In the last decade, the concept of empowerment has been researched, publicized and politicized in all aspects of our lives.
Essentially, the birth of the concept is controversial as is the definition, but the general consensus is that the modern empowerment movement was birthed in 1955 when Rosa Parks of Montgomery, Alabama, refused to offer her bus seat to a white patron. This simple action ignited boycotts and ultimate victory. We’ve come a long way ladies!
But more intriguing is the fact that with all the advancements for women in business since that time with much to celebrate, we still find in the media an enormous focus on the concept of empowering women. In the early 1970s and as a 21-year-old woman in business, I received a promotion to middle management with a company that was seeking to balance the scale. I was one of the first women in the operations department of a major insurance company promoted. There were three of us that the company was proud to announce as a measure of diversity and perhaps gender equality in a company of over 6,000 employees. As I said, we’ve come a long way, positively influencing every industry in business and philanthropic work in communities. So, what’s all the hype still about empowerment?
During my professional career of 38 years in corporate leadership, and the last 10 years as a business owner and entrepreneur, I’ve had the privilege of mentoring over 100 young women, both professional women working in various industries as well as women who own and operate their own business. There is no doubt that women have advanced in business over the last several decades.
In 2014, $1.4 trillion in revenues were generated by women-owned businesses, according to Womenable. You often hear CEOs and business leaders in industry report that “women are a niche market.” I hear that often in financial services. I’m here to get the record straight. We ARE NOT a “niche market;” WE ARE THE MARKET. We’re the market as business owners, as successful professionals and as consumers since we account for 85 percent of all consumer purchases.
Empowerment is a concept that I would argue is an archaic model to focus on and continue spending time on. Empowerment from my perspective is an outcome, so I’d like to share a perspective that allows you to look at the key ingredients of empowerment based on my personal and professional experience.
Women need to collaborate and support other women, especially those of us who have achieved a high degree of success as business owners. We need to pay it forward and reach out to other women who can benefit and learn from our successes and failures, from our fears and challenges and most importantly from our stories and experiences. There is amazing wisdom to share, to learn and to grow through these key ingredients:
· Encourage one another through mentoring – Mentor other women who aspire to start a business or grow their business. You have gifts and talents that can help other women, both young and “more mature,” and as long as we have a breath to breathe, we can bring value by encouraging others through mentoring.
· Inspire one another by sharing our story – We all have amazing stories of triumphs and tragedies that made us who we are and helped define our business models and success. Be generous in sharing your story because it could be the very inspiration that will help a young woman have the courage to believe in herself and achieve a new professional milestone.
· Create a learning community – Some of the greatest learning comes from informal networking and collaborating informally with other business owners. Identify and establish a study group of other business owners whom you can learn from, share insights with and problem-solve business issues. My greatest business growth came from aligning myself with like-minded business owners, both male and female, and learning from them. There is enormous opportunity through informal means, sort of like those “Meet Up Groups” springing all over. Why not create your own “Meet Up Group” of business owners?
Ponte Vedra Beach resident Jeannette Bajalia is the president of Petros Estate & Retirement Planning and the founder and president of Woman’s Worth, LLC, which offers a complete range of retirement lifestyle protection planning® services customized for women.