Women still feel like it’s taboo to call themselves this word at work

Almost 90% of people in the world hold some sort of bias against women, including that about half of the population agrees that men make better political leaders, according to the Gender Social Norms Index (GSNI), a new United Nations study that contains data from 75 countries, or 80% of the world’s population.

Additionally, 40% of people feel that men make better business executives and that men have more right to a job when jobs are scarce.

With these statistics, it doesn’t come as a shock that women’s relationship with the word “ambition” is an extremely complex one – almost as complex as their relationship with makeup in the workplace.

A new global study, published by Amex and commissioned in partnership with The New York Women’s Foundation, looked at working women’s relationships with ambition, confidence, recognition, and advocates.

Here’s how women feel about the word “ambitious”

According to the study, a majority of women consider themselves ambitious, but only 31% said they are proud to call themselves “ambitious” publicly.

Additionally, the study found that only 32% of women were very confident they could actually achieve career ambitions.

“Earlier in my career, I was told, and not always in a positive way, that I was ‘ambitious.’ It was labeled as negative. I didn’t see it as negative and still don’t. It’s about confidence and growth,” said Monique Herena, the Chief Colleague Experience Officer at American Express.

As a way to fight this negative connotation, the company launched The Ambition Project. The goal is to not only to help employees embrace their own ambition but to encourage them to back the ambitions of others as well.

“Many women, in particular, still have a complicated relationship with the word ‘ambition,'” Herena said. “Our hope is that leaders everywhere will recognize their responsibility to support their colleagues’ ambitions, – whether it’s for their careers, personal lives or their communities.”

There are some women who have been embracing their “ambition” for years now, including fashion designer Tory Burch. But like most women, Burch’s relationship with the word was complicated at first.

“In my first interview with The New York Times in 2004, the reporter asked me if I was ‘ambitious.’ I commented that the word annoyed me,” Burch told Ladders in 2018. “After the interview ran, a friend of mine called and said, ‘I really liked the article but you shied away from the word ambition.’ She was right. I realized that I had bought into the harmful double standard around ambition, which is a compliment for men and a criticism of women.”

How women feel about confidence in the workplace

Ambition and confidence in the workplace are closely tied, and while women want both, only 30% believe that confidence comes naturally to them, while 36% feel the need to put effort into building their self-confidence.

Some may say that “confidence is key”, but only 31% of women reported that their own confidence and determination were the most important factor for staying on track to achieve their career ambitions, over other factors such as family support, professional recognition and more.

How women feel about recognition in the workplace

The study found that 31% of women strongly agree that they feel like they have to work harder than their male peers in order to get that recognition at work.

Interestingly, a higher percentage of women strongly agree that they receive recognition for success in their personal life compared to the percentage of women that agree they see recognition in their work-life, 34% of women compared to 29% of women, respectively.

How women feel about advocates in the workplace

When building confidence and ambition in your career, it’s helpful to have an advocate or someone who supports another person in a variety of ways. Whether it be through moral, professional, or financial support, advocates are extremely prominent figures to have throughout your life.

According to the study, 34% of women strongly agree that it is important to act as an advocate for others to help them in their career, however, only 27% of women reported ever having someone advocate for them throughout their career.

Among the women who say that they have had someone advocate for them at some point in their career, women outnumber men as being most influential by a shocking 2:1 ratio. There were 65% of women who said another woman was most influential, while 35% said a man was most influential.