10 Encouragements for Ambitious Women

About four years ago, I was walking down the hallway at my new job at Oregon State University. It was my first grown-up, full-time job and my introduction to working in international higher education. I was hungry to learn and try and do. Valerie Rosenberg, who was the Assistant Executive Director of INTO Oregon State University at the time, pulled me in to her office as I was walking past. “I think you’re a leader,” she said, “and I want to help you.”

Empowered women empower women.

Here are 10 pieces of advice, ideas and resources that have helped and stretched me over the past few years—Many of which given to me by women like Valerie who cared about me and wanted to see me succeed.

1. Hustle.

“Good things may come to those who wait, but only things left by those who hustled.” – (maybe) Abraham Lincoln

Work really hard. I know it’s rudimentary, but ambition falls flat without follow-through. The following ideas require grit and hustle as their cornerstone.

 “So, my unsolicited advice to women in the workplace is this. When faced with sexism, or ageism, or lookism, or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question: ‘Is this person in between me and what I want to do?’ If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way. Then, when you’re in charge, don’t hire the people who were jerky to you.” ― Tina FeyBossypants

2. Sit at the table. 

Sheryl Sandberg’s TED Talk, Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders, talks about the timidity a lot of women feel about contributing ideas and speaking up—she talks about observing women sit on the outskirts of the conference table and opting to take notes instead of actively engaging.

Sit at the table! You deserve to be here. You are not an imposter or a fraud; your ideas are legitimate and deserve to be heard.

Learn from the author of the Feminist Fight Club, Jessica Bennett, about how to combat unwarranted doubts in her article Seven Ways I’ve Learned From Other Women to Fight Imposter Syndrome.

3. Have confidence. 

HP reported that women in their organization waited until they believed they were 100 percent qualified to apply for a promotion, while men applied when they felt 60 percent qualified (Forbes).

You have worked hard, done your research, and are capable. You can’t wait for all the stars to align before taking your next step, because that time might never come.

“I believe great people do things before they are ready.” ― Amy PoehlerYes Please

4. Be sponsored. 

“No matter how fiercely you lean in, you still need someone with power to lean in with you.” – Sylvia Ann Hewlett

Valerie had confidence in me, and she was generous in sharing her experience and wisdom. She mentored me, advocated for me and sponsored me. My hope for anyone reading this is that you will either have, or be, a champion like Valerie.

“While mentors help you skill up, sponsors help you move up.” – Jo Miller

5. Pay it forward. 

“There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women.” – Madeleine Albright

Valerie’s help and support has made me feel a deep responsibility to mentor others in the same way. I recently took StrengthsFinder and was both pleased and challenged to get “Developer” on my list. Let’s encourage and develop potential in others, even if we don’t feel entirely qualified or ready—it could make all the difference for someone else.

6. Be Like Other Girls.

Resist the flawed idea that you have to be different from other women in order to succeed. My hope is that as more women advocate for each other and build each other up, we will see fewer Queen Bees and more support systems for women in the workplace.

7. Say what you mean. 

When I was an undergrad, I had a writing professor who forbade us from using any “filler” words that meant nothing. We had to strike adverbs, qualifiers and any use of the word ‘that.’ It was hard, but it showed me how important it is to use concise language to get a message across. The same goes for words we use to soften our emails—‘just’ being the biggest culprit. “I’m just checking in,” makes me think of a meek, nonchalant person passively asking—but it doesn’t really matter—sorry to bother you!

 “I am all about respectful communication. Yet I began to notice that ‘just’ wasn’t about being polite: it was a subtle message of subordination, of deference. Sometimes it was self-effacing. Sometimes even duplicitous. As I started really listening, I realized that striking it from a phrase almost always clarified and strengthened the message.” – Ellen Petry Leanse

8. Sorry not sorry. 

Along the same lines as ‘just,’ I challenge you to stand behind what you mean and state it without an apology. This might mean we need to work harder on our emails—learning how to effectively present our ideas to help them be received well. I think it’s worth the effort.

“The sorrys are taking up airtime that should be used for making logical, declarative statements, expressing opinions and relaying accurate impressions of what we want. We are not sorry to ask for an email that should have been sent to us weeks ago, or to expect to receive the item we paid for, or to be bumped into on the subway. Yes, we should take the shampoo commercial’s advice and weed out the word when it’s superfluous. But it’s just as important to articulate exactly what we mean in its place.” – Sloane Crosley

9. Fake it 'til you make it. 

Confidence matters, and there are things you can do—proactively—to convince your mind and body that you have it. I’ve used power colors and power poses to help me feel ready for important conversations or meetings, and I could tell the difference in how I carried myself. Amy Cuddy talks about the fake it ‘til you make it concept in her TED Talk, Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are.

10. It's okay to be disliked. 

“A man has to be Joe McCarthy to be called ruthless. All a woman has to do is put you on hold.” – Marlo Thomas

The desire to be liked is such a strong one, and it is problematic on a lot of levels. What’s more, women in leadership tend to be judged more harshly than men (remember Heidi vs. Howard?). If any of you identify as an ‘Obliger,’ this will be an especially hard one for you.

As Mark Manson put it in his surprisingly insightful book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, caring about being liked means you are letting your self-worth be determined by outside factors.

Bottom line: haters gonna hate.

As my husband likes to say, “If people aren’t talking sh*t about you, it just means they aren’t talking.”


Ashley Ward is passionate about providing access to US higher education for international students. Since 2014, she has gained experience in admissions and student recruitment for both public and private institutions. One of her greatest joys is witnessing students succeed in the challenging environment of a new school in a new country. She lives in Monmouth and enjoys traveling with her husband, Patrick, in their VW Vanagon @travelswithcharley_vw.  She is currently the Assistant Partnership Manager for International University Alliance and can be reached via email at ashley.ward@iua.org.

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