Tory Burch loves the word ambition, but in the past her relationship to that word was a bit more complicated. The designer, who launched her company in 2004 by cold calling people from her kitchen table, now has an internationally recognized lifestyle brand that includes clothing, accessories, footwear and fragrances.
Her designs are loved by celebrities, she has made the Forbes Billionaire list and the CFDA named her as one of their designers of the year in 2008. And yet, back when she first started out as an entrepreneur she used to not be able to say she was an ambitious person without a bit of a struggle.
Burch told The Ladders, “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. 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.”
Burch isn’t alone in her “It’s complicated” status with ambition. A 2017 study found that many female MBA students, especially ones who identified as single, were more likely to downplay their “professional ambition and tendency for leadership” compared with their male counterparts.
Over time Burch learned to not only accept that she was an ambitious business person, but she began to embrace it. And now she wants women, as well as men, to also embrace it. This year marks her company’s second #EmbraceAmbition campaign which was developed to inspire women and girls to own their power, drive and dreams.
“Women are encouraged to take a pledge to embrace ambition. There are also tools and content to help women become more comfortable with their ambitions, whether it’s to start a company, raise children with integrity or make a difference by supporting a cause. Last year’s initiative had global impact, reaching 98 percent of the world’s countries and millions of people,” she told The Ladders.
Burch noted that this year the campaign focuses on women and men celebrating the people who inspire them to embrace ambition. Arianna Huffington, Billie Jean King, Lilly Ledbetter, and SoulCycle CEO Melanie Whelan have helped kick off the initiative giving shoutouts to the people that have helped them be ambitious in their lives.
Burch told The Ladders, “I honored my mom with these words: ‘You inspire me to embrace ambition because you have always encouraged me to think of negativity as noise.’ Serena Williams honored her sister Venus, saying, ‘You inspire me to #EmbraceAmbition because you taught me what it means to strive for greatness.’ An e-postcard is sent to the person you are acknowledging and you post your tribute on social media. We launched on March 1st and already people all over the world have participated.”
Supporting women to reach their goals is nothing new for Burch who in 2009 launched The Tory Burch Foundation to help give female entrepreneurs access to more capital. Powered by Bank of America the Foundation has distributed $35 million dollars in loans to 1,773 women entrepreneurs.
In a 2008 interview with CNBC Tory said, “Well, there’s been a stigma to women in business, and I think the women traditionally in business that are successful are not married and do not have kids. That has got to change, and if I can help change that in any way, that would be a big, big feat for me. I feel that women are tremendously successful and add incredible value to the economy of our country, and for me that’s very important.”
On April 24th of this year, The Tory Burch Foundation will also host their first Embrace Ambition Summit: Confronting Stereotypes and Creating New Norms in New York City, free of charge.
“It is an ambitious endeavor and we are doing our best to get it right. If we confront the biases and stereotypes that hold people back, we can create new norms that will allow us all to embrace equality,” Burch said. “The #EmbraceAmbition campaign has demonstrated the transformative power of questioning stereotypes and inspired our Foundation to dive deeper and address other harmful stereotypes that impact gender, race and sexuality.”
Meredith Lepore is the Deputy Editor of Ladders. She is based in New York City and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.