There are so many inspiring women in business who are balancing their home, family and work lives and who are a shining light to other aspiring people. Last week I went to the We Mean Business conference run by Business Link. The aim was for women to come together, meet, support, encourage, befriend and connect with each other. There were several keynote speakers whose passion, determination and courage were infectious.
One of them was Steph Cutler who overcame sudden blindness but defied “the bastards who wouldn’t employ me” to build a successful business helping others with disabilities. She encouraged us to see obstacles as opportunities not setbacks. In fact she says there were times when she found her blindness was to her advantage, for instance when she started public speaking she couldn’t really see the audience so it made her feel braver and now she loves it. She forced herself live with her disability in a way that meant living her life to the fullest. As she jokes- if life deals you lemons, what do you do? Make Lemonade! It has not been an easy journey but it has been a rewarding one.
Penny Power who runs the social media site Ecademy spent 12 years building up her business, losing her family house along the way as she and her husband struggled to make ends meet. But she was determined to be a full-time mum (and a great one at that) at the same time as creating a successful business around the then entirely untried idea of globally connecting with people online. She stuck it through the tough times, held on to her dream, balanced her steps along the tightrope and finally it all came together. Her legacy is to turn on its head our mothers’ adage to “never speak to strangers” and instead she encourages us to make an assumption of trust of people- to make friends with others, to connect, to engage, to share ideas and contacts, to give, to listen, to offer yourself to the world community, to be there for others, to offer help, to ask for help. She tells us our personalities are our greatest asset, not what we are selling. It is us that others are interested in getting to know, like, follow and maybe then when we are truly connected we can start to collaborate in an organic and creative way. She celebrates young people who are growing up as the Facebook generation- making friends online is second nature and when they grow up and walk into the world of work, they will do so with a network of thousands of friends, supporters, fans and mentors. She believes that the wider your network the more productive you can be, and that friendship is the most powerful thing on earth.
Shaa Wasmund was also an amazingly motivating speaker. At the age of 21 she was interviewing Chris Eubanks, when he asked her to become his promoter. She knew nothing about boxing. She was the only woman in the industry apart from the bikini clad card holders and she was surrounded by alpha males. Her ability to look them straight in the face and do what she had to do reminded me of the Country and Western song “You gotta have balls to be a Woman”. On her first day of working for Bob Geldof he came in “fucking this and fucking that” and she spun round, looked him right in the eye and said “Don’t you ever fucking swear at me ever again”. It stopped him in his tracks, he laughed and never swore in her presence again. Even at such a young age she demanded respect, she used the power of being a woman with humour and energy. She took risks, she didn’t let anything stop her and she is charismatic, funny, caring, quick-witted, approachable- someone you immediately want as a friend. A woman in the audience stood up to ask for help from us all. She was from the charity Shelter and hadn’t met her monthly target. Shaa said if she told us why we should support Shelter then she herself would buy a year’s subscription. The woman gave a moving speech and then Shaa surprised us all by telling us that she would double her subscription, because when she was 11 she too had been in a homeless family, living in a hostel, afraid to ever ask friends ‘home’, sharing a bathroom with other families. One day her mother sat her on the mattress with springs poking through the material and she said to her: “Take a good look round, because whatever you do in life, you will never, ever, ever have to live in a place like this again.” Shaa picked her life up and she has made a huge success of it, not least being one of the most inspiring and loveliest of people I have ever had the pleasure to meet.
If only we could bottle the essence of these women! But at least we can learn from them.
Note from Julie: You can see Shaa and be inspired by other female at our Stepping into Success conference on International Women’s Day, March 8th.
About the Author: Lou Hamilton is a filmmaker and photographer. She formed Create Lab to use creativity and imagination to inspire positive change in people’s lives. As a qualified coach Lou runs a networking group called Women Talking Business. She makes mini-documentary films of featured guest speakers, which are shown on her TV channel