4 female entrepreneurs describe how they learned to embrace their ambition

PHOTO: Designer Tory Burch speaks with female entrepreneurs.PlayTory Burch Foundation
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Call a man ambitious and you’ll likely get a head nod or thumbs up.

Call a woman ambitious and you may be asked if she’s likeable, aggressive and qualified. Or, it may even be the woman herself who says she doesn’t want to be called ambitious.

That moment for designer Tory Burch — when, at the start of her career, she told a reporter that she didn’t like being called ambitious — propelled her to launch her own foundation and a global campaign: #EmbraceAmbition.

PHOTO: Tory Burch poses during the Tory Burch Foundation 2018 Embrace Ambition Summit at Alice Tully Hall, April 24, 2018, in New York City. Mike Coppola/Getty Images, FILE
Tory Burch poses during the Tory Burch Foundation 2018 Embrace Ambition Summit at Alice Tully Hall, April 24, 2018, in New York City.

The Tory Burch Foundation is bringing the conversation on women and ambition to cities across the country this week, culminating in an event in New York City on Friday, which is International Women’s Day.

(MORE: We asked Girlboss panelists for the top career mistakes women make and how to avoid them)

“Embracing your ambition is just about owning up to your truth and who you are,” said Laurie Fabiano, president of the Tory Burch Foundation. “Your ambition can be anything — to be an artist, an athlete, a stay-at-home mom.”

“It’s valuable and you don’t need to hide the fact that it’s something that you really want and that you’re aiming for,” she said.

(MORE: What I learned at the biggest women's conference in the country)

The foundation’s Embrace Ambition Series kicks off Monday night in Philadelphia and then travels to Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas and New York City. Each event is free and will be live-streamed in order to reach as many people as possible.

The Tory Burch Foundation also offers free resources online for women, like an Ambition Guidebook and a guide on unconscious bias.

"Women don’t have parity in business, we don’t have equality and anything we can do to get us there is why we’re doing this," Fabiano said of the foundation's efforts.

"Good Morning America" asked four female entrepreneurs how they have fought stereotypes and learned to embrace their ambition.

The entrepreneurs, who have all worked with the Tory Burch Foundation, share their experiences here, in their own words.

Sashee Chandran overcame doubts about her idea

PHOTO: Designer Tory Burch poses with Tea Drops founder Sashee Chandran. Tory Burch Foundation
Designer Tory Burch poses with Tea Drops founder Sashee Chandran.

Company: Tea Drops, organic pressed teas that dissolve in your cup.

When did you face a double standard around ambition?: I recall when I decided to leave my corporate job in Silicon Valley, one of my managers at the time said, "Cool, so you're leaving a six-figure job to make teas pressed into cute shapes?" To him, the idea may have appeared niche, not scale-able or even ridiculous. Most ideas do seem crazy until you work on it and create it.

So while I can't say this was a comment made because of my gender, I have noticed that the narrative when men pursue opportunities is around its future potential and the narrative when women pursue the same ambitions tends to be around the present-day reality or constraints. This appears to be a double standard, and I look forward to it shifting.

How have you embraced your ambition?: Embracing my own ambition means being unapologetic about living up to my fullest potential — in whatever I do. I've accepted the fact that this pursuit will make myself and others uncomfortable at times.

Mahisha Dellinger's ambition was mistaken for aggression

PHOTO: Television personality and author Mahisha Dellinger participates in the 2018 Black Womens Expo at Georgia International Convention Center, Aug. 11, 2018 in College Park, Ga. Paras Griffin/Getty Images, FILE
Television personality and author Mahisha Dellinger participates in the 2018 Black Women's Expo at Georgia International Convention Center, Aug. 11, 2018 in College Park, Ga.

Company: CURLS, a natural hair care brand.

When did you face a double standard around ambition?: Being a type-A, motivated African-American woman, my drive is typically mistaken for aggression.

In one example, I was given the task to get 90 percent of my customers trained on a new program by the top of the New Year. I was able to get 100 percent of my customers trained before the deadline. My manager questioned my tactics and questioned if I made my coworkers look bad.

How have you embraced your ambition?: I have learned, through my entrepreneurial success, that my ambition isn't a burden — rather, a blessing.

Hadiyah Mujhid learned to stop apologizing

PHOTO: Hadiyah Mujhid is the founder of the non-profit organization HBCUvc. Tory Burch Foundation
Hadiyah Mujhid is the founder of the non-profit organization HBCUvc.

Company: HBCUvc, a non-profit that trains and prepares black people for a career in venture capital and tech.

When did you face a double standard around ambition?: As a startup entrepreneur, you often go through many iterations of your product or will change your company multiple times as you try to find a product market fit. I've experienced this with the launch of my first startup.

With iterations of each product or company pivot, attention from my friends and colleagues started to wane and they began to send me job opportunities to hint that my entrepreneur days were over, while in comparison to another male colleague who was going through a similar journey, [he] was celebrated as a serial entrepreneur.

How have you embraced your ambition?: I learned to stop apologizing and own every part of me, including my ambition.

Dr. Paris Sabo faced gender stereotypes head-on

PHOTO: Dr. Paris Sabo is the founder of Dr. Brite. Tory Burch Foundation
Dr. Paris Sabo is the founder of Dr. Brite.

Company: Dr. Brite, maker of toxin-free oral care products.

When did you face a double standard around ambition?: As a surgeon-in-training, I always needed to be a little more assertive, have more grit and make my presence known, especially in a male-dominated field. My grit helped me transition from clinical practice to founding a personal care manufacturing company.

I didn’t know that it would also help me through our first two years.

While scaling up to meet demand for our products, it was impossible to get large suppliers to sell to us. I would bombard the salesperson with emails and phone calls, begging them to sell us bottles we needed in case quantities rather than truckloads. The price was exorbitant, but my persistence got us the supplies we needed.

I remember that in one sales meeting where I finally convinced a supplier to give us a line of credit for ingredients, he turned and asked me, "So who is this Dr. Brite? I would love to meet him and tell him how good of a negotiator you are."

My nonchalant response was, “I’m Dr. Brite, nice to meet you. I am a cancer surgeon and my sister is also Dr. Brite. She is the dentist behind our brand.”

I never forget the look on his face, but what he said next was amazing: "You are going to be just fine doc. Just fine."

How have you embraced your ambition?: I learned to embrace my ambition by leaving my surgeon’s ego at the door, by asking for help when I needed it and by using all available resources to teach myself how to manage a successful business.

Managing a successful business like Dr. Brite is a journey of learning from mistakes and successes, and of personal growth, all the while learning from my peers and mentors.

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