Well, never a woman to say it any other way than it is; the astonishing Maya Angelou, hailed as a ‘global Renaissance woman’, has lived a life of enterprise, courage, learning and inspiration. Dr. Angelou’s words and actions continue to stir souls, energise bodies, liberate minds, and heal hearts and she just loves to see young women go out into the world and both give to and take from it what they need to be happy, fulfilled and generous. From our point of view, she is undoubtedly a legendary Independent Woman…..
Crow’s feet and an achey back aside, I like getting older. Something happens to a lot of women around the age of 35 and they start to feel much more confident about who they are. Of course, it doesn’t always mean we can make the world go the way we want it to go, but many women feel somewhat better equipped to handle it.
The Independent Women ‘Six Stages of Women’ recognises the cyclical changes that impact upon a woman throughout her lifetime and, increasingly, those stages involve significant emotional and financial implications. Just looking at the ’Employment’ stage now is like looking at a slide rule. Gone are the days when people joined a company at 16, 18, 21 and stayed till they were 60, retiring on a safe, final salary pension. More and more, we have portfolio careers, lengthening CVs and periods of redundancy, unemployment, sabbatical, career break and just plain sea change. Self employment is becoming more and more attractive, particularly to women, who often see it a means of managing time conflicts more effectively, avoiding corporate politics, spotting gaps in the market for products that make a woman’s life easier or better, or just setting out to do something completely different.
Gen Y is facing unprecedented employment challenges as it is; from carrying tuition fees, through the highest levels of youth unemployment since records began in 1992, to the question as to whether there will be ANY pension money left, they are really having to look at the world of work in a completely new way. Marry that to the knowledge that it is entrepreneurship and revenue generation that will bring UK Plc back into the black and it’s no surprise that self employment just looks like a sensible and obvious choice for many young people. The pace of technological development, the explosion of ‘social’ and digital media and the new global village mentality also means that more young people are seeing opportunities to set up businesses and understand how to reach and appeal to wide geographical markets. Partnering with people who are a bit older and have the experience (and hopefully the wisdom) of managing teams, projects, challenges, money and opportunity is obviously going to add huge value and benefit to their enthusiasm, energy and know-how.
A lack of positive, realistic role models for young women has long been cited as a barrier to increasing the numbers of women who start their own businesses and there has been much work done by successive governments, Corporate companies and private enterprises to set up and maintain mentoring schemes, cross-company mentoring projects, UK ‘Ambassadors’ and regional centres for developing enterprise.
And hopefully, it’s getting much better. Added to the fact that women are generally thought to be good networkers, due to their collaborative attitudes, communication skills and naturally ‘social’ natures (as an American friend puts it, “Hell, we even go to the bathroom in pairs”) and their willingness to ask for and accept help, then there is huge scope for us all to share the benefits and wisdom of our experience with others. And we do have a responsibility to do that; as Madeleine Albright put it, “There is a special place in Hell for women who don’t help other women.”
We need to support youth entrepreneurship and treat young entrepreneurs as adults and equals, not as youngsters or children. Droning on and on about how young they are is as irritating as newspapers who can’t write a profile of a businesswoman without referring to her marital and apparent fertility status. There is some worrying research out in the UK in 2011 that seems to be suggesting that many young girls are aspiring to be WAGs, or kept women, as they are looking at their mothers ‘having it all’ and, frankly, rejecting that as an aspiration for their own life. There is talk that the new generation is increasingly ‘gender blind’ – but I remember being (or feeling) entirely gender blind when I was at university. It’s only when I started working in a corporate I couldn’t avoid developing gender goggles…. Hopefully it’s all beginning to change, but it’s not a fait accompli, it’s a work in progress and we need to hand the baton on to the next generation by supporting and inspiring them wherever we can – whether formally or informally, personally or professionally.
Closing where we opened, with Maya Angelou, she’s an American study herself, as her website states : “I created myself,” she says. “I have taught myself so much.” One of her consistent themes is personal responsibility, with grit and determination to come through, but she does acknowledge the value of support from others ahead of you and the responsibility you have to pay it forward. As a teacher, she describes the joy she finds in a classroom: “I see all those little faces and big eyes. Black and white. They look like sparrows in the nest. They look up, with their mouths wide open, and I try to drop in everything I know.”
Not a bad commitment. An Independent Woman teaching girls how to become Independent Women for themselves. Maya, we salute you….