fading. I’m not talking about 35-40 year olds with 3 kids. I’m talking about 25 year olds with no children, and a pure focus on their career who have only been in the corporate world for 3-4 years, already seeing their ambition levels drop by 20% each year.
So why is this happening? How can women entering the corporate world loose their identity in such a short amount of time?
Forbes interviewed 7,000 women in 7 different countries about their thoughts on ambition. They found that:
- 74% of women aspire to reach executive ranks
- 20% of women want to be an entrepreneur
- The countries with the highest female ambition levels were Brazil at 92%, China at 88% and India at 82%.
- The UK was one of the lowest at just 56%.
Whilst this low level of ambition in the UK is shocking enough, Forbes also found that 70% of women age 18-22 see themselves reaching a senior role. The number drops to 20% for ages 51-60. A woman’s level of ambition drops significantly throughout her late twenties and early thirties.
Whilst some industries, such as the creative and design sectors, are thriving in support for women, others are still overwhelmingly behind. Social Enterprise, Yellow Jigsaw started a fantastic campaign last year called “I Am Not John” – based on the fact that there are more chief executives called John than there are female chief executives in FTSE 100 companies. Their aim was to inspire women across the North West to believe they can become leaders in their chosen careers.
This is exactly how we can solve our low level of ambition in the UK.
We need to shout. We need to be there for each other. We need to provide a platform for determined women who are struggling to keep their ambition. We need to tell stories of those who have been there, pushed through and are better for it. We need to create campaigns which highlight the key problems.
2018 is our year. We have so much support across the world, with women uniting for the #METOO #TIMESUP and #WOMENSMARCH campaigns across social media.
We have never been stronger.
Tell people they can be an astronaut, a CEO or a firefighter. Not just your 5 year old niece. Tell the 40 year old sat next to you on the train. You never know, they might quit their job that day, because a stranger reminded them that they can do and be anything! Instead of their own friends and family telling them to “be realistic”.
We need to teach people that it’s okay to want to achieve. It’s okay to be intelligent. It’s okay to disrupt, shout and not fall into place. That is how the world changes for the better. That is how fantastic women radicalise industries. That is how female entrepreneurs launch, and female CEOs are created.
So get involved. Find a group or a campaign local to you which is supporting career-focused women. Offer your services. Host your own event. Find yourself a mentor, or mentor other people. If every ambitious woman in the UK helped to motivate another, we could change our low 56% statistic to a high 80% very quickly.
Below are some inspirational examples of UK platforms or campaigns you can get involved in to make a difference:
Created to help motivate and inspire the ambitions women to keep pushing herself further every day.
Celebrating women in all that they do, with the aim of empowering the next generation of strong and fearless women.
Inspiring women to believe they don’t have to be John to be the boss
London’s first female-focused workspace and members club
Elevating women in Technology
Working to achieve a world-leading education for all young people in science, technology, engineering and mathematics
SheSays is an award-winning global network organisation focused on the engagement, education and advancement of women in the creative industries.
We’re a community dedicated to inspiring, supporting and celebrating every small business founder and entrepreneur who wants their business to VOOM.