Two years ago, American Express discovered a disheartening fact: only a third of American Express’ most senior female executives had ever publicly described themselves as ambitious. Why? Because too many women find this term uncomfortable to identify with. If you’ve ever been too afraid to ask for a raise or promotion, then you’ve probably felt the shame of being an ambitious woman at some point, too. Well, to help combat this issue, American Express has teamed up with one of the world’s most ambitious (and successful!)women, Venus Williams, and launched The Ambition Project.
Kicking off on International Women’s Day, The Ambition Project aims to help women embrace their ambition — and in honor of the new project, SheKnows sat down with Venus Williams to discuss her own relationship with ambition and how women can overcome this fear that’s keeping them from achieving their biggest dreams.
SheKnows: Why do you think women feel afraid to identify as ambitious?
Venus Williams: Well you know there is a group of women that is afraid to be ambitious because they haven’t been encouraged to do so and they don’t know how. That’s why this initiative is so exciting, because it’s really giving women the platform to be able to do that.
SK: How do you think women should overcome that fear?
VW: I think overcoming that fear is not easy. Sometimes reaching goals or setting goals can be scary because you might fail, but being ambitious and sometimes failing is sometimes the first step to success. If you aren’t failing, you aren’t trying hard enough, because at some point you are gonna fail at something, no matter how good you are. You just have to take that first step.
SK: Have you ever felt afraid to describe yourself as an ambitious woman?
VW: Yes and no, I guess in a sense. I’ve often set goals that I didn’t achieve on the court and off the court and sometimes that can help you. Sometimes you have that doubt like, “Should I set goals? What if I don’t get there?” And that’s just part of the process. A lot of the time you don’t even know if you can succeed until you face that fear. There’s always that doubt in the back of your head but you can’t listen to that thought because it will stop you from really living your dream, taking that chance and seeing where you can go.
SK: Was there ever a time in your career where you felt you were treated differently because you are a woman? How did you handle that situation?
VW: That’s definitely a common thing that happens! I once walked into a meeting and they said to me, “We’re not just gonna hire you because you’re a pretty face.” Like, OK thanks for the compliment but I don’t think men really have to deal with that sort of issue. Of course, women have to face all sorts of things and I have less of an issue in a lot of ways because of the platform that I stand on, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t met my struggles in the past.
SK: What are some of the biggest challenges women face in the workplace that cause them to fear the title of being ambitious?
VW: Well, a lot of them don’t want to be that woman, you know, it’s hard to explain.
SK: No, I get what you mean.
VW: I can’t think of a nicer way to say it but for some reason, there’s a bad reputation around the woman who’s known as a career climber and they want to be seen as nice but it’s not about being nice, it’s about chasing your dreams and setting goals and there is definitely room for that! I think it’s important for women in the workplace to support other women and lift other women up. If you get to the top and there’s not a lot of space for other women, make space for other women. Be a part of the change by lifting other women up.
SK: Being an ambitious career woman also means implementing a work-life balance. What does your work-life balance look like? Do you have a self-care routine that you practice?
VW: Yeah, I limit myself to working five days a week but really just strategically creating blocks of time that allow you to do the things that you love and are important to you is best. And hopefully, that includes time in your work as well because then you’re really creating a large block of time to dedicate to yourself.