Things have changed significantly since my children were young. The world is a different place and seems to be moving at an incredibly fast rate. The pace of technology has increased exponentially hence creating issues that parents and children never had to deal with before. The way that people parent their children has also changed. With the ease of access to technology, there has been a shift in how parents and children spend their free time. People have become very reliant on technology and it has invaded almost every aspect of our lives. There are some amazing benefits to being so connected to technology but on the other side of that coin, we have started to become disconnected in our relationships.
A study conducted in 2017 showed that the average American spends about 3 hours a day on their phone. A decade ago, the average time spent on a phone was only 90 minutes. This huge increase has been attributed to the number of apps that people can download and use on their phone. We have become very distracted by our phones. I am definitely guilty of this as well but have been actively working on putting the phone down. It is an important lesson and it becomes even more important when children are involved.
Children pay very close attention to their parents. They pay attention to the words and actions of their parents so it is important for parents to remember to be mindful around their children. In many ways, children depend on their parent’s attention for their survival. When parents are physically present but not emotionally present, it has a very negative impact on a child’s well being. Parents are starting to become consumed by their cell phones and technology and it is important to remember to disconnect.
One of the main reasons to put the phone down is that children feel unimportant when they have to compete with the attention of their parent’s smartphones. When parents bring their phones to the dinner table, use them during family time or just generally spend a lot of time of them, the child feels like they have to compete with the phone for their parent’s attentiveness. Studies have shown that kids feel unimportant when they have to compete for the attention of a smartphone.
Technology provides a distraction, which is great for when we are waiting in line at the grocery store but when it comes to parenting, it can cause social and emotional harm to children. Distracted parents as a whole have a tendency to be unpredictable, less reliable and less attentive. Children need predictability and consistency because it helps them to develop sound emotional and social skills. Distracted parenting can lead to emotional disorders in children. The cell phone interferes with a healthy parent and child relationship leading the child to feel angry, alienated and sad.
The world is a busy place and parents have more on their plates than ever before. Most people get caught up in the hectic Monday through Friday whirlwind of work, school, and activities. Sometimes we just want to zone out with our cell phones for a bit. Instead, turn that focus to planning family activities. Setting aside quality time needs to be part of that hectic schedule. Include family activities on a daily or weekly basis. Have a phone-free dinner where everyone sits down at the table to eat and talk. Another good family activity is after dinner walks around the neighborhood to a local park. These types of activities encourage conversation and will create a healthy bond between parent and child.
Focusing on phone free activities with children is very important to their emotional and social development. Excessive use of the cell phone around children has been shown to negatively impact the child and it can be destructive to the relationship between parent and child. Even if you need to set a reminder to set the phone down, it will be worth it.
From a young age, my goal was to raise my children to be compassionate adults. As they grew up, they watched as I created numerous nonprofits that focused on helping impoverished children and families. It was my mission to help others that were lacking in resources and I devoted my time and energy to helping others. I exposed my children to these philanthropic activities and in turn, all three grew up and pursued their own philanthropic ventures. I am proud of my children and their accomplishments. I am proud that they grew up into empathic and caring individuals. As a mother there is no greater feeling than to know that my children have become global citizens who are helping others in need.
All three of my children have pursued their own passion for helping others by either participating in or creating nonprofits. One of my goals as a mother was to instill empathy, kindness and understanding in my children. I wanted them to grow up with a sense of compassion for others and the motivation to help those who are less fortunate. Philanthropy was and still is a huge part of my life and I wanted to share that with my children. I am proud of my children and am happy to see them pursue their own philanthropic passions. My son Pierce Bush is the CEO of the Texas chapter of the Big Brothers Big Sisters Nonprofit, a wonderful organization that provides mentorship for children to help them realize their full potential. My daughter Ashley tutors women at safe houses to help them earn their GED degree. My other daughter Lauren is the CEO and Co-Founder of the FEED Foundation, which has the mission to fight world hunger.
