Why Marilyn Monroe Had It All Wrong: Purpose Is A Girl's Best Friend, Not Diamonds

14/06/2017 13:33

The epitome of status and prosperity, diamonds - as Marilyn famously sang - have long been touted a girl's best friend. But, as we try to make sense of the ever-changing world around us, meaning and success stretch far beyond materialistic achievements. We're increasingly building our sense of self and 'raison d'etre' around a need to contribute to something bigger, to achieve success while making a positive difference in the world. We're looking to be guided by a clear sense of purpose and careers are a powerful vehicle to drive the change we seek.

For me, this certainly rings true. I believe that as individuals we are each one pebble creating ripples in a pond. We can make our own mark in the world, but together with other people creating ripples alongside us, we can completely transform the pond's shape. In this way, realising our purpose through work can be the key to unlocking who we are, what we want to achieve, and how we can make a difference, one step, one stone at a time.

As working women and working mums, we feel this keenly, with our greater need to bridge our personal and professional lives. There are many enablers to help us as women play the role we aspire to. Diversity strategies, salary gap adjustments, women's leadership programmes, flexible working schedules, parental leave and even gender quotas are key to us being able to fulfil our career progression, recognition and impact. Yet, in my experience, the toughest hurdle to overcome in achieving success is the one that we hide deep down - the emotional push and pull of balancing working life with family commitments. It's only through seeking out a purposeful working life, that I can reach a happy equilibrium.

I am passionate about health and have intentionally sought out a career in Danone, a company that empowers me to contribute to a healthier world. By collaborating every day with other Danoners and our partners I believe I'm a working mum "with purpose"; working with others who share the same values, and a goal of contributing to healthier eating and drinking practices.

It's a passion for such a purpose - both our employers' and our own - that can give us the comfort, self-permission and foresight to believe that our loved ones will be better off for us not always being there. We're not being awful mums; we're out there trying to help shape the world our kids live in, in a positive way.

Because let's call it out, being a fulfilled working mum is not a walk in the park, a piece of cake nor child's play - especially when our kids are playing with our heartstrings. Purpose certainly helps me stay on track, aligned, energised and optimistic that maybe I can have it all, if I give it all, all of me, who I am, what I believe in and I pair up with a company that is on that same journey.

My 8 year-old daughter is my best reality check - she's really good at asking the right questions as to why I make the choices I do and testing my grit. Like one Monday morning, when I was tiptoeing out of the house in the dark at 6.25am, as I had been for the past 18 months, and stumbled over her sleeping form blocking the staircase with her pillow, blanket and sleepy smile, in a mini protest at my long working hours and absence. The conviction that I'm doing more than just making a living, that I'm purposefully contributing to something bigger, is what helped me that morning kiss her goodbye and step over her (almost) without doubting myself.

Yet, we have to ask ourselves if women are being given the opportunity to contribute to changing the pond's shape as much as they could. Despite the rise of purpose-led businesses, women are still facing challenges in achieving fulfilling careers - and throwing that pebble into the pond! Only 50 per cent of women of working age are in the labour force, compared to 77 per cent of men.

In 1972, Danone CEO, Antoine Riboud, shared his vision and 'dual project' to deliver commercial success hand-in-hand with social progress. He summarised this dual commitment for Danone by saying that corporate responsibility does not end at the factory gate or the office door.

Forty-five years later, I would argue that we need to go even further: corporate responsibility actually starts on our front doorsteps every single day. Companies need to give women compelling reasons to leave our families every morning and the support mechanisms and equal opportunities to empower us to do so. In return, we will engage our passion for purpose for greater good - and the bottom line.

Which brings me rather neatly back to Marilyn. While her diamonds line may not resonate that much anymore, there is another famous phrase of hers that rings true to this day: "Give the girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world". Now that sounds like a plan, Marilyn.

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