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These were the words out of the mouth of one of my idols, the one and only Michelle Obama. And on International Women’s Day – it resonates with me, my friends, my family, my peers and colleagues and my team.
If I ever got asked the question of who I’d like to have dinner with, dead or alive, it would be Michelle Obama. I’ve admired her for many years, from when her and Barack kicked off the Presidential campaign back in 2008, all the way through to Barack leaving office and the role she has carved out in her own right since they left the White House in 2017.
My husband bought me her autobiography ‘Becoming’ and I think the love affair just spiralled. There are a number of reasons why she is such an inspiration and her story really resonates with me – let me tell you why.
The first reason that I admire Michelle is because she’s pushed through tough times. She is a qualified lawyer, attending Princeton University and Harvard Law School – but her childhood wasn’t without its obstacles. She considered challenges, such as her 3-hour round trip journey to high school, as something that “fuelled her fire” to strive to be better.
My childhood definitely wouldn’t be considered the norm either, but we have always said that our family put the ‘fun’ in dysfunctional – it was loving, supportive yet not what the huge majority of my friends experienced in their homes. I was lucky enough to be brought up by a complete male feminist – my Dad – who inspired and drove me daily to be the best version of myself and to never hold back.
If I said I wanted to try something new, he would be the first to find out how he could support in making that happen – from asking to be sent copies of the student newspaper that I wrote and edited for, or simply just being on the end of the phone to console me when things just weren’t going right. He has instilled the work ethic in me, and my sister, that we can achieve anything if we put our minds to it.
When Barack Obama made the decision to go for Presidency, Michelle never became less of who she was, but she decided to take on a new role. And that for me is the second reason that she is so inspiring.
Michelle is a woman of all forms and she never downplays any part of who she is. She’s professional, smart and respected, whilst remaining fun and emotional. She’s a fashion icon, she’s a mother; a woman of power – ultimately, she’s a role model.
She carved out the role of First Lady in her term as one that stood for something – the Let’s Move campaign and her fight for LGBT rights are the tip of the iceberg of the powerful and respected things she did during her time in the White House.
These more serious movements didn’t stop her being seen as fun and engaging – dancing with Ellen, doing the worm and taking part in entertaining TV segments – she’s seen as someone who is approachable and open, with a zest for life. These glimpses into her ‘relaxed’ personality have never taken away from her being a respected businesswoman.
Business Insider pulled together Michelle Obama's most inspirational quotes, for her 56th birthday in January this year.
I’m pleased to say that I am surrounded by incredible women who have spent decades carving their careers with power and responsibility, pushing forwards where society has often implied that it’s not their remit. It’s from watching these women that I have become who I am today.
For me, it’s now about inspiring the women that I get to spend time with. I strive to be just me – and me in all forms. I’m a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a boss, to name a few of the hats that I wear on a daily basis.
I take pride in being the eldest to a number of siblings – in total there are five who I’ve collected over time – I have always wanted to be a role model for them to succeed in whatever they want to do. I am so proud to have one of my sisters heading up brand partnership activity for a major charity, one supporting rehabilitation of offenders using the creative arts as an outlet and one trying to find ways to help prevent climate change.
I push myself in every area of my life, sometimes to my detriment, because I know that there are women out there who can’t, and I will be a huge supporter of the women around me to become the best versions of themselves.
I’m lucky enough to work in a business headed up by a woman, and have some strong, inspirational women as my peers – all who earnt their positions through hard-work and credit given to them for what they deliver to our business.
The financial technology industry is male dominated with an average of just 26% of senior managers being women – showing that there is still far more to do in the promotion and encouragement of female leadership. In our global organisation, the Blackhawk Network Executive Leadership Team has 4 women (out of 9) holding positions of the Global CEO, Head of Legal, Head of Finance and Head of HR.
Another Michelle quote comes to mind – “When you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that door of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed”
I hope to inspire the women who work for me and who I work with on a daily basis. Some of my team will have been told to bring out their “inner Beyoncé” in the past – be proud of who you are, bring it every day and give everything that you have to be the best.
There are a number of ways that you can help to inspire the women in your businesses, made possible by the huge amount of resources available:
The classics such as Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ book, which came off the back of her infamous TED Talk all about how women need to ‘lean in’ at work, and be prepared to be heard
Elizabeth Day’s podcast ‘How to Fail’ where she talks to a wide range of celebrities about what they learnt from their biggest failures. This has also been turned into a book, which is a really inspirational read.
LinkedIn Groups are a great way to talk to peers – from Women in FinTech to Promoting Women in Leadership – they are a fab way to network, learn and both give or get support from others
The final reason that Michelle Obama inspires me is the way in which she has forged her own path, despite being married to one of the most powerful men in the world – it didn’t stop her constantly evolving as a person and she didn’t depend on him to get where she wanted to go. She found ways to use her new position to lead from the front with a new perspective. All of a sudden she was placed into the spotlight and made a stand to use it for the greater good.
For me, every day is an opportunity to evolve – I’m not the same person I was when I started at Blackhawk Network, but I believe this is for the better and some of that is due to the network of incredible people that I get to work with on a daily basis.
Anna Jaycocks, Marketing Director for the European region of Blackhawk Network has been with the business since 2017. With a background of over 12 years’ marketing experience, across some of the world’s biggest consumer facing brands, she now thrives on the challenges of the B2B world.
Anna’s key focus for 2020 is to promote and develop our corporate brand and the products that sit underneath it. She leads her busy team to provide a best in class service that supports across all aspects of the business.