When she was a little girl, Bonnie Marcus wanted to be a ballerina. While she was young, she received praise for dancing, but as she got older, the feedback grew to be negative. Marcus internalized this discouragement and realized that she had other options. Her desire to pursue dance faded. She lacked the recognition and the potential for reward necessary to foster ambition.
“Ambition requires mastery of a skill and then recognition of that skill,” Marcus told the audience during her “Gender and Ambition” presentation, cohosted by the Jepson School of Leadership Studies and the Robins School of Business.
A certified executive coach, speaker, and author, Marcus founded her own career coaching firm, Women’s Success Coaching, in 2007. In her most recent book, The Politics of Promotion: How High Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead, Marcus discusses how women can position themselves to succeed in the workplace and achieve the recognition they deserve.
Marcus began her discussion of ambition by telling the story of her own experience with ballet as a contrast to that of Misty Copeland, the first African American Female Principal Dancer with the American Ballet Theatre. Like Marcus, Copeland was also told she had the wrong body type; however unlike Marcus, Copeland had a sponsor and a great potential for reward. In short, Copeland had the ambition to drive her work and success.
According to Marcus, women move away from ambition in their careers due to internal factors as well as societal perceptions and workplace culture. To overcome inhibitors of ambition, Marcus encouraged women to create a strategic plan for their careers so they have a clear picture of where they want to go and the steps they need to take along the way. A strategic plan also enables women to evaluate decisions about the type of work they are willing to do.
In describing the “doer trap,” an assumption that women will take on more of the office housekeeping tasks, Marcus remembered a meeting in which she was in the position of senior vice president of sales and was making a pitch to an all male group of executives at a venture capital firm.
“The assumption was made that because I was the only woman in the room, I would get the coffee,” said Marcus.
Marcus did not get the coffee that day. According to Marcus, both genders need to be more aware of these expectations that can lead women astray from their workplace goals. The lecture provided both men and women with steps they can take to increase diversity at the executive level and to ensure that women have an equal opportunity to gain leadership positions.
Marcus concluded the presentation by describing changes that must happen to the workplace model in order for women to achieve equality at work.
“We have an outdated workforce model,” said Marcus. “It’s based on the glorification of busy.”
Only when success is evaluated by results and output will women achieve true equity, Marcus concluded.