Women are starting their own businesses in record numbers and that is something to celebrate. But what’s really exciting to me is that I believe this trend is going to allow us to shape our own future in business; a business world in which we are truly equal. To explain why, I’m going to go back in time and talk about a memory from my childhood.
I had a conversation with a teacher once, when I was fifteen, about why Margaret Thatcher and The Queen were female role models. He was a Socialist and so he spat out his coffee in shock and disgust.
“No, Lauren, no! Not these women, surely? There are plenty of women you can use as role models”.
I knew what my teacher meant. By the time I was fifteen I understood a few facts: The Queen was born into her role (and a very privileged one at that). Margaret Thatcher, of course, was no feminist. She did more to hinder the progress of women than help it.
But let’s put this into a little more context and explain why they became role models. Back in the 1980’s I was a young child; too young to understand the complexities of politics. All I knew was that I lived in the UK; a country that had a female Prime Minister and a Female Head of State. Historically that statistic might be an anamoly, but to a 7 year old it was just the norm.
So what does that information do to a 7 year old?
Quite simply, it made me believe from a very young age that women were equal. I never questioned my position in the world. It simply never occurred to me that I was inferior to a man. How could I, when the two most powerful people in Britain were female?
That attitude of female invincibility extended into late teens when I took my school exams. Of the ten who achieved the highest grades, eight of us were female. In early adulthood, life continued in the same thread; within the academic environment of a university there was no real distinction between what men and women could accomplish on their degree.
Corporate life started to become a little more blurry of course. As a 20-something in a male-dominated IT industry I did raise a few eyebrows occasionally, and there was the odd sexist joke which I simply pretended not to hear. But in general it was ok and on the whole I was respected.
So then we move to the present day. I’m in my thirties. So what happened in my thirties?
I had a baby.
My management job disappeared almost overnight, replaced by a smaller role without the responsibility. I found out whilst on maternity leave, sitting bleary eyed at home catching up on work emails whilst researching mastitis, colic, and white noise machines in the early hours of the morning.
Changing jobs after maternity leave is common in the UK and often goes unquestioned. If you want to raise a baby, you sacrifice your career. But this isn’t great logic, is it? How could this possibly make sense? How could 50% of the population no longer be of value in their job because they have a child? It doesn’t make sense to me and it never will.
And this is where I will return to my childhood memories of Margaret Thatcher and The Queen. Because for all their faults, they helped me shape my own world and they helped me grow up in a place where I perceived women to be equal to men.
And now I have a daughter. How do I want her world to be shaped? Do I want her role model to be a mother who simply compromised? Who moved into her new job quietly, working without the challenges and responsibility she used to have? Do I want her to grow up and listen to her mother explain away that career change with the cliched line “I made sacrifices for you”?
Of course I don’t. I want my daughter to grow up with the same world view that I had back in the 1980s. I want her to be inspired by the women in her life.
So I quit my job and I launched my own business instead. I did that because I believe that the only way I can shape her world is if I can control my little corner of it. Like many women in my position, I’ve realised that starting a business is the best way to do that, and I think this movement of millions of mothers all around the world making the same decision is a beautiful thing. If we continue to create women-run businesses at the same pace we are currently moving at, we will create a different future. We get to write the rules instead of questioning the ones we’ve been given. We will have more power in the business world and we will have more power to change attitudes towards new mothers in the workplace. That’s why I believe that starting a business is the best way we can shape our daughters’ world.
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