As un-fond I am of this classic cliche, I have found myself thinking a fair bit lately that there are two types of women in the world: ones who have your back (aka Sisters) and ones who – let’s be gentle – are playing by different rules (the ones that Madeleine Albright famously said “have a special place in Hell”).
As reductionist as this turn of phrase may be, it’s a topic that has been on my mind for some time (in a not-good way) and came up this morning (in a super-duper, blog post-inspiring kind of way), so let’s save the latter for another time and share the good vibes of the former.
As anyone who has ever spent 5 seconds with either me or Suzanne knows, we are massive champions of women entrepreneurs, with a particular soft spot for those in the social impact space. The breakfast meeting that I attended this morning was a veritable cornucopia of such people, aligned as it was with the Canadian Health Food Association‘s (CHFA) West trade show.
Generously hosted by Annalea Krebs (Social Nature) and Katharine Herringer (Vista magazine and Multibird branding), the event was elegant and welcoming, complete with fresh-pressed juice blends on offer, Danielle LaPorte‘s Truthbomb cards spread around the tables, personalized place cards, and herbal floral displays.
Once seated, we were invited to go around the room to introduce ourselves, including sharing our “BHAG” (of Big Hairy Audacious Goal, of Jim Collins’ Built to Last fame), which I like to reframe as Beautiful Healthy Awesome Goal. Mine was that we want Lunapads to become the first washable cloth pad products available in mass mainstream retail across North America (a goal that we are already off to a great start on, I might add!).
From there, based on beautifully-lettered posterboards at the front of the room, we were invited to share on rich questions including “What is really working for you right now?” and “What advice might you have for your younger self?”
What happened next was one of the more insightful and inspiring rounds of sharing that I have had the good fortune to witness in a business context. We talked abut everything from tips for increasing productivity, building culture and bringing customers up to speed on social media to embracing ageing. A recurrent theme was highlighting the need for women to actively support one another in the Naturals segment (as with anywhere else!).
While I have heard this sentiment expressed in many ways, it does not always ring true or play out in what I call the “bigger-better-faster-more” traditional business model, “natural” or no. I am under no illusions that women are invariably angels (we’re far too complex and human for that!), however I have seldom felt so safe, seen and supported in this type of context. It was also not lost on any of us that, despite the fact that most businesses in the Naturals category espouse social values, this does not always show up in practice when it comes to gender and other forms of social inclusion.
A couple of my favourite takeaways came from Lorna Vanderhaeghe (Lorna Vanderhaeghe Health Solutions), who offered up one of the most pointed arguments against the tedious-beyond-reckoning “work/life balance” question – “My husband runs a company that has 140 employees and NOBODY has ever asked him about his “work/life balance” – can we please stop doing this to women?”. Amen. Her other major pearl for me was “Do what you need to do to fulfil yourself. Everything else will fall into place.” Boom.
Other highlights for me included industry veteran (and Katharine’s Mom) Donna Herringer‘s championing ageing as a wonderful gift, telling us that it is totally possible to have what she described as a “perfect life”, following a career of hard work, raising kids and the regular trials and tribulations of life that we all share. Her voice was arguably the sagest and most emphatic when it came to supporting other women as not only a means to develop one’ business network, but moreover to change the makeup of the entire industry.
Good news: Sisterhood is alive and well in the Canadian Natural Products industry!