Unapologetically owning our ambition

Unapologetically owning our ambition

< Back to Articles | Topics: Working for you | Contributors: Erin Elaine Casey | Published: May 1, 2018

Wonder Women Workshop inspires and challenges

If I took one message away from the Chamber’s Wonder Women Workshop on March 2, it’s this: Stop apologizing for being awesome.

Maybe I should back up. In the past few weeks, I’ve had several meetings with women starting new businesses and I’m seeing a pattern. A lot of us — not all, but a LOT — feel like impostors. As if we’re here in this professional space by accident or dumb luck, not because we have the chops to make things happen. Like we always have something to prove, even when we’ve already arrived.

I was so struck by this apologetic attitude during a recent coffee date with an aspiring woman entrepreneur that I felt compelled to look into her eyes and say, “You are NOT a fraud.”

Or, as women’s leadership expert Eleanor Beaton put it in her keynote address at the workshop, “Unapologetically owning our ambition is a courageous act of everyday feminism.”

Every single speaker and panellist who took the stage on that sunny Friday morning shared some version of the very same message. Speaker Wendy Brookhouse, founder and Chief Strategist at Black Star Group, urged us to deeply examine our relationship with money and “step into our power” by making a plan to take control of our financial health. What panel member Leah Rimmer, Partner at the law firm BoyneClarke, wants most is for women to feel free to be themselves and define success and leadership for ourselves without justification or apology. Panel member Andrea Janzen, Professional Coach, reminds us to step up and share real stories about the challenges women face, so we can put fuel in our tanks instead of judging ourselves and each other so harshly.

There were more than 130 women in the room that day, and almost everyone I talked to relates to what Beaton calls the “Barbie complex” — the compulsion to be perfect and do everything perfectly. It comes in many forms, from “playing small” in business (because we’re so afraid to make a mistake) to the constant pressure to be “gracious” (because we’re so afraid people will think we’re not nice).

Mount Saint Vincent University undergraduates Jasmine Schreiner and Cassie Pilon, told me they already feel enormous pressure to compete and be “better” than the men they go to school with. “Men are treated differently, get more opportunities and are paid more than us for the exact same work,” Schreiner says. “If we’re not perfect, it’s like we’re letting the team down.”

Pilon agrees: “You have to be perfect at home and perfect at work. You’re afraid of falling off that pedestal.”

What’s the answer? It’s simple, but it’s not easy. We have to get over the idea that working our butts off and striving for a flawless performance is the path to success — that nice women don’t want professional power and that ambition, whether you’re pushing for success in your $20,000 microbusiness or your multi-million-dollar enterprise, is a dirty word.

Wendy Brookhouse has it right when she says, “Power is a good thing.”

One way to normalize what it takes to be a powerful woman — including what Beaton calls “episodic selfishness” — is to share narratives about what power and ambition look like in real life. On March 2, we heard those narratives and saw those powerful women in action. And guess what? They’re not so different from the rest of us.

Fun fact: 12 of the 15 staff members at the Halifax Chamber are women, as are the incoming Chair of the Board and Vice Chair and they are a powerhouse bunch. On the eve of International Women’s Day, hosting an event celebrating women and the important role they play in the business community, just made sense.

“We wanted to let the women’s business community know that we support them,” says Becky Davison, Marketing Director for the Halifax Chamber of Commerce. “We want to lead by example by engaging all members of our diverse business community and that involves an inclusive strategy for our events, volunteer positions and leaders. This will definitely be an annual event!”

Cynthia Dorrington, President of Vale & Associates, took over as Chamber Chair in April. I feel like her words are — if you’ll forgive me — perfect for this particular moment: “When you articulate a goal, you have to think it through and also speak it out loud. We typically don’t go back on what we say. We never want to look like we failed or relinquished our goals. When you articulate a goal or mission or vision, you will strive to achieve it.”

And so, here is my own vision, inspired by all the amazing and courageous women who spoke with me at the Wonder Women Workshop:

• Trust yourself

• Be imperfect

• Tell real stories — your own and others’

• Celebrate your ambition

• Define your success

The Wonder Women Workshop was sponsored by Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University, BoyneClarke, Rogers, BMO and Theriault Financial.

< Back to Articles | Topics: Working for you

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