Food for thought from Hannah Ray, Business + Career Coach, TAKE coaching Amsterdam.
When you think of a successful female entrepreneur...
Who comes to mind?
How does she speak?
How does she stand?
Where does she do her work?
What does she look like?
What does she wear?
What time does she get up and what kind of place does she live?
What is her family like?
You’ve just painted your very own stereotype or cultural norm of a ‘successful woman’! (If you thought about yourself, or decided there was not just one version… well done, you are on to something!).
After working in the creative industry for 10 years, I had absorbed a pretty solid idea of what I needed to change about myself if I was going to be a ‘successful woman’. A list including, but not limited to: have more insightful insights, be more confident-seeming, increase the natural volume of my voice, be more professional looking.
After handing in my notice to explore starting my own business, and then corona hitting 2 weeks later, I had a lot of spare time to sit down with myself and think about what success actually meant for me.
As someone who has always been interested and active in self-development, this was surprisingly confronting. I didn’t really know. I realised that I had been judging myself on other people’s versions of ‘good’. The herd’s idea of ‘enough’. The world’s expectation of ‘successful’.
Organisations, industries and cultures create shared visions and ideologies because they glue us together and make things work. But what happens when those systems are outdated or broken? Or when they damage the people in them?
I believe this is an especially pressing issue for women in business, whether you work in a large organisation or for yourself. We are often made to feel that we need to be more or less (often, both), in order to just be enough.
There have been various popular ideas, in the past few years, to explore what we can do about it.
A stand out for me was the ‘Lean In’ movement. Although Sandberg wrote this book with all the good intentions, it is by no means insightful to say that not many people fit this idea of success or even have access to it.
For all its merits in moving feminist conversation forwards for a while, in many ways, it was just another ‘successful’ person telling women who we needed to be and how we needed to change ourselves in order to be successful too.
So why do we keep leaning in to structures that aren’t made for us? Why are we changing or shutting down parts of ourselves to fit environments that don’t nourish our opportunity to thrive?
I was inspired by a discussion led by Phoebe Denham and hosted by Una Collective last year. One of the guest speakers was Gill Whitty-Collins, author of ‘Why Men Win At Work’.
Phoebe asked Gill a question that I suppose is on many women’s lips: “What would you say to the audience tonight if they wanted to take a step towards change [for greater inclusivity + belonging] in their workplace?”.
Gill’s answer was excellent.
It depends on the person… but… if you are a woman who is in a culture you really don’t feel you can be yourself in, that you don’t believe you can use your strengths and that they’re valued, my personal advice is: do not waste your time and energy trying to change that culture, if you are not at a senior level, if it is not a culture you are winning in. [some paraphrasing].
Sage advice. I agree it would be an effective strategy for women’s energy to be directed into the places where it can accumulate and have louder impact.
Ultimately, this is what I’m here to do with my coaching practice, TAKE; to interrupt the current and redirect the energy.
I do this by holding space for women to: dismantle the internalised rules, structures and role models culture puts on us, to explore what a successful work life would look like for THEM, and create a safe environment for women to look inwards and create outwards, without judgement.
So, it’s a pleasure to have partnered with Momentum, a joint initiative of WE RISE and StartupBootcamp, as a business coach on their programme for starting female entrepreneurs, because, it’s the starting; the getting going; the leap of faith you have to take for yourself, that is the hardest part.
I coach my client to gain awareness, understanding, familiarity and connection with all parts of them, so that their superpowers get unleashed, the motivation starts to drum and the magic can unfold as they move through the programme.
I really believe that we owe it to ourselves to do this work. For ourselves and each other. The more that we become acquainted with and accepting of our own idea of success - the more power we can pour into our own gender networks and communities, and therefore, the more that our efforts become visible and inspire others to get their thing going too.
So, where do you begin? Well, I am here for you if coaching is a place that feels right for you. You can schedule a free, no-obligation taster session with me on my website to explore what’s going on for you.
I also created a set of 6 starter questions for female entrepreneurs, to get you thinking about what success means for YOU on my website.
Otherwise, consider what you know of yourself so far: what has and hasn’t worked for you? Why? What would you do differently? What else could you try or explore?
Then, take the first step. When you feel it: post it, write it, make it, add to it, say it!
Even if the only person who finds it useful or interesting (for now!) is you, it’s enough.
Hannah Ray is an ICF Business, Career + Life Coach in Amsterdam at her practice, TAKE. She holds space for people to explore + create their own version of success.
Momentum is a joint initiative of WE RISE and Startupbootcamp. The Momentum team is deeply grateful to Hannah Ray for providing her time and expertise to our future entrepreneurs.
Interested in the next Momentum 2.0? Sign up here
Curious about how did the first edition go? Join us on DEMO DAY to discover more and listen to the pitches.