How ambition became a dirty word

How ambition became a dirty word

And why it’s time to reclaim it

Site: Divya Bala

David Smeidt speaks to CEO Tory Burch on ambitious women - and why they are more important than ever

Amid the multitude of International Women's Day content that populated your social feed this month, there was equal parts snark, celebration and sobering truths. There was also a growing feeling that it's kinda weird that 49.6 per cent of the global population are recognised for just one day out of every 365.

Amid it all, there was a campaign you might not have seen, but it's incredibly important. Given that the ABS has pegged the percentage of Australian female CEOS at 17 per cent you'll soon see why.

American designer Tory Burch, CEO of her own eponymous company, recruited a bunch of her mates - Gwyneth Paltrow, Kerry Washington, Anna Wintour and Reese Witherspoon to mention a few - to embrace "ambition".

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"In my first interview with the New York Times in 2004, when the reporter mentioned the word 'ambitious,' I commented that the word annoyed me," said Burch. "A friend of mine said, 'You should never shy away from that word.' She was right."

Like many women operating at the highest echelons of business, Burch has seen the double standards of the word "ambition": for men it's celebrated, for women not so much. Or as Burch describes it "derogatory and a bit crass".

Burch herself is proof of the power of ambition. She started out as a copywriter whose blurbs featured on the labels of Ralph Lauren cashmere sweaters before opening a single storefront in NYC's Soho. Today, her turnover is in excess of $1 billion.

What makes this campaign so on point is the fact that goes beyond a hashtag and a glamorous cast. Burch tapped the likes of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Melinda Gates and through grants her foundation has invested more than $30 million in female entrepreneurs.

Amid the empowerment message, Burch has also stressed the inclusion of men including Google founder Eric Schmidt, LGBT basketballer Jason Collins and actor John Hamm. It's an extension of the pledge that can be signed at where people of all genders are encouraged to not merely articulate their own ambition but to rally behind "women are criticised for being ambitious".

If this is the shape of social media campaigns to come - eloquent messaging, elegant imaging and real change people can implement supported by serious dollars - will watch with both interest and support.

Asked what her ambition was, Burch responded "to help women build empires." Preach sister. If others can't handle your drive and objectives, that's their problem.


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