Not only is March Women's History Month, but March 8, 2015 is International Women's Day. This year, the United Nation's theme is "Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!" -- it's up to us to make "it" happen.
Before you can realize the "it" that you've been waiting for, you need to feel and be empowered. Regardless of whether you're a stay-at-home mom, climbing the corporate ladder, or building a startup, it's critical that you constantly evaluate your value system and experiences along the way. There can be no empowerment without self-awareness and conviction -- putting all your priorities and daily encounters under a magnifying glass reinforces your identity and is the first, key step to understanding your potential and taking control of your life.
Even though I studied marketing in college and spent a number of years working in finance, my choice of studies and work has always revolved around the same guiding principle: my desire to help people. The department I worked in invested and managed low-income housing tax credit, solar and wind funds, but at the end of the day, finance was not my jam. It didn't fit my personality and desire to be in the food industry.
It has taken me some time to figure out who I am and it continues to be an ongoing process. The more I fought against my identity during my corporate days -- a veggie-obsessed foodie who desperately wanted an outlet to express my creativity -- the less happy I was. Ultimately, I wasn't using my skills in a way that honored who I am. I decided that it was time to take control and make an effort to pursue a career in food.
My career isn't what I had initially planned. There's no doubt that money is important, but I'm more happy now than I ever was working at a job where I felt stifled, even though it was more financially stable. Being successful in life ultimately, for me, means staying true to who I am.
Success is not a solo effort, find like-minded people within an industry you're passionate about and start building relationships. Mom was right: you become like the people you surround yourself with. I've found my tribe -- entrepreneurs and more specifically, women entrepreneurs. They are risk-takers like me and navigate the world of being a woman in business. From quitting our comfy day jobs, liquidating our assets to start a business to being given unsolicited datIng advice at professional events by older men to being the first woman-owned business working with manufacturers who are accustomed to the old boys -- female entrepreneurs get me in a way that others may have a difficult time understanding.
Today, we have more resources than women did before us: from online tools to accelerator programs and more. We've come a long way from the women's suffrage movements of the early 1900s and the prim and proper housewives of the '50s. The environment for women is better, yet my fellow female entrepreneurs and I find that the way we look still plays more of a role in how we are perceived than we would like. We're not necessarily taken seriously until we speak and even then, we have to prove our merit over and over again.
The issues facing women entrepreneurs today are much more subtle and ingrained in our social structure, which makes perpetuating a dismissive environment that much easier and garnering support for our visions that much harder. Look no further than some of our highest branches of leadership in the country: women hold less than 20% of congressional seats in the U.S. -- it's been 239 years and the dominating voices in the country don't look very different from our Founding Fathers. In the business world, however, over 51% of firms are majority-owned by women--that's HUGE. We owe much of our promising future to the work of enterprising women entrepreneurs. From Mary Katherine Goddard -- who in 1766 became the first woman publisher in America- - to revolutionary fashion icon Coco Chanel, to Oprah Winfrey, the endlessly versatile multimedia leader, our world was shaped and continues to grow through the work of incredible women.
I decided to take a risk by becoming an entrepreneur because if I didn't, I'd be waiting forever to be given permission to be empowered to do what I love. Don't wait. Make your "it" happen. Empower yourself and the women around you.