This was prompted by the fantastic lunch that I had with a friend yesterday. She is fun, feisty, and someone who can count photographer, film crew member, financial controller, horse-rider, graduate, artist and boxer among her many talents. To that I would add adventuress, raconteur and mentor, someone I could happily discuss everything with from libraries to libido. She also happens to be just over 10 years older than me but she is all of the above before her age. As it goes, our conversation covered our own experiences as women, the right for girls to be properly educated, how to make sure you are paid what you are worth, and for women to have (and expect) boardroom and bedroom equality.
She is a strong, inspirational woman and someone that I am excited to have made a connection with as this could not have come at a better time for me. I careered (quite literally) through my teenage years in a haze of cheap alcohol, dedicated my twenties and early thirties to pursuing a career with gusto whilst building a family and now, in my late 30's, am reaching for financial freedom and using my talents and abilities to benefit those around me in a more meaningful way. You can try to do these things on your own but it works so much better if you have a great coach - where would Daniel-san have been without Mr Miyagi? Billy Elliot without Mrs Wilkinson? We need these people in our lives and we need to be them to other people on the way up.
I think that there are a lot of women of my generation who are seeking this. Women who have achieved a degree of success at work but are finding it unfulfilling, or those who would like to be seen for who they are first and foremost rather than being defined solely as a mother. Depending on what environment you were last in, or are still in, it can seem hard to get to know a woman who has achieved the things that you are seeking and could give you good advice on how to get there. Don't feel too shy to ask a woman you admire for her help - without fail I have found that successful women will offer some of their time to help another woman find her version of success. If you don't feel you have the opportunity to meet other women in your workplace or where you live, make the time to meet. Find any excuse - coffee, bookclub, playdate, night on the tiles - whatever it is, bring people together.
We had a pub-based gathering recently of women in our village under the auspices of the fact we all have children at school. It only takes a little bit of talking to get past the stuff about the kids and onto the real things - what people really want to do and what's frustrating them at work or at home, which then brings out what we might be able to offer one another. There was a rich pool of interesting and talented women, right there, and hopefully some connections have been made which means that we can start to help each other out, outside of the school run. That is if we can remember all the things we spoke about....there was a lot of wine...
This is not to say that I am anti-men. Completely the opposite, I am a big believer when it comes to our menfolk, a 'man-fan' if you like, but I do think that there is a lack of support for us ladies and it needs to start with us - we have to make sure we're helping each other and I am grateful to have found some inspirational women who have helped me so far, and some who will help me navigate this next chapter in my life.
So L'Oreal, with your lovely, shiny-haired ladies, thank you for paying Cheryl Cole enormous amounts of money to tell us that we're worth the £6.49 that it costs for your hair dye but I happen to think we women are worth one hell of a lot more.
Postcript: Whilst you're summoning up the courage to speak to the female VP of Sales or the time to arrange a drinks night for the mums, you might be interested in the following:
|Worth every (money) penny!|
http://www.careersadviceforambitiouswomen.com/ - A brilliant, practical, guide to combining motherhood with a fulfilling career; written by a woman who has done just that. It also has the best closing line of any book I have ever read. Thank you Mrs Moneypenny!
http://www.caitlinmoran.co.uk/index.php - Reading 'How to be a Woman' gave me the kick up the arse I needed to get writing properly.
http://blogs.forbes.com/jessicahagy/ - Jessica Hagy manages to combine words and pictures to inspirational effect.