Empathy is not inherent in some children but it can be fostered. It has been shown that when children learn to be empathic early in life, they grow into adults that are compassionate and understanding. People that are truly empathic typically have a high emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence normally includes the following three skills: emotional awareness, the ability to harness those emotions and finally the ability to manage the emotions of both the individual and other people. These skills are essential to navigating positive relationships with family, friends and co-workers. Teaching children empathy from a young age will help them grow into successful, kind and well-rounded adults.
There are a variety of simple ways that parents can help foster empathy in their children. It does not take much for a parent to create a teaching environment that fosters empathy. Parents are the first role models a child has in life. They set the tone for how their children learn how to navigate relationships, manage emotions, and solve problems. It is up to the parents to encourage children to be more empathic. It does take time to develop empathy so parents must be patient when working with their children. Empathy is something that needs to be practiced on a consistent basis so it is important to remember that it will not be learned over night.
First and foremost, a family must create an atmosphere of empathy for the children. Create moments and opportunities for kids to ask questions and to express their feelings. Start by giving them the opportunity to learn about empathy. Have discussions with them about what empathy is and give them examples of what it looks like in the real world. Children have to learn how to be empathic so it is important to create a classroom atmosphere for them. Approach teaching children empathy like a teacher would approach teaching a subject to their students.
The second thing parents can do to help their children learn empathy is to lead by example. Show children how to model feelings by showing them warmth and empathy. It is true that children are little sponges that soak up everything they see and hear around them. They learn by watching others and are greatly influenced by those around them. By modeling these types of positive emotions through acknowledging and valuing others’ feelings, children will in turn become more empathic. Also, when children express negative emotions like anger and frustration, it is important to acknowledge how they are feeling. By acknowledging and labeling the feeling, parents are showing them how to deal with the negative emotions in a positive manner.
A way to really drive home this lesson is consistency. As a parent, you have to be consistent with your actions and words. As mentioned above, children are sponges who soak up everything around them. They are always watching and learning and if a parent is not consistent with their own words and actions then the child will get mixed messages. For example, if a parent is preaching being kind to others and then the child witnesses that parent yell or belittle their spouse, the child will not truly understand empathy. Praise and be kind to your child, your spouse, and others so you can be the role model your child deserves. Practice what you preach with consistency and your child will learn how to be truly empathic.
The final way that parents can teach empathy is to provide a narrative and context to feelings and emotions. Talk with your children when they see complex emotions being displayed or if they themselves are experiencing those emotions. Explain the reasons why people feel the way that they do and help them by asking questions. For example, asking a child, “Emma is sad because she fell and hurt her knee. What you think will make her feel better?” This type of conversation starter will help them to connect feelings with thoughts and behaviors. It helps to open the communication channels between yourself and your child, which will set the tone for an open and honest relationship between parent and child.
Empathy is a valuable tool for helping children manage their behaviors and emotions and teaches them how to solve complex issues. It also helps children to maintain a healthy self-esteem. Schools put a lot of emphasis on learning subject matters like math, English, history, ect. and it is easy to get caught up in focusing on learning those subjects. However, empathy is just as valuable as learning how to add and subtract. Learning empathy from a young age will help your child to navigate the world at large. It will help them to better understand other people and will give them the appropriate means to be successful in their personal relationships and their professional relationships.
My first job out of college as a young woman was teaching at an inner-city elementary school. At this school, I witnessed the indescribable treatment of some of the students at the school. I witnessed children being abused, mistreated, and not given enough to eat. These children, despite all their difficulties at home, came to school wanting to learn and participate to the best of their ability. They faced numerous obstacles but were determined to learn and be present in the classroom. This experience taught me that there are very vulnerable members of our society that need to be protected and soon I would be compelled to help other children and their families. From there, I created a nonprofit named the Karitas Foundation. The Karitas Foundation focused on increasing funding for homeless and abused children. This was the start of my mission in life.
