Today marks International Women's Day. This year, I feel like celebrating particularly loudly. Not just because of the historical moments driven by the press for progress movement that we have seen over the past year. But because of the small, seemingly inconsequential moments I have witnessed and experienced in which women champion other women through small acts of kindness, a kind word, a loving embrace and timely, practical support.
You and I are surrounded by extraordinary women. The are our mothers, our sisters, our friends, daughters and business colleagues. They are you and me. We are extraordinary. We may live ordinary lives, marked only occasionally by an event more momentous than the menial tasks of everyday life. But it is in the wholeheartedness and selflessness with which we give ourselves to these moments, that we see that an ordinary life, can in fact be, extraordinary.
This year's IWD theme is #pressforprogress with an aim of drawing attention to, and change around, the gender pay gap. Data from the Global Gender Gap Report shows that the gender gap is widening and progress is regressing. It is estimated that gender parity across the world will take over two centuries, 217 years to be exact.
However, women in leadership can change that. The World Economic Forum's data shows that when women are more present and participating in leadership roles, more women are hired right across the board at all levels. I am fortunate to have connected with some astounding examples of female leadership in the entrepreneurial sector. These women have assumed senior roles in their businesses, lead teams and mentor others. They contribute to their world in meaningful ways and blaze the trail for other women to follow suit in fulfilling their dreams and taking control of their future.
Two such woman are Emma Henderson and Victoria Beattie, founders of lifestyle empire, The Beach People. I was fortunate enough to chat with the sisters on the eve of IWD. I must admit, during our phone conversation, made via conference call while Victoria was on a road with patchy signal, it was at times hard to tell whose voice I was listening to. However, the sisters assured me they finish each others' sentences anyway, and their shared outlook on the world is apparent.
Our conversation began with the sisters telling me about the women who have shaped their view of the world. The girls brim with pride to speak of their mother and grandmother. It may come as no surprise to hear that an entrepreneurial legacy was established by the their grandmother who, without any prior experience, bought and renovated the first two-level motel in Surfer's Paradise, the Surf Rider. When speaking of their mum, Emma highlighted the value of their mother's way of "listening to and connecting with people from a foundation of understanding first".
Victoria and Emma passionately volunteer at their local church, where Victoria helps in the facilitation of workshops centred on exploring creativity. I was interested to know why they believe it's important for women in particular to understand the power of creativity. "As a woman, so much is responsive and you've just got to put your head down to get it all done, but to take time to take time to think creatively about how to respond to things is something that needs to have more value placed on it. Out of the creative thinking comes really beautiful solutions to problems."
Need some strategies that you could implement daily to embrace your inner creative? "Don't look left or right, just focus on what you want to do, on the role that you play...go with your gut and do what comes naturally to you" says Emma. In The Beach People office the team allocates time to creativity and playful expression that isn't outcomes focussed. Once a month the team heads offsite to a location with the sole purpose of appreciating beauty and being inspired.
Perhaps the greatest takeaway from this discussion lies in the following statement:
"Live the life you want to live, now."
"Your business might never grow to the place you want it to, or you may never reach another milestone you have in mind, but you think when I achieve (this), I can do (that), but you might never actually get there, or your journey may end up somewhere different."
Part of living this rich life the girls decided not to put off despite their ever-growing business, involves spending time with their husbands and children, and giving time in the service of others. "Volunteering is a good perspective change, cos nothing gets your mind off yourself more than focussing on someone else. You see the world though different glasses when you serve people."
Even women at the top know that its still difficult to manage gender differences in the workplace. But harking back to the solid advice instilled by their mum, when you understand people, you can save yourself from a lot of frustration. "Come from a place of trying to understand people first. Some men just aren't used to working with a woman, so I just think "they'll get there, or they might not, but oh well!" I've never felt restricted by being a woman in business."
When speaking of the juggle of family life and running The Beach People, Emma and Victoria speak of the true partnership and sharing of responsibilities with their husbands. These men, the sisters say, are playing a vital role in teaching their children the value of women by showing their young girls how they should be treated by men, and how men should treat women.
It seems as though this innate understanding of the value and capability of women may have been instilled in Emma and Victoria by their dad, who's weekly required reading (newspaper cutouts) included stories of women achieving remarkable, not always glamorous, but always extraordinary, feats.
No doubt there will be articles left on the beds of little girls recounting the story of two sisters, inspired by the sea, who had a passion to create beautiful, iconic products...and did.