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4 Businesswomen Share Their Experiences for International Women's Day
This year, for International Women's Day we are celebrating our female authors and showcasing their industry knowledge.
These four influential authors and businesswomen were willing to share their experiences, including what prevailing stereotypes need to be broken, and what advice can be shared with young women entering the world of work.
Jennifer Moss - Co-founder, Plasticity Labs
"For me, IWD is a day to reflect on the value, potential and power of women. It isn’t simply about celebrating all the women who’ve made the history books, or rule today’s headlines – it’s about celebrating the women who battle poverty, war, hunger and disenfranchisement every day to give their children and their families a better life.”
Alexandra Levit - Speaker, Consultant and Futurist
"IWD is a chance to showcase all of the incredible work women are doing in the world, and the places we have shined despite challenges and obstacles."
Michelle Carvill - Founder, Carvill Creative
"IWD is a celebration of women and over the past few years I have associated it with taking time out and spending time with others, learning and connecting. I tend to get invited to gatherings, talks and conferences – for women by women – where the focus is on coming together to celebrate, share, discuss and collaborate.”
Anne Boden - CEO, Starling Bank
"To me, every day is IWD. As a female founder, I don't just prioritise women on one day of the year."
Q: What have your experiences been as a woman in business?
I’ve faced many challenges as a headstrong, independent woman. I’ve always been a risk taker and ahead of my time. I started in the early days of social media working in PR and convincing leadership teams that Twitter would be a thing. I then went on to become a female co-founder of a social innovation tech company. There are only 7% of women who run tech companies and only 1/3 of those companies get funded. It is a rough road to get taken seriously in this business – then you add in being ahead of the happiness and well-being trend. I’ve spent the last 20 years of my career advocating, educating and pushing new thinking. It comes with its fair share of eye rolls and patronizing.
I've had a very good experience. I've rarely felt denied opportunities or held back because of my gender, and I've been fortunate to find mentors and partners who are both women and men.
They've varied over the years. For a long time, I worked in professional services where I was often the only female in the room. And over the years there have been too many times where I have felt as if I was speaking a different language - whereby, if a male said exactly what I'd just said, everyone 'got it' - lots of nodding heads. But when I said it... blank looks. That can be very intimidating and it rocks your confidence. But at the same time, it's also the stuff that teaches you a lot about resilience and effective communication.
In my first 20-30 years, I didn’t think the bar was being held any higher for me than it was for men. However, with the benefit of hindsight, I realise that what I had to do was more than my male peers. Thankfully, at the time, I was oblivious to it and that gave me the energy to continue. It’s like training at altitude – you just get really good at working in difficult environments.
Q: In what ways have you led change in the workplace?
I am an author, researcher, public speaker that travels the world giving people food for thought on topics that aren’t easy for people to immediately buy into. I work closely with leadership to help them get onside and I always back it up with data and research so the investment proves valuable. I am very aware that research is fantastic – and I believe in academic research passionately. But, when you launch a well-being strategy within a firm and tactically put it into practice, data to back up the ROI sis critical.
As a futurist, it's my job to forecast likely developments based on current patterns percolating up through the marketplace. I started by discussing generational differences back in 2004, and since then have been a leader in devising strategies for coping effectively with a workforce that today boasts five different generations. I hope that my forecasts on evolving workplace structures and leadership have an impact on organizations looking to stay competitive in the mid-21st century business world.
A few initiatives around respecting people have their own lives and challenges - working with them to get the most out of them. Happier people are generally more productive, committed and loyal people. Introduced wellbeing in the workplace - introducing yoga, meditation and nutritional talks - as a regular 'business as usual feature'. Introducing flexible working options including working from home days and flexible hours.
I’ve hired for attitude and aptitude, rather than purely on experience.
Q: What's the biggest risk you've taken in your career?
