empowering women

ImagesI rarely speak to people on planes as it is the perfect time to just chill and at what point do you end your conversation and begin reading your book.  On my flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg a well dressed black woman who was my age sat down next to me and she struck up a conversation.  It is amazing how much information you can get from people on a plane.  She lived in Soweta which is a township in Johannesburg that houses 3 million people.  She had four children, one who had died.  She was the head of marketing for the largest insurance provider of health care in South Africa. She told me that only 16% of South Africans have health insurance.  Needless to say it makes our country look fantastic.  Her husband traveled often and was in mining and I got the feeling that he was also the head of something inside his organization.  Two upper middle class South Africans who are educated and have done quite well for themselves and their family.  Impressive considering she is my age and apartheid was only disbanded in 1994. 

We began to discuss womens roles.  She remarked on how women are jugglers.  It isn’t so much about balance but it is about juggling.  Juggling to get everything done, on time and efficiently.  Even if we are equal with our husbands or partners as we both have basically the same level job, the women ends up being the CEO of the household.  It is who women are and it is what we do and it is the same in every family across the globe.   Women get shit done.  Women make sure the trains run on time.  I love that she said, when you empower women, you empower a nation.  I told her that I might have to use that one.  

Perhaps the roles we play go back to the hunters and gatherers.  After all, if one man went out to get the meal for the community and he was killed, there was another one to take his place.  If the women went out in the fields and got killed there was no one to grow the community because bottom line, we can have the children and men just can’t.

We talked a little about the professional life that I have created for myself.   With the ability to work in a virtual world through remote access there is no reason that every woman can figure out the best juggling routine for themselves. She told me that her boss asked her to do something today and he didn't even realize she was in Cape Town but because of her phone she was able to get it done.  It is companies like hers, which she considers corporate, that need to figure out how to change because if they don’t create opportunities for women to do their jobs and raise a family at the same time the new start-ups will eventually take over their market share of being able to hire the best and brightest. 

These days, call me crazy, I do believe that women can figure out how to have it all if they are in a 21st century company that understands how productive anyone can be as long as you give someone a computer and a phone.  I totally believe that we need to support women entrepreneurs in their desire to build companies that will allow them, as well as the women inside their companies, to have the flexibility to be challenged, create their own identities and be mothers too. 

Lets go back to what she said; empower women you empower a nation.  Women are born doers and they take their jobs seriously.  Someone told me a story, a man, who runs one of the organizations that support start-ups companies in intense 3 month programs.  He said when they asked men to be mentors for the program, every one of them said sure without asking a question.  Every women they asked to participate as a mentor asked what was expected of them, how many hours would it take a week and how does it work.  All of the women thought about it before deciding to mentor in the program.  That story defines women. 

If I could do 500 start-ups that were only funding women entrepreneurs, and they don’t have to be in tech businesses they could be starting a bakery or a local retail store and create a group of advisors to work with each of these companies over a few years to insure their success, now that would empower a nation.  Of course I’d need a fund to support their second and third round because like it or not many women have built businesses that tend to fill voids in our lives and many of them are wonderful $10-50 million businesses not necessarily multi-billion dollars businesses. Sometimes and hopefully more often in the future as more women get funded that we will hit more out of the ballpark at billion dollar valuation but if we could help women build hundreds of businesses at the $10-50 million range we will have not only help fund an entire new economy, we will have empowered a nation.