At the time, I was so focused on creating the foundation that I did not properly reflect on the long-term, positive impact that philanthropy would have on my children, my community, and myself. Now looking back on my years of volunteering and serving others, I have found that the benefits of getting involved and giving back are far greater than I originally anticipated. I now see the far-reaching impact that philanthropy can have on an individual and on a wide variety of others. I originally started to get involved with my community because I had this overwhelming desire to help others, especially children and women but now I can see that philanthropy accomplishes more than just the obvious. It provides more functions in society than just helping a specific group of people. Here are the five different ways that philanthropy can help build a better sense of self, family and community.
Philanthropy can help teach your children valuable life skills:
When working for a nonprofit, money can be tight. Allocating money to the appropriate resources in order to accomplish a goal can teach an individual a lot about money management. Also, when looking to donate, people must allocate their own money appropriately so they can help give back to a cause. Whether you run a nonprofit or are looking to donate one, bring your children in on the decision making process. It will teach them to allocate money appropriately and to resources that matter.
Philanthropy also teaches children empathy. It shows them that there are other people out there in the world that are facing a variety of challenges and that it is important to help those that are less fortunate. Empathy is a powerful tool that helps children to connect with others and to cultivate an emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is key in helping children recognize their own emotions and the emotions of others. Empathy is directly related to emotional intelligence because it helps people to connect their own personal experiences with the experiences of others.
Philanthropy can unify a family:
Bringing the family together to give back to the community can create a very strong bond amongst the family members. Bring the family together to research a cause or a nonprofit that is important to their community. When a cause has been decided on, discuss with your children how participating and donating can be very impactful on both other people and the community. For example, discussing homelessness and how one can help will highlight the issue in the community and what one can do to help. You can take your children to serve food at a soup kitchen or take them to buy toiletry items to donate to the local YWCA. These kinds of activities will help a family grow closer and will create a bond that is genuine. Anytime a family participates in an activity together it will create a strong family bond.
Giving back and volunteering can benefit one’s health
There is a personal benefit to giving back and it is that it positively impacts your health. Volunteering to clean up your community by picking up trash gets you out and walking. Being active helps to reduce stress and there is a double bonus when you are getting out volunteering because it helps others. Volunteering to help those in need also can help those who suffer from depression. Studies have shown that volunteering helps facilitate a social connection, which helps alleviate feelings of loneliness. It also has been linked to a raise in self-esteem, which helps elevate the way you feel about yourself and gives you a new purpose. Volunteering provides a variety of health benefits in addition to helping a community.
Volunteering creates a domino effect of giving
Philanthropy is contagious and inspirational. When people see others pitching in and helping their community it inspires them to do the same. Children learn to give back by watching their parents donate their time and money to a cause. My children grew up watching me create and run a nonprofit that helped women and children. As adults each one of them has spent time donating, volunteering and helping a variety of causes and nonprofits. It has been such a joy to watch my children contribute in many ways to help individuals both in the United States and in other countries. Watching others volunteering or donating is very inspiring and emboldens others to also participate in giving back.
Provides a community with a better future
Children are our future. Some children are not given the same opportunities as others. From my experience teaching at an inner city school, I saw children who did not get enough food or enough sleep and how it would negatively impact their day at school. These children, despite struggles at home, wanted to learn and succeed more than anything. If the children in the community are suffering, then the community will suffer. Volunteering to help these children gives them the building blocks for a better future. It helps them to live up to their fullest potential. Helping children who come from limited means enables them to grow into strong, community-oriented leaders.
Since a very young age, I looked up to my teachers. I knew that more than anything I wanted to encourage and mold young minds. I started my young adult life by studying and becoming an elementary school teacher. It was a dream for me to work with children and I wanted to make an impact on both their education and their lives.
I taught first grade at an inner city school. These adorable and innocent 6 and 7 year olds taught me so much about their challenging lives. They opened my eyes to the difficulties that children from the inner city face growing up at a socioeconomic disadvantage.
Most days the students would come to school on an empty stomach, so we provided them with a free breakfast meal. Most children welcome holidays and days off from school but not my students. Some were frightened of their home life and never wanted to go home. Some children were kept awake all night by alcoholic parents and they would come to school needing some sleep. Other children did not have any support at home hence making their daily lives very difficult.
