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Do women entrepreneurs lack ambition?

Eleanor Beaton

Years ago I made the difficult decision to release an acquaintance.

Z was a professional friend. She was whip smart and asked excellent, thought provoking questions.

But over the course of a number of conversations, I began to notice a worrying trend.

Z harbored a deep mistrust of other women business owners who boldly stated their desire to make millions of dollars.

She found their ambition distasteful. Focusing on making money and relishing in success betrayed a lack of sincerity, depth and seriousness, she argued.

Every time I heard her comments, I’d feel a bright, hopeful part of me shrink away.

You see…I wanted to make millions of dollars.

I wanted to build a profitable company with an amazing team of smart people doing meaningful work. I wanted to be recognized for my accomplishments.

I wanted to do this not only to make a positive impact in the world, but also to make myself a wealthy woman.

I wanted to be an example of what is possible.

And I very badly wanted to discover who I became in the process of building my empire.

I saw the challenge of building my business as a way to push myself beyond my comfort zone and see just what I was made of.

At the time, this desire of mine was a small flame – not the nourished fire it is today. My dreams and intentions for myself required protection. I sensed Z. would have a dousing impact on my ambition. So I quietly distanced myself.

I haven’t looked back.

At around this time, I discovered a powerful quote from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

(For the record, I’m not impressed with her lack of transparency around Facebook’s privacy breaches…but this is her quote and I intensely love it).

“Women need an explicit place to be ambitious, dream big and support each other.”

Unfortunately, you may have experienced — as I experienced during my conversations with Z – that the world (other women included!) still isn’t ready to hear, support or celebrate your ambition.

When you put in the time and effort required to build a multi-million dollar enterprise, you’ll be continuously asked “when do you ever take time for yourself?”  (Answer: Building a multi-million dollar business IS something I’m doing for myself.)

When you return from another exhilarating business trip people will ask you (with alarming persistence) “Do you find you’re getting tired of the travel?” (Answer: I stay in nice hotels, treat myself to the spa, and have hours of uninterrupted time to watch Game of Thrones on the plane. I’m a’ight.”)

Let me be clear: the war on women’s explicit ambition is among the most subtle, insidious and destructive forms of gender bias you’ll face as a woman entrepreneur.

What does this “ambition barrier” look like?

In short: it looks like our unconscious definition of what femininity actually is.

The Bem Sex Role Inventory is a widely used tool in applied psychology that measures traits we deem desirable expressions of femininity, masculinity and androgyny.

What emerges from the research suggests that at its heart, the basic tenet of what it means to be feminine is to give something.  

Let me repeat: according to this widely and subconsciously held definition of femininity, if you want to be a real woman, you don’t build something for yourself (i.e. an empire).

You give something to someone else.

And it is this pervasive definition of what it means to be a woman that lay at the heart of Z’s distaste for women entrepreneurs who expressed their ambitions explicitly.

It’s why so many powerhouse women entrepreneurs and business leaders ascribe their success to “luck”, and hold back from talking about business for fear of being described as a “workaholic” who “has no balance.”

It’s why women billionaires like Oprah Winfrey MUST have a social mission. And it’s why billionaires like Steve Jobs could get by with merely “making a ding in the universe.”

It’s  why the only socially acceptable reason for a woman to be in business is to “make an impact”.

So what do women do?

We hide our ambition and underplay our accomplishments.

Here’s why that’s a problem: ambition is a catalyst for accomplishment.

If you want to accomplish something meaningful, you must have the ambition (or, to use the socially acceptable term for women, intention) to do it.

But studies of ambition (or to use the insidious gender bias friendly term, intention) have shown that ambition involves two things:

  1. Mastery of a skill
  2. Recognition

Study after study has shown that recognition fuels the next level of learning. Recognition is also a basic human need.

So if you want to build a successful, multi-million dollar business and become a top notch CEO in the process…

You must have a safe place to have your explicit ambition supported, and your milestone wins celebrated.

You have to have a place where you can celebrate closing a $10K deal, hitting the 7-figure mark in sales, or hiring a COO as accomplishments that are worthy in an of themselves…

Without the sugar coating of “making an impact on people’s lives.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of having a social mission.

But I’m not a fan of weaponizing social mission against women’s ambitions and aspirations for what they can do.

I’m not a fan of women feeling pressured to say they’re here to “make the world a better place” because they know they’ll get shut down if they say they want to make millions of dollars.

I’ll close by saying this:

Ambition is not a dirty word.

Your value is not based solely on what you give.

It is safe for you to want to make millions of dollars.

It is beautiful and normal to want to be recognized for what you accomplish.

Stay fierce,


When you’re ready, there are a couple of different ways my team and I can support you in YOUR explicit ambition.

You can attend one of our celebrated workshops, you can coach with me 1:1, or you can join The Incubator with Eleanor Beaton, a powerful coaching program for women entrepreneurs.

Send us an email to chat about your options AND your ambitions: [email protected].