Ambition can be a complicated concept for women. We are ambitious and we know we have a right to dream as big as any man. But many of us still struggle with the anxiety of being “too much,” or at least concerns about being perceived that way by others. We wonder if we’re asking for too much, pushing too hard, being too loud. Since 2017, the Tory Burch Foundation has sought to address these issues with its Embrace Ambition campaign. This past Thursday, the foundation held its second annual Embrace Ambition Summit, an all-day event that invited inspiring women from across industries and backgrounds to tell their stories.
“We had come to the realization that while our Foundation programs were incredibly effective, we need to fight the underlying bias that is at the root of most systemic inequities,” Burch tells Refinery29. “And the best way to fight unconscious bias is to bring it to light. Bringing people together — men and women — around these issues is how we change the conversation in a real and meaningful way.”
“Ambitious women still face monumental challenges — the data proves it,” she continues. “Beyond the data, it is lived experience that reminds how much more work there is to be done. I will never forget when one of our entrepreneurs told us that she had Googled how to appear less ambitious.”
Tory Burch Foundation president Laurie Fabiano remembers this moment, too. “In order to create parity for women entrepreneurs, we needed to start conversations about implicit bias,” she says. “Question why we react negatively to ambitious women. The Embrace Summit is about having these critical conversations and encouraging people to act.”
Embrace Ambition 2020’s group of speakers included women’s rights activist Gloria Steinem, Time’s Up CEO Tina Tchen, actress and Time’s Up advocate Ashley Judd, GenZ Girl Gang founder Deja Foxx, and aerospace engineer Tiera Fletcher, as well as performances by artists like Grammy-nominated musician Yola. “I was a stone cold doormat in my 20s, and it took me a while to find my autonomy as a writer and as a guitarist,” she tells Refinery29 of her own journey to embracing ambition.
“Once I broke away from the ‘brotocracy,’ I was able to fully explore the musical direction I wanted to go,” she continues. “I’ve since followed my instincts and built a team I love and connected with collaborators who support my vision for the kind of artist I want to be. I’ve worked my butt off as well, which I’m happy to do when I'm making the music I want to and not being gaslit into thinking I should be anything other than my true self.”
Given this uplifting environment, it should come as no surprise that when civil rights icon Claudette Colvin took the stage, she received a standing ovation, leading to one of the most meaningful moments of the day.
On March 2, 1955, when she was just 15, Colvin was arrested and jailed in Montgomery, Alabama, for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white woman. “It was an impulsive act,” Colvin said during her conversation with journalist Michele Norris. She hadn’t woken up that morning and penciled civil disobedience into her schedule that day — but when the occasion arose, she found herself defying power in a way that few adults at the time had been able to.
Colvin’s ambitious act of resistance served as a reminder that it’s often courageous young women who show the world what can and should be done to fight intolerable injustice. As she looked out into the crowd in March 2020, 65 years since that bus arrest, Colvin recalled, “People asked me, ‘Why didn’t you get up when the bus driver asked you to get up?’ I said, ‘You know what? History had me glued to the seat.’”