Today on International Women’s Day, we celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women across the world – and I pause to celebrate three women of purpose, progress and power.
I have always been inspired by the British-born Kenyan aviator, racehorse trainer and author Beryl Markham. Adventurous, and independently thinking, Beryl was often described as a noted non-conformist, even in a colony known for its very colorful characters. At 18 years old, she became the first female racehorse trainer in Africa.
She was also the first person to fly solo, non-stop across the Atlantic from east to west. The flight, in appalling conditions, took more than 21 hours. She was famished, having eccentrically taken nothing more than flasks of coffee and chicken sandwiches; and was bitterly cold, even though she had refused an inflatable life jacket in preference for a thick winter coat. She embarked upon dozens of love affairs, some passionate, some just to pass the time of day, but wherever she went, Beryl Markham was legendary. Her book West With The Night was described by Ernest Hemingway as “bloody brilliant”. Life though, must have been hard for this woman of purpose, as she lived during a time of little respect for women’s success.
My grandmother was also an adventurer, born a year earlier than Beryl in 1901. A woman of beauty and serious money, who married a handsome man of royal lineage, took amusing lovers, traveled on yachts, stayed in palaces, wore spectacular jewels, furs, and killer outfits. None of this is particularly notable, but what is notable is the woman she became – not just as Vicereine of India, but during the war, where drawing on unexpected reserves of efficiency, she worked her way up through the volunteer bureaucracy, and rapidly became a British legend. Inspecting crowded, filthy air-raid shelters, reporting to the government on what was needed, and then making damn sure it got done. She visited appallingly squalid hospitals, welfare centers and camps in far-flung corners of the world, where few western women had ever traveled before, and used her considerable influence to improve them. Edwina Mountbatten became a War Star, always pressing for progress.
Then there is Sara Blakely, who is one of the top 100 most powerful women in the world, and the youngest self-made female billionaire in history. She believed in her entrepreneurial idea, trusted her instincts, and was not afraid to fail. Often asked what’s the best thing about being a woman in business, and what’s been the hardest, her answer is always the same… being underestimated. Sara also says “One thing that isn’t talked about enough is how hard I’ve worked to achieve my dreams. To reach this level takes a lot of sacrifice. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but it’s important to mention the degree of hard work that it will take to go after your dreams. It’s like a pact you will need to make with the Universe”.
Purpose, progress and power.