Today we celebrate the centenary of International Women’s Day. It’s amazing to think that 100 years ago we were fighting to be heard. To have the right to education. To have the right to have a voice. To have the right to vote.
I can’t imagine a time when an organisation like Women Unlimited wasn’t able to exist and am grateful to all the women who have come before us and forged a path for all of us today. I was born in the sixties, at a time where women were just coming into their own and finding freedom for the first time through the widespread availability of birth control, so my life has always been full of the possibilities that we have today.
As I was growing up, I saw the election of Indira Ghandi, the first female Prime minister in India, and later the election of Maggie Thatcher as the first female Prime minister in the UK. I saw Sandra Day O’Connor become appointed as the first female justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (I grew up in Canada, so this was was a big deal to a teenage girl). In the 90’s I saw Eileen Collins become the first woman space shuttle commander. And today, there are now more female presidents and prime ministers around the globe than there have ever been before. This is exciting. This means that real change is occurring and as women become more accepted on the World Stage, it opens up the doors for others.]
In the beginning
International Women’s day has different meanings in different cultures. Today marks the 100 year anniversary of the first International Women’s day which was conceived one year earlier at of the Working Women’s conference in Copenhagen. At this conference, Clara Zetkin proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day – a Women’s Day – to press for their demands.
In 1911 International Women’s Day (IWD) was honoured the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19 March. More than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination. Incredible to think about how they did that… and they didn’t even have Twitter!
When I look back on those times, I’m in awe of what those women achieved. Without the strong men and women of that day, deciding that it was time to stand up and change the status quo we wouldn’t have the opportunities that we have now.
100 years later, here in the western world, we have the opportunity to be whatever we choose and if you’re reading this, odds are you have chosen the challenging path of being a small business owner. Being an entrepreneur is not an easy choice for many and the road can be fraught and full of pitfalls, which is why it’s so important to come together and share and celebrate our successes and learn from those who have come before us.
In our society money , power and fame are how we measure success but there are many more measures of success influence, recognition, personal satisfaction, contentment, personal impact, choice. I’m not saying we shouldn’t seek the first three, but I think without the others it’s empty. As women in our society we have an obligation to not make it all about the money because society needs balance. It needs the yin and the yang. It needs women caring about people and outcomes as much as about financial reward.
Successful female entrepreneurs
The truly successful female entrepreneurs bring both a smart business model with a strong people focus. A wonderful example of this is Laura Tenison of Jo Jo Maman Bebe who has built her business organically, and with intelligence. She has grown it slowly over time and now has a £20m company with no outside investment and a strong core built on her ethics and values.
In my role as founder of Women Unlimited I am frequently amazed at the persistence and dedication to their dreams of the women that I meet. The very nature of the entrepreneur is to be an optimist (otherwise we wouldn’t have enough belief to keep going!) and I love spending time with other business owners hearing their stories and successes.
I am inspired by Lisa Irlam, the founder of Swimovate and inventor of the Poolmate watch. She has a quiet confidence about what she is doing and just gets on with what is needed. And it seems to be working as she is about to turn over her first million pounds!
I am also inspired by Galia Orme, the self confessed chocaholic, who founded Chock Chick (mmmm. She created chock chick with a strong ethos of social entrepreneurship and environmental awareness. Her persistence and dedication to her vision and goals is really paying off now and it has been exciting to watch her and her business grow.
Each of these women are building strong businesses based on sustainable and ethical business practices. They have started with a clear vision of what they want to achieve and are going out and making it happen.
When people talk about success, they are often referring to financial success but for many women, it’s about creating the life that you want to lead, it’s about following a dream that is in your heart and it’s about fulfilling a purpose that drives you forward.
Take a moment
As you continue on through your day today, take a moment today to think about the women who have created the space for us to thrive. For the women who have broken through some pretty momentous barriers and have been brave enough to challenge societal norms.
Today, celebrate being a woman in the UK and embrace it.
If you haven’t already booked, join us next Monday for our 3rd annual Women Unlimited conference and learn from the inspiring women, including Lisa Irlam, who will be sharing their stories, learning and tips for success. We look forward to seeing you there!
About the Author: Julie Hall is the founder of Women Unlimited and Springmedia. She is passionate about supporting women and helping them grow their business
Photo credit: Catherine Monfils (www.catmonphotograpy.co.uk) took this photo for us at last year’s conference on International women’s day