When reflecting on International Women's Day, I remember some of the women that have inspired me, and the lessons I have learnt from them. I have learnt about compassion, about sharing, strength and passion, commitment and the power of my own oomph to make a difference. This has inspired us to launch a new campaign today to celebrate the women that have taught us all these things.
Nearly 10 years ago, I made the "bold" decision to leave my job and start up on my own. It did feel a bit like jumping off a cliff, but also a bit like flying. Making this bold change to my life and my job did not come without moments of fear and many more moments of craziness! It was the help and inspiration of some incredible female business leaders that spurred me on and continues to inspire me today.
Firstly and I think critically for any business, I learnt compassion from a small business leader, Laura Gelder Robertson of Glow Innovation. When in a critical client situation, she reminded me to not get cross, but understand what people around me were experiencing, and ask them why they feel that way. I learnt that listening and understanding could make a business far more successful than getting your own way all the time.
I have learnt the critical skill of sharing most recently from Steph Douglas of Don't Buy Her Flowers. Steph has this phenomenal depth of kindness, reaching out to others and championing their successes as well as sharing her own, as well as her own failings. This generosity of spirit inspires me almost daily and reminds me that our collective success is so much more important than individual successes.
In all honesty, I have learnt strength from a lot of people, and I see women showing phenomenal strength daily. Whether that is in the small things, like pushing on through with no sleep, or the big things, like taking on bigger organisations and excelling. I am particularly inspired by Emma Jones MBE who founded Enterprise Nation and is the Crown Rep for Small Business. She works tirelessly for small businesses and defends them with a strength that would exhaust most of the rest of us. Just being in Emma's orbit can feel empowering!
International Women's Day this year is challenging all of us to be bold for change - quite a gauntlet to throw down, but one that I see thousands of women taking up, not just on IWD17, but all year round. I am continuously bowled over by the courage and inspiration shown by women starting and growing their businesses, and the innovation shown in how they do that. This innovation may be driven by financial need or lifestyle requirements, but brings with it lessons for all of us to learn, male and female.
Having run small business campaigns for years, I am asked all the time in interviews what I think is holding back women from starting and running small businesses. I do not accept that this is always, or has to be, the case. I see female led businesses all the time, every day, excelling, doing fantastic things, facing difficult situations and coming out on top. I do not think there is a shortage of female business leaders. But I do think that there is a lack of light shined on them. So - we need to start turning the lights up!
It is because of this that today on International Women's Day we are launching f:Entrepreneur (pronounced Entrepreneur...www.f-entrepreneur.com), a campaign to highlight, celebrate and generally shout loudly about incredible female entrepreneurs and share their stories with the wider community. This is kicking off with a workshop in Somerset House where we are hearing from incredible entrepreneurs, including Caroline Plumb OBE, who founded Freshminds and works as a business ambassador for the government; Ruth Thomson from Digital Mums, an organisation that empowers mothers by giving them a flexible career in digital skills; Precious Jason, who founded Etie'no Skincare after she recovered from cancer and found that skincare for chemo was a huge gap in the market; and many more fantastic stories of courage and achievement. These women have taken bold steps to change their lives and those of others, and so we are working to give them the spotlight they deserve.
This event and the whole campaign are aimed at both men and women, because we all have something to learn from these stories of challenge and success. Whether that be via workshops all around the UK or listening to female leaders speak, or reading their stories on our website or social media (#fentrepreneur), there will be many opportunities for both genders to learn from and be inspired by these incredible women.
For it seems to me, equality is not women only inspiring women - it is women inspiring everyone.
HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today
Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email firstname.lastname@example.org