I will never forget my first week of teaching these first graders. One student named Alan came to school looking so exhausted. He had dark circles under his eyes and he was having difficulty staying awake. He asked me if he could take a nap. Of course, I told him yes.
It was important that I never left these children alone, as they were sometimes unruly. Per my rules, at bathroom time I would chaperone my 28 students in a single file to the restroom. At that point, Alan was sound asleep but I knew I had to wake him and make sure he was part of our group. Alan was hard to wake up but I was able to rouse him and get him in the line for the bathroom break.
As we all made our way to the bathroom, Alan started walking very crookedly- almost like a drunken sailor. I was startled by his inability to function and his extreme drowsiness so I asked my superintendent to call an ambulance. The ambulance came quickly, thank God, and rushed Alan to the emergency room where they discovered he had overdosed on his mother’s Valium pills. They pumped out his stomach and saved his life.
I will never forget this experience as Alan could have died in my classroom if it were not for my restroom rules. I was devastated by this experience and my heart broke for this poor child. He had managed to ingest enough Valium to overdose unbeknownst to his family. It was in this moment that I realized my mission in life.
This event showed me clearly how vulnerable some of these kind and innocent children were. I learned so much about their way of life and it was a total eye opener for me to hear their everyday stories of their parents drinking, leaving them alone at night, going to jail, drug abuses and so much more. It was in that moment that I decided to make it my mission to help children like Alan.
I remember at the end of this teaching year I was astounded at how much these children, in spite of their extreme difficulties at home, could learn and grow. They ended up learning how to read, write and displayed extraordinary math skills.
Looking back on this I realize that it was my most accomplished teaching year. These students had difficulties at home yet they were able to put everything aside in order to learn and succeed. I realized at that moment that I would always try however I could to teach and help vulnerable children.
I have since spent my adult years as a founding director of KIPP Academy. We had 2 schools when I started (one in NYC and one in Houston) and after 7 years we grew to 85 schools around the country. I am proud to say that there are now more than 200 KIPP schools around the country serving underprivileged children from kindergarten – 12th grade.
I am also now a development director for Cristo Rey Brooklyn high school. We serve underprivileged students in 9th- 12th grade. EVERY student in our school of 320 students graduates from this school and EVERY student goes to college on a full scholarship. This is life changing for these students as no one in their family has ever even graduated from high school. We are the only parachute out of their desperate situations and they are all eager to get out- given an opportunity and a nurturing, scholastic environment.
I feel that if one can offer a helping hand in this world, then our lives were not lived in vain. Sometimes even the smallest acts of kindness or generosity can have a lasting impact on someone and I believe that if more people reached out to help others, the world would be a better place.
The holiday season can be quite hectic for most people. We often get bogged down with the hustle and bustle of Christmas and New Years. It’s the most wonderful time of the year and as wonderful as it is to spend all that extra time with friends and family, there are others that need to be remembered during this time. Last Christmas Eve, both my family and I volunteered for an amazing organization called the Forgotten Soldiers Outreach, Inc. located in Florida. This organization sends care packages to service members that were unable to be at home this holiday season. This event greatly affected me beyond what I expected.
Forgotten Soldiers Outreach, Inc. based in Lake Worth, Florida, is a nationally recognized organization that sends out monthly care packages to deployed military members. Military members can either register themselves or can be registered by family, friends, or commanding officers to receive a “We care” package filled with much needed toiletries, snack food, batteries, drink mixes, comics, personalized letters of encouragement and much more. All care package items are donated from people all over the United States. The mission of this organization is to support the deployed military service members to make sure that they are not forgotten during a long and difficult deployment.
Since 9/11 there have been 2.77 million service members that have served on 5.4 million deployments according to an analysis done the Rand Corporation. Deployment is highly taxing and the stress, loneliness and fear felt during deployment is compounded during the holidays. Being away from loved ones during this time can cause additional anxiety, fatigue and feelings of isolation. Forgotten Soldiers Outreach sends care packages to these soldiers to make sure that they know that they are remembered and appreciated. Being away from home is hard, for the brave service members it is even harder.
