Living Our Decadent Dream
By Michelle Baker
In September, Asheville will be host to another TEDx speaker, Ann marie Houghtailing of San Diego. Ms. Houghtailing brings her program, Blaze My Trail, to Carolina Day School—a day-long program designed to help youth and young adults create opportunity and become leaders in their own lives.
Ms. Houghtailing knows a lot about creating opportunity. Just pick up her latest book, How I Created a Dollar Out of Thin Air, and you quickly realize this woman has blazed her own trail, a trail that has become a super-highway of empowerment. She is founder of the Millionaire Girls Movement, a TEDx presenter, an international corporate speaker, playwright and actor, author, and co-founder of the Institute of Sales and Business Development at a private university. Ms. Houghtailing knows no glass ceiling. She is her own architect, building and defining her professional perimeters, and people are lining up to know how to do it for themselves.
I recently read an article about the “glass ceiling” on the Feminist.org website. It was helpful to a limited extent, defining the term and the phenomena and listing the socioeconomic reasons for its existence. Ann Morrison defined it as a barrier “so subtle that it is transparent, yet so strong that it prevents women from moving up the corporate hierarchy.”
What surprised me the most was the Strategies for Change section. Nowhere did the article address the issue of self-advocacy, the ability to represent one’s self proactively and ask for advancement, compensation, more challenging work—in other words, the ability to ask for and redefine one’s worth.
Research shows that men will more often ask for what they want. They are inclined to present what they can do, what they have accomplished and follow it up by saying, “I am the person for the job.” They not only ask for what they want, they position themselves as being the solution. Certainly, there are women that have learned the skill of self-promotion. Yet, women are more often raised to accept and be grateful for what they get, and to be reticent regarding disappointment while more men are taught to ask for what they want, and if they don’t get it, are taught to figure how to get what it is they do want.
The great thing about being an adult is we can learn new techniques. Sure, we can point to socialization for why any one of us is this way or that way. However, when it comes right down to it, each of us is free to make a choice to change in any given moment, and if we don’t know how to make that change, we can learn.
The glass ceiling is no different.
In her recent book, How I Created a Dollar Out of Thin Air, Ann marie Houghtailing talks about coaching clients to ask for their worth. She acknowledges that this is more of a challenge for women than men but she believes it is a skill that can be learned and is the first step towards living what she calls our “decadent dream.” She reminds us that the answer to every un-asked question isalways “no,” a concept I was taught a long time ago by a high school teacher, and perhaps the most valuable lesson I ever learned there.
In an interview specific for this issue of WNC Woman, Ms. Houghtailing discusses her experience working with clients and the glass ceiling.
What, if any, is your experience with “the glass-ceiling”?
I would say that most of my work with executive and professional women is to help then dismantle any of their own assumptions that keep them from rising. The only thing we have control over is ourselves and how we behave and respond to the environment in which we work and live. There are lots of brilliant, successful women who aren’t paid their worth because they don’t know how to negotiate a raise or salary package. They think if they work harder than anyone else they’ll be rewarded but this model assumes that someone you have no control over will 1) recognize your value and 2) compensate you accordingly. It’s a passive strategy. You have to make a case for your worth and ask for what you want.
What advice do you give women choosing to remain in a corporate setting who encounter the glass ceiling?
I advise all women to do their best to work from a place of power. If you expect nothing, don’t be surprised when you get it. Set clear expectations regarding what you want. If you want partnership, then make absolutely sure everyone knows that. Ask for input, guidance, direction and feedback. Don’t be defensive when you get feedback. It’s a free education to excellence. Some feedback will be good and some will be garbage, but it’s important that you receive it like a gift, otherwise no one will ever give you the valuable insight you need to rise. If you are truly being overlooked for opportunity it’s your responsibility to find out why; and not just for yourself. Every time you accept less for yourself you make it harder for every woman behind you to demand her value.
What was your motivation for founding the Millionaire Girls Movement?
I was really tired of hearing the problem restated. I wanted to create a free platform where women could read, write and share stories about how to generate, grow and protect wealth. I think we need to be more practical and active in sharing what we know. I think that there is so much fear and shame around money and earning, especially if you aren’t earning what you deserve. This is really a space to create a dialogue and a personal commitment to earn your own money which I believe is important.
How might the “glass ceiling” present for women who are entrepreneurs, forming their own companies and not working for someone else?
I’ve encountered women who give their services away because they want to be nice or they’re uncertain about attaching a number to their hourly rate. They effectively create their own glass ceiling. I can tell you that I’ve done workshops on pricing and value, and generally speaking, these workshops are packed because the problem is so common. Being able to attach a number to your time or talent requires a lot of moxie. You don’t have a company creating that number; as an entrepreneur, you have to create your own value. The market will pay for that value or it won’t, in which case you have to evaluate your model.
How do you want your book to influence and empower women — personally and professionally (whether they work for themselves or someone else)?
I want women to know above all else that it’s possible. If a single mother with nothing more than $5 and a MacBook can build a company, then really there’s no reason someone else can’t do the same or ask for a raise or whatever it is that’s going to bring her closer to the life she deserves. I’m not special; I’m just willing to put myself out into the world, get my butt kicked, and get back up. You can find a thousand excuses for why you can’t do something. The trick is to find the reason that you can.
Blaze My Trail is Ms. Houghtailing’s program, developed after working for years with corporate executives who encounter a work-force population that has no ability to self-direct let alone take critical direction. By teaching our youth to identify and articulate personal strengths, Blaze My Trail aims to empower the next generation of young men and women who can effectively advocate for themselves, dismantling the professional and personal limitations that fostered the existence of glass ceilings anywhere.
To learn more about Ms. Houghtailing, visit AnnmarieHoughtailing.com or contact Michelle Baker directly, at 505-690-2540, to learn more about Blaze My Trail and how to bring the program to your community.
Ms. Baker is a visual artist, playwright and author. Her one-woman show, ‘Sole Survivors’, toured for two years to much acclaim. She writes for Huffington Post and Charleston’s Skirt! magazine online. She is Director of Education for Blaze My Trail and Editor-in-Chief for the Millionaire Girls Movement. She wrote the foreword for the newly published book, ‘Bullied’, by author Katherine Mayfield. Ms. Baker also facilitates writing workshops around the country.