Somewhere in my past, ambition became a dirty word. I kept it inside of me like a stain I tried to hide. It is the secret I pretend I do not harbor, despite its persistence and resilience within me. This week, however, I let it show.
My first trip to the South Carolina State House was on Equal Pay Day. A local advocacy group, the Women’s Resource and Empowerment Network (WREN) held their first annual summit and I attended. The conference centered around a study on women in the workforce that WREN had sponsored at the University of South Carolina’s Moore School of Business.
The three categories of findings were the gender pay gap, labor force participation, and the distribution of employment. The study found that a 22% pay gap persists in S.C. despite our women being, on average, more highly educated than our men. How can our ambition be so widely disregarded and our abilities be so undervalued?
Ambition manifests in action and my actions have been rather modest.
The snort of disapproval my doctorate has received, the dismissal of my fiction work as a hobby, the intentional misunderstanding of what it is my company does; I let these offenses slide. Then there are the specific phrases that hang on me like graffiti on a storefront. Phrases that remind me how difficult it is to be a writer, how inevitable it is that I’ll fail, how many businesses never make any money, and how naïve it is to still have dreams.
Phrases that are not my own insecurities, but the failures and doubts of others being projected upon me.
I stood in the State House and asked myself, “What right have I to be here? Am I doing good work? Can I do more? When will I?”
Wednesday morning, I went to Twitter to pull together the tweets I’d sent during the conference into a transcript via the Storify site. (Highly recommend this application. Find the stories here and here.) What I found when I searched #EqualPayDay on Twitter was a slew of sentiment that the concept is a myth. That the statistics were rigged. That the gender pay gap doesn’t exist. People had decided the gender pay gap was an excuse liberals used to make women victims and blame men for poverty.
After controlling for race, occupation, nativity, moving status, and age, the study done by the Moore School of Business revealed that S.C. women make an estimated $15,861 per year less than their male counterparts. That’s not politically motivated statistics, that’s science.
The reality of the gender pay gap means much more than the tweets and legislation can ever fully articulate. It means that Hollie can expect to earn less than her male classmates when they come out of school into the same profession. It means she’ll be decorated with the same phrases I wear inside me like scars.
It means Hollie's ambition will be scorned, too.
I cannot let that happen. There are three specific ways I can help Hollie: 1) I can encourage her ambition by helping her find her strengths and insisting she practice her skills and craft; 2) I can amplify her ambition by telling others about her goals; and 3) I can work toward my own ambition and demonstrate for her what it takes to achieve those goals.
My first visit to the State House will not be my last. I plan to work there some day.
Now I just have to get elected.
Has your ambition been mocked or derided? Leave a comment committing yourself to achieving it.