Happy International Women’s Day! This morning, I dragged myself into the office a whole thirty minutes early to join my colleagues in a celebratory breakfast and it was great to see the room packed with a healthy mix of both men and women, many wearing purple in honour of the occasion. For my part, I dug out a blouse I’ve had since I was in my early teens – it’s been a fair while since I purchased anything in this colour…
During a short talk over coffee and pains aux raisins, we were asked to think, amongst other things, about women who have inspired us in our careers. My mind immediately filled with a multitude of names and faces – women I’ve worked with, or for; but also family, friends and teachers. I count myself lucky that I have had so many strong, wonderful women around me my whole life, providing role-models and inspiring me to be the best I can be – whether at work, in my studies, at home or in the wider world. But then, maybe it isn’t really luck at all, or not much anyway: after all, there are so many of these fabulous female figures out there that if one simply knows enough women, surely, statistically, one is almost certain to know plenty of these sorts of role-model-worthy people for whom I am personally so grateful.
On a related note, I also wanted to point out that being a strong woman in 2018 does not necessarily mean having a high-powered career or owning a business. I attended a women’s leadership conference earlier in the week and the guest speakers were all chosen for their career success – rightly so, because that was the focus of the event. However, when it was put to the audience to ask questions of the speakers, some of the phrasings bothered me a little. One woman in particular comes to mind: she was simply asking the speakers to confirm how great it feels to reach CEO level, since some women decline these promotions into the upper echelons of their respective career ladders, perhaps because they don’t think the additional responsibility is something they want, or because they want to prioritise their families at that time. The bit that bothered me was when she went on to state “…and this sort of attitude is ridiculous in 2018”. There was some nodding and agreeable murmuring around her.
I, however, couldn’t have disagreed more.
Yes, it is imperative that women have these same opportunities as their male counterparts and yes, it is essential that they receive the support or encouragement necessary to accept and thrive in these opportunities where it’s the right thing for the individual.
But, in my opinion, the most important hallmark of true freedom and equality for all is unequivocally the freedom of choice. No door should be closed to any woman because of her gender. But nor should she be forced through any door if she does not wish to go.
A woman can be strong and successful and empowered without having any career ambitions whatsoever. Very few of the many women I admire as role-models are role-models to me because of their career successes. Compassion, assertiveness, tenacity, wit, charisma, courage. The resilience to pick herself up after her world has come crashing down around her, and not only carry on with her life, but to do it with effusive love and peace and serenity. The boldness to speak her mind, always, no matter how disagreeably she knows the words will be received. The self-confidence to be absolutely herself, wherever she goes, and whatever she does, and to hell with the disapproving judgements of the round pegs in their round holes. There are so many other achievements and traits in life worthy of admiration and emulation, other than career ambition.
For me, I don’t know just yet which path my career – or my life – is going to take. To be honest, I’ve sort of put all that on hold whilst I live out my Parisian dream. I am ambitious to excel in a career sense one day, but it can wait, because right now, for me, this amazing life experience is far more important than career advancement and ladder-climbing. I’ll decide what I’m going to do next later. And I know that when I do look to make that decision, and all the important, future-defining decisions that will inevitably follow, I will have a wealth of inspiration and guidance at my disposal – in the form of all those women in my life who have empowered themselves with choice. Whatever those choices may be.