When my family and I volunteered to help create the care packages with Forgotten Soldiers Outreach on Christmas Eve, I was unprepared for how much it would affect my emotions. When interviewed during the event, I was overcome with emotions when thinking about how important these heroes are to our country and how much they sacrifice for the safety of the nation. They are apart from their family and friends and more than anything, I wanted these soldiers to know how much they are appreciated and remembered. I am so thankful for the opportunity to create these “We care” packages for service members and to spend time volunteering with my family. There is no other place I would have rather spent my Christmas Eve.
I will continue to support and help this worthwhile cause. It is so important to support these soldiers and send them care packages so they realize how much we appreciate and understand ALL that they do, by risking their lives, so that we can live in freedom.
The foundation is called Forgotten Soldiers because people forget about them and take them risking their lives for us, for granted. The soldiers are our hero’s and should be remembered and appreciated every day.
The holidays aren’t the only time that our soldiers should be recognized for their service; the Forgotten Soldiers Outreach can use your help year round. Although they are located in Lake Worth, they accept donations for the packages from all over the country. They also accept monetary donations through their website. Please visit their website for more ways to help out deployed soldiers.
Women in roles of leadership and especially those building their own business are becoming more commonplace in modern times. As a culture, women have made considerable strides in the last few decades making their way into positions of authority. Women in business are stepping outside of traditional roles and thriving in the professional world. With every step forward that women take in society, there were women before them who were breaking ceilings and making room at the table. Today, with hard work, sweat, and determination, women can lead and build businesses successfully. Women can help other women learn from the lessons they faced in the past, helping and encouraging the future of women in business.
Women entrepreneurs know that the entrepreneurship grind does not come without hardships and struggle. Relying on the experience of other entrepreneurs who have gone before them can help them make the trek slightly less complicated. Seasoned and experienced mentors can be an excellent resource for budding women entrepreneurs. Sharon Bush is an entrepreneur who has expressed that women with more life experience can extend a helping hand to younger generations. Bush has started several businesses of her own and knows a thing or two about starting your own business.
Sharon Bush took the initiative to start several companies and foundations that help children in the United States and internationally. One of these ventures is called Teddy Shares. When a teddy bear is purchased from Teddy Shares, a Plump’Nut supplement is given to children who need nutrients and nourishment. Sharon Bush has also worked to leave a greener and more environmentally conscious world to future generations. She oversees business development for two companies, Protein Matrix, and GreenStract. Both focus on how we can better improve how we dispose of and break down waste. Sharon Bush has also invested her time as a board member in organizations that are vessels for positive change. Some of these include the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) and the UN Women for Peace Association (UNWFPA). As a mother, entrepreneur, business-woman, and teacher, she brings a wealth of information on the matter of balancing business and life. Sharon Bush passed on her entrepreneurial spirit to her children. Her daughter Lauren Bush is the CEO of a company called FEED, which also focuses on tackling the problem of world hunger. [LinkedIn]
As an experienced entrepreneur, Sharon Bush’s advice is to be open about your gender-related struggles. When we share stories about our experiences, our efforts, and how we grew through them and overcame them, we can give hope to those going through their own experiences- that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and hardships can produce great learning. Society places high expectations on women. To have it all together all the time and not look like you are breaking a sweat is delusional and a reality in which a normal human being would not thrive. To truly succeed, there naturally will be struggles along the way. Being open and authentic about those struggles allows people to relate, not feel alone, and give them a boost of confidence. To know that others who have gone before you and made it through also provides a sense of comfort. Women entrepreneurs are becoming more common, but you still might be a minority in a business world of men; know that what you feel, see, and experienced is not uncommon. Being vulnerable about your past struggle while navigating the entrepreneur world, can make a newcomer not feel so alone.
Bush also talks about intentionally seeking out high achieving professionals and being a mentor, taking them under your wing. To build up the next generation of professional high achieving women, it is essential to see them for where they are at and give them the advice and guidance you wish you could have had. It is crucial that women give each other a hand up and spread knowledge and wisdom where one can. With this mentorship comes a level of honesty that is intended to help. Bush also talks about giving feedback, even if it’s negative. To grow we need to be aware of where gaps exist, and sometimes it takes an outside eye to identify areas of growth.
