Today is the 116th anniversary of the Women’s Social and Political Union in the UK – the organisation that secured universal suffrage in the UK. It is an inspiring date.
Today, women do experience greater parity with men than ever before.
However, all over the world, patriarchal cultures still restrict women’s ability to be successful in business. And, more damagingly, they restrict women’s ability to believe in their own abilities.
It doesn’t help that there exists two equally potent prevailing models of what female “success” looks like in a business context. One, the chief executive of the north American ultra-powerhouse, the Sheryl Sandberg figure. The other, the internet sensation and entrepreneur, the Kim Kardashian model. Both are wealthy beyond dreams. And to their admirers, they are towering pillars of unfathomable success.
However, do these individuals represent powerful models for all women, or is their prominence in fact a daily reminder that we are missing more attainable ideals of success?
Consider the fact there were just 30 women in full-time executive roles at FTSE 250 firms last year. And having millions of Instagram followers is an anomaly, not the norm. Clearly, not every woman can be a Sheryl or a Kim – and nor should they aspire to be.
There are vast swathes of women who might feel constrained by the very existence of these two ideals.
Indeed, trailblazing success stories are not always the motivation women need to be inspired to succeed in business.
I look at my own career – candidly it has been one of two distinct halves. At the beginning, I tried to fit in. I was often the only woman on a team, and in my efforts to navigate a very male dominated and patriarchal environment, I tried to act as I thought a man would. In short, I was not myself. At home things were totally different – I would laugh and was more supportive.
I was a woman split in two. And for a time it worked. I was made a partner at a global management consultancy.
But it was not all success. A deal failed unexpectedly, causing me huge stress, and my true self fought to come out.
Through this experience, I found my true personality and my empathy. I applied my emotional intelligence, and accepted that as a woman I could add hugely to a boardroom. I found success, but this time, I felt that I could be me – my authentic, happy self. My relief was huge and palpable.
More importantly, my team understood and emulated me, and then they went on to lead by example.
Real authentic experience is a more powerful motivator than either the Kim or Sheryl ideals.
I am certainly not the only woman to have felt this way, which is why I created WomanID – a motivational and educational platform which revolves around encouraging women to succeed, while preserving their authenticity and individuality. It is a safe space for women to get together and support each other.
We are launching in London today to show that there are many different models of and avenues to success; a myriad women to aspire to, while still being true to ourselves.