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Bain & Company recently released a survey that revealed after two years of employment women lose their aspiration and confidence to reach top management positions in their companies. Although women with less than two years on the job have slightly more ambition than men, those with more experience see their ambition plummet.

What happens in those two years?

Last month the New York City chapter of the SAP Business Women’s Network welcomed two documentary filmmakers who are trying to answer that question – and find a solution.

In her first year out of film school, director Ashley Maria found her ambitious attitude changing due to the insecurity she felt in a male-dominated industry. She decided to use her filmmaking skills to investigate the obstacles of the industry and tell her own story. The project evolved into a documentary called Pioneers in Skirts, exploring how every woman – across every industry – can be a pioneer in pursuit of her career.

Ashley is not only the director – she is also one of the film’s subjects. As she has interviewed countless women, from ambitious teenage girls to powerful CEOs, she has learned how women can fight to keep that ambitious attitude and succeed in the workforce. Here are three of her top takeaways:

  1. Be self-aware. Among her many interview subjects, Ashley has been especially inspired by Kat Cole, the President of Focus Brands, who taught her to look at work situations with an unbiased eye and always assume good intent. Once you become aware that a colleague likely does not mean to insult or discourage, you can reevaluate the situation, decide how to address the behavior that gets you down, and learn how to work with that person going forward. “I have found myself thinking "How would Kat Cole handle this situation" on numerous occasions -- and it works!” says Ashley.
  2. Men are our advocates. “We shouldn’t be the only ones fighting for ourselves,” says Ashley. Women should encourage their male coworkers to be aware of all opinions and be vocal about supporting colleagues of all genders. This means that women should look for male mentors and sponsors along with female ones. The movement for workplace equality “shouldn’t be a man bashing thing,” says Ashley. “It’s about how we all work together.”
  3. Stay curious. Think like a child. While following a group of young girls interested in science and engineering, Ashley realized the importance of holding onto your childlike ambition. “They reminded me a lot of who I used to be when I was 14,” says Ashley, citing their go-getter attitudes and willingness to try anything new, without being stifled by preconceived gender notions. “I look at them, and I think - this is why I’m making this movie,” says Ashley. “I don’t want them to enter their career and be told that they shouldn’t be that way.”
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