Starting your own business is no small undertaking. Thankfully today, women can connect with those who have gone before who can mentor and advise on the rollercoaster of entrepreneurship. It’s safe to say that being an entrepreneur can bring some extreme highs and lows and having one person to lend an ear or offer advice can make a significant impact on your experience.
Pictured: Voss Road Flooded by Hurricane Harvey
I was so proud when my son Pierce was named CEO of Big Brothers & Sisters Lone Star in 2015. As the largest Big Brothers Big Sisters agency in the world, it covers Houston, North Texas, and West Central Texas.
Weeks ago, as the news focused on the impending hurricane, Harvey, my thoughts were with Pierce, and the children he helps every day. Then, on August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas. By Sunday evening there was catastrophic flooding in Houston and the surrounding areas.
As the disaster continued to unfold, and life-saving measures were taken– from opening shelters to rescuing people from rooftops- I could only imagine the fear and heartbreak being experienced by the children who are part of Big Brother Big Sisters.
I raised my own children in Houston, and was devastated when I saw that Voss Road, the street I used every day when I drove my children home from school, was underwater.
Pierce may or may not remember those trips with the same fondness I do, but while I’m heartbroken at the photos, I couldn’t be prouder of my son now as he responds to the overwhelming problems that face all of Houston as they emerge, literally, from the floodwaters.
This is the note he sent:
Because of my involvement with Big Brothers Big Sisters, I have often told friends that the divisive news cycle we see on the television screen is not the reality I get to see every day. For every day when I arrive at work, I get to see a world in which people sacrificially give their time, energy, love and resources to young people whom they would likely not meet otherwise, all in an effort to make their lives better. They simply understand that when a kid is suffering in our community, we are all suffering no matter if that kid is related by blood or not.
In the face of tremendous tragedy, we have seen tremendous care. I am deeply moved by the stories of people helping their fellow neighbors during this tragic storm and love the city of Houston which I am honored to call my home. It is a city that embraces the incredible diversity of its people and takes pride in being the most diverse city in the USA. It is a city that is open and friendly to all who want to make a better life for themselves. It is a city that looks today what America will look like tomorrow. Because of how Houston has acted during this storm, it is safe to say that America will always be the greatest, most welcoming place on earth, because its people are good.
Thank you, Houston, for being so awesome! We will rebuild our great city for all of our neighbors.
— Pierce Bush
Clearly, even with the courage, strength and optimism of people like my son, it will take years to rebuild Houston. But Houstonians are big hearted, and always help each other.
Texas Governor, Greg Abbot, said, “We need to recognize it will be a new normal, a new and different normal for this entire region.”
Right now the focus is on emergency relief. But, as the waters recede and the people in this place I love come together to create their “new normal,” it uplifts me tremendously to know that all the water, and destruction, have not damaged the spirit of the city– the people.
I couldn’t be prouder of my son and my city.
Saying prayers for everyone.
Girlboss. Lady boss. Mompreneur. No matter what you call them or how you feel about the cutesy nicknames, there’s no denying that women entrepreneurs are having something of a cultural moment. From the Netflix Girlboss TV show, featuring a woman who starts her own fashion empire, to the real-life moguls rounding out Forbes’ list of the most powerful women in business, women have made it into the big time, and people are paying attention.
The best part about more women breaking into the ranks of boardrooms and corner offices? It puts us in a position to recognize and identify other capable women that we can pull up to the top with us. Here are some specific ways that we can act as mentors to our fellow females:
- Be open about your own gender-related struggles.
Don’t think you’re doing a good deed by sweeping any difficulties you’ve faced as a woman under the rug. If women don’t hear other women talking about how frustrating and lonely the working world can feel sometimes, they’ll wonder if there’s something wrong with them instead of with the situation. So tell them about the time when you were the only woman in the room and you felt like everyone doubted your right to be there. Tell them about the time when you felt like your voice wasn’t being heard. Tell them about how hard it is to succeed both in the office and at home, and about how sometimes on your worst days you’ve felt like you’re failing at both. Most importantly, tell them that you pushed through it and stuck with it.
