A few years ago, my Mother announced to my Father that she wanted a welding set for Christmas. He looked up from his half-finished painting and nodded. That’s the household I was raised in.
Growing up feminist
There wasn’t many differences in what my parents did at home: they were equals. I don’t know exactly what went on behind the scenes, but from my perspective as a little girl in Switzerland in the 80s, there was nothing odd about my Mom building custom metal furniture with her welding kit (she did get it) and my Dad putting on solo art exhibitions. There was nothing bizarre about my Dad tucking us into bed because my Mom was out teaching corporate evening classes. I didn’t know I was being raised by feminist parents; they were just Mom and Dad to me.
My sister and I were never told that we had to act differently, do differently, think differently because of our gender. We weren’t made to wear purple and pink or play with dolls – although I vaguely remember decapitating a few Barbies back in the day. When it came to choosing our paths in life, we were never steered in a gender-typical direction. I didn’t even think about having to smash a glass ceiling because I was never made to feel there was one. I just did whatever I wanted, as a person- not as a “girl”.
The International Whirlwind
So I graduated from university in Switzerland and moved to Shanghai on a whim (ok, I followed a boy), immediately landing an executive-level job in marketing in China. I continued my career in Hong Kong with an amazing female boss, who is still my daily inspiration, then decided to move to Monaco. I hated it, so I moved back to Hong Kong and started an event management firm, meeting my wonderful feminist of a husband in the process. We then moved to Canada where I sunk my teeth into graphic design, starting BlackBean Creative.
Still with me? I’ve had a pretty crazy life compare to most, living all over the planet, following my heart along the way. I was just doing my own thing, being supported by both men and women I’ve met along the way. I thought this was completely normal, but now I know that this isn’t the case for many other women. I realize now that I’ve been incredibly lucky and I am beyond grateful for this journey.
Did you know that Google Business offers highlights to your page to tell customers more about your business? When we set up our company on Google Business, the one highlight we were suggested by the platform was “woman-led”. Not like, “has wi-fi” or even “has office plants”, no: woman-led. Apparently, it’s a special badge. Why does it matter what gender runs the business? Should it matter? Does it make a difference to our potential clients? If anyone has an answer, I’m all ears because I’m still unsure about the entire thing.
Why does it matter what gender runs the business? Should it matter? Does it make a difference to our potential clients?
In my opinion, being a woman never came into play, professionally speaking, because I wasn’t threatening enough. I wasn’t in any kind of position of power. Not that I have a whole lot of power (I can’t even get my 8-year-old to consistently pick up after himself) but I am now visibly at the top of the company hierarchy.
I was now going to have to make decisions every day in a world that is primarily run by men. And that changed everything. Suddenly I was being treated differently. I’ve had male competitors try to take business from me and I’ve had male clients (ex-clients now) try to bully me into working for free (true story). At first, I thought it was just business, but then I started wondering if they were acting like this because I am a woman? I asked the men in my life and the response was unanimous: “Yes”. Apparently, no one would try that sh*t if I were a man.
That was my “aha” moment.
It was infuriating but at the same time, extremely enlightening. I could have crawled back to the comfort of my freelancing days but Maya Angelou’s words were with me: “and still I rise”.
So I had to toughen up. I had to leave my wonderful world of rainbows and butterflies behind because no one was going to make it easy for me from here on it. Now that I was “the boss”, life would never be the same again. It’s one thing to have the title on your business card – anyone with a Vistaprint account can make that happen, but it’s another to carry the weight of the responsibilities every single day.
Becoming (and channeling my inner Michelle Obama)
I won’t lie to you, there are days when I’m wondering what the hell I’m doing. But then, my 17-year-old step-daughter, who is applying to universities at the moment, came to tell me that she wrote her essay about me. She told me that I make her feel like she can be anything she wants to be. And just like that, it’s all worth it.
I will never think, talk, or act like a man simply because I am not one. I have had to push past my natural tendencies to avoid talking about money, to sugar-coat things or to tiptoe around issues. Being an entrepreneur and owning a business really forced me to communicate with absolute clarity, to stand my ground with force, and become more confident (or at least, fake it till I make it).
It was scary as hell, believe me. It took a lot of practice and some cold-sweats but as I enter the second year of running BlackBean Creative, I feel much stronger than I ever have. I don’t want to say “stronger as woman” because I’m just a stronger person. Period.