Responsible role modelling – ITW with the brains behind everywoman.com: co-founders Maxine Benson MBE and Karen Gill MBE
Max and Karen have known each other for 35 years, since having a good time travelling around Australia. When, 15 years ago, they quit the corporate world to start their own TV business, they realised how tough it was. Entrepreneurs at heart, they changed gear and decided, instead, to drive women to dare by creating everywoman.com, an online platform helping women in business to grow. Here they both talk to Myriam Crété-O’Carroll about the importance of meaningful role modelling.
How did you come to create Everywoman Limited?
We started everywoman 14 years ago. We were starting our own TV production company, but the experience of being women starting our own business was dire. The most inspirational moments were when we met other women with similar issues giving us their guidance and support. Suddenly a light bulb went off for us. We decided to enable more women to take the leap. We saw a real need, so we researched it, created a business plan and built the business from there.
So what was everywoman’s initial vision?
Initially it was to provide a building network for women starting or growing their own businesses – a community where they could support each other and barter their services. What we wanted to create, we couldn’t actually do in the physical world financially. At the time, the big community sites were starting to launch in the US so we could see how our concept, albeit for a niche market, could be successful online. That’s how we launched everywoman.com.
So let’s fast forward 15 years. What services are offered by everywoman today?
We are a membership organisation for women in business who want to advance their careers and grow themselves or their businesses. We also work with organisations who are trying to attract, retain and develop their female talent. We’re all about influencing change and helping women build skills and knowledge, so we do a lot of leadership academies, training and award programmes. We are also about uncovering and mobilising role models.
Talking about role modelling, tell me about your Modern Muse project
Modern Muse was launched on our tenth anniversary. There was a big conversation from successful women, across all industries, concerned by what they were hearing from young girls about what they wanted to do when they grew up. It was basically all about becoming celebrities and wanting instant gratification, fame and fortune – so much so to the exclusion of everything else. We also found in research that there was a dramatic increase in girls’ levels of anxiety and stress, caused by this very desire to want to be beautiful and famous. And when we looked at it more deeply, we realised these young girls actually were only getting access to one type of role model: the size 8, famous singer or model.
So what did you do to change that?
We contacted the many women that we knew who were successful across all sectors and we raised our concern. Together, we decided to showcase them to demonstrate how they got from their career all the things they wanted in their life, although they didn’t all look the same. They came in all shapes, sizes and from all educational backgrounds. We needed to show these young girls that there was more to life. So we published this wonderful Modern Muse book and all those women are still very engaged in this initiative. It’s moved on as we’re looking now at how we can get girls to understand their own innate skills, with the use of psychometric profiling, so they can understand what they are predisposed to being.
There’s an explosion of women’s networks. What’s your DNA?
We are eclectic. We work with a lot of the networks – the more the merrier in our opinion. What people say to us is that they love the breadth and the depth of our agenda and they find everywoman events very special. So you can be an engineer talking to somebody that works in the arts, or you can be CEO of a multinational corporation talking to a really wild entrepreneur. What they get out is that real thought leadership and different perspective.
How many members do you have and what’s your coverage?
We have extensive coverage of about 30,000 women. They engage with us in many different ways. We have our everywomanClub, which is by invitation, for our really senior women in business. That’s quite small and exclusive and it’s made up of women who are very successful and have a real desire to share and give back. Then we have our everywomanNetwork, which is our online development platform, where women have access to an enormous resource of development materials and advice from our own club members. We interview them; we showcase their stories and their tips for success. There are a few thousand of these women and that is growing exponentially so it has taken everywoman global.
Do you have any tips to share from the women you meet?
Karen: “Just do it!” It’s the one thing you hear from all the women at our motivational events.
Max: “The really successful women that we speak to say that they never stop listening to their gut feeling and their intuition. When they blank it, they do the things that they often regret.”