As we celebrate the centenary of women gaining the right to vote in the UK – to express their political choice – it’s a natural time for us to reflect on the available choices for women today.
A lot has changed in the last one hundred years, but we still have a long way to go to achieve true equality. The gender pay gap, the number of women on boards and the level of disparity in pension provision between men and women are all testament to this.
However, my experience is that a lack of choice is not always the issue. It’s often more a case of being able to see the full range of choices that do or could exist and finding the courage to pursue them. In my coaching and mentoring work, with both men and women, I see people who are frustrated and stressed by how their lives are playing out…until they realise that have inadvertently ‘slept-walked’ into the expectations of their society, their families or their broader communities.
When we feel obliged to do what’s expected of us rather than follow our hearts and do what gives us the greatest joy; when we allow our lives to be governed by the shoulds and should nots we inherit and absorb from others, then we innocently collude in enabling the habits and limitations of our collective past to steal from our own possibilities for the future. We all do this, at least to some extent, but as women, the effects can be felt even more profoundly. We tend to experience more conditioning around needing to conform and fit in.
By some happy accident, I seem to have been born with a rebellious streak and perhaps this is what enables me to spot when my clients are victims of their unconscious choices – when they are playing the game of life according to other people’s rules. I have done my best to invent my own rules and as a result, I have been told throughout my career that my choices are ‘radical’, but the truth is that they have only ever seemed utterly intuitive to me.
When the most obvious choice should have been for me to go to university, I really didn’t want to go, so I chose a different path and went on to build a successful career in pharmaceutical marketing.
When, as the youngest person in my company to hold a senior marketing position, the natural choice should have been the next rung up the corporate ladder, I chose to leave. I had always known that I wanted to run my own business and when I was offered a job by an ambitious PR agency, I joined them, became MD just a year later, learned tons, worked harder than I’d ever worked in my life and had an absolute ball.
It certainly wasn’t a standard choice to then decide to start a new business only 24 hours after giving birth to my eldest son. However, it was only when he was placed in my arms that I realised there was no way I could go back to my crazy job! I was the major earner in our house and so not working wasn’t an option, but it was going to be on my terms.
Together with my arch competitor, who also happened to be my friend, we created Virgo Health and I became Joint CEO whilst my husband became CHO (Chief Household officer) of our family. It worked brilliantly for us, even though our choice of Dad as the primary carer wasn’t (and still isn’t) the norm.
When we later sold our business to secure the global scale necessary for further growth, I was given a prestigious global role, but I chose instead to start a new chapter with a completely new venture, The Vibrant Company*.
I know there are still many rules that have governed my unconscious choices and the more I look, the more I see, but when I see them, I can choose to change them. In terms of giving other women the confidence to make their own choices, there are still many practical things that need to happen and especially:
- Supporting them to build financial independence and security
- Providing more funding and practical support for female entrepreneurs and women-owned start-ups
- Continuing to demand greater flexibility and family-friendly design in the practices, processes and infrastructure within our workplaces to accommodate our caring responsibilities – for men as well as women.
This speaks to my firm belief is that true equality will only happen when it genuinely works both ways, so let’s continue to challenge stereotypes for both genders.
However, beyond these considerations is something even more powerful and critical: the need to help people, and especially women, see that they don’t have to choose options from a menu someone else has written for them. We can choose to be true to ourselves. We can create our own options and even our own menus. This is how we will become limitless.
We love to have vibrant conversations so if this exploration of making radical choices has made you curious, we’d love to hear from you.
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