A woman’s decision to pursue her ambition with laser-sharp focus should not be seen as diametrically opposed to her femininity, her ability to pursue a long-term committed relationship or her character. An ambitious woman is simply a high-energy woman who is driven to succeed in her own way. Constantly learning and willing to take risks, she’s a mentor to others and highly collaborative—and blends work with family, personal needs and contributions to her community. We need to dispel the myth that assumes that an ambitious woman is lacking in other areas of her life or that she will be “difficult to manage”.
In fact, the ambitious woman hates labels. I want to rewrite the narrative that an ambitious woman is necessarily selfish, egotistical, self-aggrandising, or manipulating of others for her own ends. Ambition-shaming by society means women fail to own their successes, making it that much more difficult for younger girls to believe that the deliberate and intentional decision to work hard will lead to success. I read about a 2020 survey of women in leadership by the Centre for Creative Leadership which found that nearly 50% of women attributed their business or career success to luck, compared with only 33% of men.
Still, the perception of successful and ambitious women in some societies has had more serious consequences for those women. The UN goal of gender equality, SDG5, paves the way for the economic success and empowerment of women but faced with cultural norms that may sometimes promote subservience, the risk of domestic violence may be higher. This scenario has played out in poorer societies. A 2015 Oxfam study in Guatemala specifically found links between women’s economic empowerment and domestic violence because “some men may use violence as an instrument to disrupt women’s market-oriented activity, seize women’s income, or exert authority over managing it”. This led some women in Guatemala to downplay the real extent of their economic ambition and financial resources.
But the same study found that in some instances, the opposite was also true, with a desire for economic mobility among women also boosting the prospects of a more stable family context, by increasing her contribution to household economic sustenance. The latter scenario was more likely where there was wider societal acceptance of a woman’s desire for economic empowerment, and thus, her ambitions.
Ambition is not a dirty word. If we peel back the layers of its meaning, we realise it reflects a desire in every woman to live her best life, fulfil her God-given purpose and contribute to the lives of those she loves. The multiplier effect of a dollar in the hands of a woman is incredible, as women ultimately have been found to make more value-based decisions for themselves and their dependents when it comes to wealth!
We need to stop the ambition-shaming, and let women reach their fullest potential! Society will be better for it. I have no doubt it will.
Chief Commercial Officer, Mixta Africa
Rolake is a reputable energy and infrastructure sector executive. Recognised in 2020 as a top 275 Global Female Influencer Executive in Energy by the UK’s Energy Council, Rolake has made her mark across several industries, and is currently the Chief Commercial Officer of leading infrastructure developer, Mixta Africa, helping the group craft and execute its commercialisation strategy, across subsidiaries in Nigeria, Senegal, Morocco, Tunisia, Cote d’Ivoire & Ethiopia.
An accomplished classical and jazz pianist and fluent French speaker, Rolake is also an engaging commentator on the global economy, markets and energy, on platforms like BBC, CNBC and others, and was listed in the MIPAD 100 Under 40 in the 2018 Business and Entrepreneurship Category. She has a BSc & an MSc degree from the London School of Economics (LSE) and a joint MBA degree from the London School of Economics, HEC School of Management Paris and NYU’s Leonard Stern School of Business (TRIUM). She continues to support and empower women through her career development and mentoring platform Multiple Streams of Impact, and also sits on the Executive Council of WIMBIZ, Nigeria’s leading women’s network, and Advisory Board of the Africa Energy Chamber.