Annette Richardson is our June ACN Inspiration of the Month (#ACNIOTM) and has an impressive career, which began in the late eighties and has continued to flourish, catapulting Annette into the realm of the influential thought leaders of today and as an intelligent ambassador for the United Nations. Her involvement in UN Women for Peace is a commitment dear to her heart and one she continues to champion. A single mother, a widow, a business woman, a spokeswoman, a prestigious ‘Woman of the Year’ award winner and a Forbes Women’s “200 Most Powerful Minds” recipient make Annette an aspiring role model for many ACN women out there. Below is an interview with this amazing woman.
1. Why is it important that woman succeed in business?
Despite status quo statistics—women earn 75% of what men earn; women hold only 15% of Corporate Executive (C-level) positions in the U.S.—and a challenging economy, the almost-constant changes to the way we communicate, interact, innovate and do business today are setting up an opportunity-filled future for women. Why? Because the qualities that are valued in today’s socially driven culture come naturally to most women. The rise in social media and most importantly a growing appreciation for collaboration, participation, relationship-building, engagement and a commitment to the greater good, have created a perfect storm for entrepreneurial and enterprising women. These qualities are at the very heart of what women do best. Women simply have to be willing to reach out and grab the coming opportunities.
2. Do women bring to business something men don’t?
Absolutely. Academic research shows that women bring fresh valuable perspectives to company policy, strategic decisions and social sensitivity based on their different experiences. A combination, which leads to higher group performance, is what women bring. Shortly after Iceland’s 2009 descent into financial chaos, the Icelandic people decided it was time for change and replaced their male prime minister with a woman called Johanna Sigurdardottir. An elegant 68-year-old, Sigurdardottir’s accession to power was heralded with a spate of articles about Iceland’s strong females. Women, we were told, were “cleaning up the men’s mess” (Spiegel). They were “leading the rescue” (Guardian). Most impressively, perhaps, they would “save banking” (BBC). Traditional business cultures are based on the military model with authoritarian values and a rigid hierarchy. As more organizations move to a more open, informal, democratic model, “being raised as a man is no longer an advantage” says John Naisbitt, author of Megatrends. I agree.
3. What motivates you to succeed?
I have been a widow and a single mother since the age of 27. Braving personal challenges while successfully balancing life and building a career, has always been top of mind. I have a daughter and my primary concern, like so many women, was providing for her needs and being a role model. It has always been and continues to be my main motivation.
4. What advice do you have for women hesitant about their own abilities?
Trust yourself and the rest will follow. I encourage young women I mentor to look within and use their innate qualities to be successful, qualities that have never been more relevant than now with the rise in social networking and the changes it’s bringing to the way we do business.
5. Do women do enough to help other women in business?
I think there is a greater sense of gender unity. Women have a deeper understanding and appreciation of the sacrifices made by those who came before them. As a result, women are in a better position to pressure male dominated businesses to implement change. There are many organizations around the world today helping women and girls affirm their identities, develop and enhance their skills and protect their rights. It is not a universal attitude yet, but we are moving in the right direction.
6. What top tip would you give to a woman trying to get ahead?
Get line experience. Be yourself. Communicate and develop a working style that is appreciated by your peers – men and women alike. Make choices. Honour the female advantage.
7. Do you see a culture change taking place in the boardroom?
Very slowly. Only 21 Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs, which represents only 4.2%. It’s not quite time to pop the champagne just yet. Women are often mentored well enough, but not adequately sponsored, as a result men are more likely to be promoted. Although, data shows that businesses that have more women on their executive boards tend to get better results and women are often seen as being more wary of risk than men — a quality that is increasingly valued in the post-financial crisis world.
8. Who inspires you and why?
I believe behaviour change stems from activism. I am profoundly inspired by gender activists who dedicated their lives to advance the cause of women and girls around the world. Marguerite Durand, Olympe de Gouges, Simone de Beauvoir, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Gloria Watkins, Eve Ensler, Zainab Salbi, Wangari Maathai, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, Tawakkol Karman, 12-year old Malala Yousafzai and so many others known and unknown. These women and girls are heroes and pioneers, they embody feminist movements – the suffrage movement, the women’s liberation movement, black feminism, the feminist sex wars, eco-feminism and modern gender activism – and are the essence of social change. Closer to home, my grand-mother, my mother, my sisters and my daughter, Morgane, who is a leading young feminist focused on the intersection of gender and race and holds a strong voice in the blogosphere. They all helped me synthesize my strengths into a potent energy that is distinctively female, and taught me to never be afraid to express them.
9. Can you celebrate your own success?
Everyday, I look back at my life experiences and I am grateful to have been able to harness the opportunities. It has been quite an incredible journey.
10. Is the question “Can women have it all?” an excellent question, an offensive question or just old hat?
I am not sure it is the correct question. I never thought of it that way. I planned my career and never attempted to do it all. For me, it has always been a matter of choices. I chose to get an education, have a child and pursue a career and never felt overwhelmed or concerned about it. Over the years, I seized opportunities as they presented themselves using strategic thinking, advice from my peers and intuition. Women have every advantage right now. It’s time for more women to harness their strengths. Women have never been better positioned to make their mark.
11. What do you feel the role of Government is in supporting women who want to succeed in business?
The Government has a role to play in the economic empowerment of women. It ought to provide management and technical services and programs that support and accelerate women’s business ownership and strengthen their impact on the economy, accelerate the rate of growth of women’s business, increase the economic impact of women-owned businesses on both families and communities and stimulate public policy and system changes, which support and strengthen the economic impact of women. The Government must assist women who are economically or socially disadvantaged by offering comprehensive training and counseling on topics related to education, business development and growth.
12. What do you feel the role of the Government is in supporting corporates who want to attract more women into their business?
The government and business leaders have been talking for decades about advancing more women to top leadership and professional roles. They have tried to come up with plans to make better use of female talent to promote economic growth and competitiveness. The government should optimize tax policies – give tax breaks to women returning to work – review proposals and laws, and update those that disadvantage women, help make the economic case for women in business, incentivise child care by supporting more accessible, affordable child-care options.
13. What is the most inspiring act or story you have come across of a woman succeeding in your organization UN Women For Peace?
UN Women for Peace (unwomenforpeace.org) is an organization created by women for women. In support of capacity building for peacekeeping, we are proud to have provided scholarships to female students from post-conflict areas and enable them to attend the University for Peace. These students are women living under extraordinary circumstances. UN Women for Peace stands for eliminating the gender gap, empowering women economically, educationally and politically. If we empower women, we influence change. That’s how we measure our success.
14. Quote that inspires you?
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Nelson Mandela