I left a great job in Toronto at 25 and moved to California with barely any money or a job waiting for me there. With the support of my now husband, we took the leap and it ended up being the best move we ever made. Silicon Valley was in this intense growth mode and I was thrown into some of the coolest experiences one could ask for in their early career. It was during this time period that I received the Public Service Award from the Office of President Obama. The award honoured my work on a pilot project focused on bridging public service and workplace well-being.
The biggest risk involved attempting to launch a consulting business around my first book, They Don't Teach Corporate in College. At the time, I had no way of knowing if people just wanted to read about how to help young professionals, or actually wanted to do something about it.
Leaving the full-time responsibility in the hands of others, when taking on a Director role within a client's business. The client needed more of my commitment to achieving what they needed - and whilst I knew I had a great crew manning my ship, it was still a risk - and one which I deliberated about for weeks. Would my own business take a back seat, whilst I focused on developing and growing another business? But nothing ventured, nothing gained. Overall it was a great learning experience and luckily success was achieved in both camps. No risk, no reward.
Q: What stereotypes/assumptions of women in business would you like to see broken?
That having a strong opinion means you have sharp elbows. That women stop needing to hedge their language so people won’t assume they are “bossy”. That critical thinking is healthy and conflict resolution is better than conflict avoidance.
The worst stereotypes? Women are too emotional and non-assertive, and we don't negotiate/advocate for ourselves. Unfortunately, I think unconscious bias and societal norms tend to perpetuate these. As women, we need to take responsibility for individual behaviours we CAN change.
That to be successful you have to be loud, tough and masculine. That when women (or men for that matter), show vulnerability, compassion and kindness for others - it's not out of being 'soft' - it's out of being human and having empathy for those that, as a leader, you should be caring about.
The myth that women are inherently less astute in managing finances. It’s simply not true.
Q: Which women inspire you?
100% my mother. She was one of the first women in Canada to become a Nurse Practitioner and given the authority of a doctor when nurses were (and still are) still considered to be lesser than their mostly male doctors. She taught nursing at McMaster University Hospital before she retired and went on to become an entrepreneur and a highly successful small business owner as a second career. She was a lifelong learner and was always at University taking courses and challenging her mind. I am her biggest fan.
I'm inspired by Hillary Clinton, Patti Johnson (CEO of PeopleResults), and Karyn Schoenbart (CEO of NPD Group).
Tough question. I'm constantly inspired. I constantly meet women that are honest, down to earth, helpful to others, see the good in people, are kind, resilient in the face of adversity and are championing great causes and doing great work. It's a cumulative impact. Currently, politics aside - Theresa May is pretty inspiring from a tenacity perspective.
Q: What advice would you give to women entering the world of business today?
Enjoy the process. Even the toughest experiences at work can be a defining moment for you later in your career. Find the joy in the work but never accept a passionless career. There is absolute truth that life is short. It’s critical to enjoy what you do. Don’t be unrealistic that some days are going to be hard and work isn’t always going to be easy and fun – but just to show up to work every day and live for the weekends is a huge waste of your capacity and intelligence. We spend 90,000 hours at work in our lifetime – make it count.
Don't expect to have it all figured out right away. Take an intelligent first step into a job that will teach you lots of transferable skills (skills relevant across a wide variety of industries and roles) and look for every opportunity to grow and network. Expect that things will change, and roll with the punches. Your ability to stay calm and focused in a chaotic environment will tell the higher-ups everything they need to know about your potential.
Be you. Be unashamedly you. But know who you are and what that means. Do more listening than talking. Watch and learn and pick up the dynamics of situations. You don't have to change who you are to please others, but you may want to do change who you are to please yourself - which is way more important. Learn how to be the best version of yourself that you possibly can be - for you. That's personally and professionally. Be curious about who you are. Get clear on who you are. Get clear on what matters to you, your values and what you want to achieve. Do any inner work necessary to bring that clarity. It's more important than anything else you really need to know or do.
Keep moving forward, support other, speak positively and be careful about your choice of words.
Click here to see more articles and videos from our leading female authors.