Sisters are doing it for themselves, but should they have to?

Last night I pushed myself way out of my comfort zone and attended my first ever networking event for mums in business. It was eye opening!

Firstly we were given 3 rules on arrival: no talking about your business, no talking about kids and no talking about your partner if you have one.

Well there went my entire repertoire of small talk!! But it did push us to come up with other questions and topics. We covered favourite flowers, hobbies we love, music and TV we enjoy and how much toilet paper we currently have stockpiled in our homes. It also allowed us to create connections with each other besides the obvious ones which was pretty cool and felt more rewarding!

The organisers then called us all into the main room with a semi-circle of chairs. We all took our seats, with most of us clinging to the last person we chatted with at the snack table for comfort. We anticipated the next bit, but I think the reality of it surprised us all.

Yep, we were asked to go around the room and introduce ourselves. Name, kid and relationship stats and then we had to explain not only what our business was, but why we were so passionate about it.

Well from the first woman in the circle who spoke I was captivated. This group was INCREDIBLE and the women were all so passionate and doing such amazing things I started to wonder why I was sitting there.

One woman started her own recruitment company 6 weeks ago. She has an 8 week old baby… and makes stunning resin jewellery in her spare time!

Another woman has her own cleaning company to pay the bills, but runs two side hustles; one as an artist and the other as an art therapy teacher for kids on the spectrum (because her eldest son has Asperger’s and she how art helped him through his childhood and thought it could help others).

A quietly spoken woman explained how her passion for helping women to create wealth and become financially independent came from her own experience of financial struggle. She wanted to use her accounting degree to do something meaningful and ensure women don’t end up where she was.

A young but really passionate woman spoke about her experience in the fitness industry and how it bred her hatred of her body. She’s created a non-boot camp where she focuses on intuitive eating instead of diets, intentional and mindful movement rather than high-intensity exercise and on breaking down the negative self-talk and self-image many women have about their bodies. She teared up a little as she spoke about some of the women she’s supported in recent years.

One lady arrived late and a little flustered, but spoke incredibly articulately about her passion for creating a better school system for our kids; one where they are taught to think and be bold and entrepreneurial and respectful. Her purpose was so clear she got a round of applause from the group.

I can’t stop thinking about that group of women. We spent 3 hours together in total and I was gobsmacked by the amount of energy and drive and diverse ideas in that room. Each one of those women is an absolute powerhouse because each of them, in their own small way, are focused on making the world a a better place.

My reflection today was how sad it is that there are so many clever, passionate and driven women in this world who the traditional workplace system has failed. In that small microcosm last night, the majority of women had stepped out of traditional jobs because they couldn’t get ahead, couldn’t influence the way they wanted, couldn’t connect with the purpose, couldn’t get the promotion, the flexibility or the respect they so desired.

The talent and energy that organisations are missing out on because they simply can’t (or won’t) rethink and redesign the way work happens is ridiculous. What a shame that some of the greatest leadership potential is walking out the doors of organisations across the country, and the world, simply because they feel they have more impact doing their thing in their niche area because they have the freedom to do it their way.

The women in the room last night were pretty fortunate. Each of us were in a position where we could step out of the workforce and into small business; some through side hustles, others relying on the income of partners, life savings or financial support from family and friends. But not every woman enjoys that privilege.

How many women have big dreams, a passion to make a difference or the desire to have the autonomy to control her work life who are stuck in the rigid 9am-5pm beige/soft grey cubicle-land of a traditional workplace? How much amazing energy is going to waste as women punch in and out of their job that pays the bills but doesn’t fill them with joy? How many potential CEOs, Board Members and other industry leaders are sitting in the lunch room frustrated by their inability to get opportunities because they ‘only work part-time’ or don’t fit the ‘ideal leadership profile’? How different would the corporate landscape be if the efforts of these remarkable women could be harnessed and help drive change?

I absolutely respect women for opting to go into small business so they can pursue their purpose and work in a way that works for them and their situation, but it’s a really tough gig. The hours are long, there’s no annual leave or sick leave, finance is hard to secure, it’s stressful and can take a terrible toll on your mental and physical health (listen to the ‘So I Quit my Job’ podcast episode with Angela Ceberano to hear about a type of pneumonia doctors term Entrepreneurs Disease).

There is stability and security and structure in organisational roles that is desirable, especially for women, but in my opinion that shouldn’t come at the expense of doing something that fills you with joy or reaching your full potential.

Organisations that embrace flexible working, actively work to develop and maintain inclusive cultures and remain focused on creating a positive employee experience are far more likely to reap the benefits of this underutilised female potential and I honestly think they'll enjoy incredible success because of it.

My challenge to you is, in the next fortnight, please support at least one woman in small business in your local area. Find a local female accountant, get your Will written by a local female lawyer, book your dogs in with your local female dog-groomer, take an art class run by a local female artist, go to that yoga class at the small local studio… every dollar you spend means so much to those women and helps them follow their passion.

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