It’s Time to Bridge the Aspiration Gap

The email came while I was preparing for a pitch at Geek Girl Tech Con, happening this weekend in Plymouth, MA, in the aptly named Sharkette Tank.

It came from a marketing leader I admire, to a group of women I felt honored to be included with, sharing a disturbing article by Shelly Kramer, who wrote an excellent piece about a recent Deloitte study on millennials. Shelly writes:

Women in the millennial workforce have lower aspirations to secure top jobs and less confidence in their leadership skills than their male counterparts, according to a recent report from Deloitte.” 


And this, says Shelly, comes even as these women KNOW they are as good as, if not stronger than, their male peers when it comes to professional, communication, and creative skills once they leave college and university. What's more:

  • Just 47 percent of women aspire to be number one in their organization compared to 59 percent of men
  • When questioned about how they rated their overall leadership skills, just 21 percent of women gave themselves a “strong” rating, significantly down on the 27 percent figure for the men.


Shelly points to an excellent Harvard Business Review article from Tara Sophia Mohr, Why Women Don’t Apply for Jobs Unless They’re 100% Qualified, which examines the phenomenon of women waiting until they’re fully qualified to go for professional opportunities.

“When women encountered a promotional opportunity, they only applied if they felt they met 100% of the job requirements. Conversely, men applied for these same opportunities if they only met 60% of the job requirements.”

Why? They said they were just following the rules.

Hold Up. Wait a Minute.

The article made me pause in my tracks. I had been rehearsing the slides of my pitch, trying to condense things down to 5 minutes - no easy task. I was eager to tell the story about Cintell, how we’re building tools to help companies become more customer-centric. How our technology solves a major issue in the market and how our team, although small, has big ambition.

I thought about the role I’d be playing tomorrow as female startup co-founder, speaking to a room of women spending their Saturday learning more about tech and entrepreneurship so they can start to bridge the gaps noted in this report.

As a millennial, I was simply SHOCKED that women in my generation are less likely to believe they can be H.B.I.C. than their male counterparts, while actually being morequalified to do so. 

Enough of That. How We Can Fix This:

I have been given incredible advice in my career. One relevant lesson rings especially true, actually shared by a male mentor of mine: 

Don’t waste time asking for permission to be great.

Just go for it, ladies. Even if you’re feeling under qualified to start your own company or go for that promotion, you’re more likely suffering from imposter syndrome than anything else.

Ann Friedman covered the issue of imposter syndrome beautifully in her piece for Pacific Standard, writing:

“Experts note that impostor syndrome thrives when competition is intense and there are few mentors to provide a reality check—which seems to be a pretty apt description of the post-recession American economy. Women—who, despite slow progress in some fields, are increasingly dominant in the professional world—are far more likely than men to suffer from imposter syndrome. Many experts have posited that this is one reason for the so-called “ambition gap.” It’s not that women don’t want to succeed, it’s that, despite their education and experience, they’ve internalized messages about their lack of qualification.” 

The Remedy: More Mentors!

One remedy for this issue, noted by a recipient in the email thread as well as this article, was mentorship. I couldn’t agree more, as I am fortunate to have a network of smart, capable, badass women I can reach out to (and do, often) with questions. They have given me advice and most importantly, confidence to keep going despite that nagging feeling of fear and uncertainty.  

Related post: I asked 14 marketers how to make it happen as a woman in business. Check out their advice.

If you’re a successful female executive who has survived the business world all these years, please consider spending some time giving advice and confidence to the next generation.

If you’re one of these unsure millennial women suffering from imposter syndrome, seek out a mentor to help you find the courage to go for whatever it is you’re scared to do.

And please. Stop asking for permission.