There’s a quote by venture capitalist Peter Thiel that I’ve been sharing a lot recently: “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.”
I like it because despite all the promises of the future for improving how we got from A to B, it’s the technology that’s enabled us to stay in one place that’s really transformed how we live and work. And it’s especially delivered for women.
The above quote is cited in a manifesto paper called What Happened to the Future, arguing the rate of technological innovation has slowed. Indeed, the future didn’t happen as planned. Few could have predicted that 316 million people would actively use a micro-blogging platform that limits content to 140 characters, or that small business and entrepreneurship would proliferate through the use of selling and marketing mediums like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
Social media’s given women a platform like never before, and we’re using it: to have a voice, to connect, to agitate, to build an audience and to launch and run businesses. We’re no longer restricted to strict career paths that demand you’re in an office for a specified time, five days a week.
With the ability to work and market from anywhere, women are fast catching men on the number of businesses being launched in Australia, now making up a third of the 2 million currently operating.
On Wednesday night, we ran our third major event as part of our partnership with @TwitterAU at Australia Post in Melbourne. Following our one-hour workshop on how to use Twitter from a #PositionOfStrength, and after Australia Post kindly helped the audience network over drinks, we kicked off our second ever ‘Soapbox’ with 12 influential women.
We (literally) gave them a platform – a black box that sat a foot off the ground – asked them to stand on it for 140 seconds and share a great idea for women’s empowerment.
All of them delivered in different ways – through emotion, humour, personal story-telling and simple facts and figures.
We’ll be sharing more from each woman who participated over the coming days on Women’s Agenda, but today I wanted to offer something that emerged as a bit of a theme: The power of small business and the opportunity for women to branch out and do their own thing.
These are possibilities that are available because we now have the platforms to do so. Work no longer has to be a place you ‘go‘, but can instead be a thing you ‘do‘. Meanwhile, it’s easier than every to share why you do the work you do.
This message was kicked off by newly minted Small Business Minister Kelly O’Dwyer who pointed to examples of successful women who had a great idea and started from nothing, before promising that if you, “Back yourself, we [the Turnbull Government] will back you.” She said she wants to see more small businesses become large businesses in the future.
O’Dwyer’s 140 seconds happened to be followed by Cyan Ta’eed’s turn on the Soapbox. Ta’eed is a co-founded of tech company Envato that has transformed from small to very big, now employing more than 170 people in Melbourne.
Ta’eed’s message was around flexible work. As a leader, flexibility is something she’s been able to set the agenda on within her own organisation and to truly champion within the tech sector. Working flexibly herself and having seen her own career flourish with the support of her co-founder husband, she urged us to better support and encourage men to work flexibly, enabling them to have wholistic lives that include caring for family members.
“As long as we make flexible work a working mothers issue, women with children will always be handicapped in the workplace,” she said. “Men will lose the privilege of having a greater role in their children’s lives.”
Later, former government employee turned law firm owner Kate Ashmor challenged those in the crowd to think about how many hours, days and years of their lives they were giving to another employer. “Is your current job the best that you can do? Are your current hours working for you? Are you stuck in your office? How many years of your life are you wasting?” she asked.
These were questions Ashmor asked herself around two years ago, and eventually answered by making a change. “I walked away from a secure, successful, government legal job to start my own firm,” she said.
As Ashmor noted, women are now starting small businesses at twice the rate of men thanks to modern technology. There has never been a better time for women to create their own career paths and work from anywhere.
But it’s not just technology that’s enabling these opportunities for women to have greater control. It’s the platforms created to leverage such technology.
Such platforms might be as simple as a black box to stand on in front of a crowd that’s come together via digital means. Or it could be a platform that limits messages to 140 characters.
These are the platforms that connect, and give a voice to those who may have otherwise never been heard.
The flying cars can still come, as can the further advances in biotechnology, robotics, artificial intelligence, energy and even space exploration. Only now, such aspects of the future have a much better chance of being invented and developed by women.