Owning Your Ambition

18th September 2018

Posted In: The Topic

Women’s ambition is and has been the focus of a considerable amount of press and research in recent years. McKinsey, the Harvard Business School and Forbes all write regularly on the topic. The conclusions of these studies are clear; women still face many challenges in the workplace, challenges that affect their confidence, ambition and motivation to sustain their careers.

Words: Natalie Walsh, Executive Director, Blackstone Launchpad, NUI Galway

As a woman who has worked across the boundaries of both the private and public sectors it can be disheartening.  Sustaining ambition can be difficult, but it is possible. There is no proven blue print and certainly, workplace cultures still need to change to meet the needs and values of current and future employees.  I share advice here as I do with colleagues and students in the hope that it inspires and empowers others to think differently about ambition, make small changes and take control of their next career step.

Understand your value proposition: As a Director of an Entrepreneurship programme, it would be impossible to not include a reference to the value proposition, its utility goes far beyond entrepreneurship.  An individual value proposition inspires personal confidence in your unique contribution and is important for building influence and relationships within your workplace. It enables you to position yourself as someone who is visionary and can help the organisation move forward.  A strong personal value proposition gives you the recognition and credibility to sustain your ambition.

Create a personal career plan: We all work to goals, be it personal or professional. I am a strong advocate for defining my goals, writing things down and putting plans in place to reach my goals. I am a lifelong learner, not only in the lecture theatre or classroom, I learn from peers, friends and books and in particular from our students ­­– learning always features in my goal development and personal career plan. A personal plan assists you to stay on track despite obstacles and helps you to evaluate opportunities as they present themselves. It will change, it will be fluid and it will grow with you.

Build a tribe: Seth Godin defines a tribe as a place to belong;  it is something we all seek and gives us connection, commonality and purpose.  No career is built in a vacuum, we  get support and encouragement from the relationships we have in the workplace. We advocate for one another, navigate together and empower one another.  A strong tribe or network gives you the support and encouragement you need to nurture your ambition.

Find a mentor:  Initially the thought of having a mentor scared me. What if they didn’t understand me, my ambition and I let them down? I can honestly say having a mentor  is one of the most powerful relationships you can have to help you reach your career goal. A mentor gives your advice and takes action on your behalf. They have the influence to create visibility and opportunities for you. It will boost your confidence, they will see potential in you that is untapped and yourself belief will increase. Mentorship done right is hugely powerful.

To do or not to do.

As someone who joined the University in a junior role, I enjoyed my roles and regularly sought out opportunity to do more.  Sometimes, however, we take on too many projects that overwhelm us and can consume vast amounts of  time and energy.  Much of this work is invisible but the idea of ‘proving yourself’ far outweighs us looking at tasks more strategically.  To take a leadership role you need to be strategic about the work you take on.  It should be valued and visible. There will always be projects and tasks that are not, however you need to balance the visible and invisible to receive the recognition you deserve.  Visibility is important, particularly for those you role model for.  Acknowledgement fuels both your ambition and those who look up to you.

Working alone will not get you ahead.

Studies (Forbes, McKinsey), show that approximately 77% of women believe that working alone is linked to success. This belief prevents us from focusing on the types of activity that nourish our ambition and allow us to flourish. Working alone can be a limiting belief.  Recognising strengths in others, knowing your own limitations and partnership are key drivers to success. When we coach and mentor on our programme one of our first questions is what support do you need, what skills do you need, how can we build out your team to develop your business idea.  Most if not all of our student successes have resulted in building out partnerships, be it in the short or long term.

In reflecting on this piece, I naturally reflect upon myself.  The opportunities that I have been given but more importantly the opportunities I have created.  And while it is true that we need to change the workplace culture to create a more level playing field in which both genders can nurture their ambitions, we also need to take control of our ambition and own it.

Natalie Walsh is a WMB Gender Diversity Champion 2018.