Feelings of gender-related frustration are completely normal, and it’s important for women to hear that from more accomplished women that have lived through it all. Honesty breeds trust. It also sets expectations appropriately. You may not be able to give her the magic answers to all of the struggles she’ll face, but at least she’ll be prepared to face them.
- Don’t wait to be approached. Look out for high-achieving young professionals and take them under your wing.
Asking for advice from a senior-level professional can be intimidating, and women new to the working world may be unsure about how to broach the topic of mentorship. Instead of putting the pressure on her to make the first step, take the initiative and do it yourself.
First, let her know that your door is always open if she ever needs advice or wants to talk. Remind her that you were in her shoes once, too. Then, take an active interest in what she does. Start small by always asking questions and showing interest in how she’s feeling about work. Ask what frustrates her and what excites her. Walk her through some of the tougher leadership decisions you’ve been making so that she gets an insider’s view on your thought process. Keep the conversation going.
You don’t even need to officially apply the “mentor” label; let your relationship grow naturally.
- Establish a formal support group for women within your company.
From “Lean In” circles to Women’s Issues working groups at work, a more formal affinity group or support group for women can be an excellent way to expand the idea mentorship besides the traditional one-on-one approach. If your company doesn’t already have one, consider starting one.
In this way, you can be one of a group of senior-level mentors that helps tackle company issues head on and encourages women to support each other in the workplace. By talking about your experiences in groups instead of one-on-one, everyone involved will be exposed to a wide variety of advice; different things work for different people. Plus, you’ll develop your own professional network at the same time.
- Never hesitate to give her feedback, even if it’s negative.
As a mentor, one of the most useful contributions you can make to her future success is to give her specific, actionable feedback. Especially in a large and more formal workplace, honest feedback can often be hard to come by.
Don’t just focus on the positive feedback, either. Tell her what she’s doing wrong, and what she can improve on. Tell her that you noticed she seemed nervous speaking in front of everyone, ad recommend some practice tips or that she join a Toastmasters group. Tell her that you think she needs stronger leadership experience, and recommend specific ways for her to improve.
If specific and genuinely constructive criticism comes from someone she respects and who she knows has her best interests at heart, she’s more likely to listen. A true mentor wants their mentee to become stronger, and that means having the tough conversations.
For women entrepreneurs over the age of 50, the odds seem to be in their favor. Recent data shows that the 55-to-64-year-old age group boasts the highest rate of entrepreneurship among Americans. Female founders are on an upward trend, too. Older female entrepreneurs may not meet the common caricature of the spectacled young techie founders running Silicon Valley, but they’re clearly thriving–and with good reason. Middle-aged women are at a time in their lives that’s ripe for innovation and entrepreneurship. Here’s why:
- We know from personal experience what over-50’s want.
Companies are tripping over themselves to market to millennials, the largest demographic in the U.S., numbering about 80 million. If they can only crack the code to being “cool,” the thinking goes, they’ll reap the financial rewards accordingly.
But their laser focus on the young adult market carries risks. Over-50s hold 80% of the developed world’s wealth, and as more of them make their way to retirement, they’re ready to start spending. And with women making the majority of household purchasing decisions, who better to lead the way in developing new products for the over-50 market than female over-50 entrepreneurs themselves?
- We’ve spent a lifetime building up our networks.
One critical factor in building a successful business is finding the right people on your team. While a just-out-of-college entrepreneur can hire a headhunter and perform multiple rounds of interviews, it takes time and effort to form an effective group of key employees. Older entrepreneurs, on the other hand, are more likely to have already built a deep bench of people that they have worked well with before and can trust. Drawing from that bench will let them hit the ground running.
Those strong networks built up over the years will come in handy not just for hiring the right people for the job, but also for marketing products and generating excitement and publicity. With a full career behind us and the contacts to show for it, we’re starting two steps ahead of fresh-faced college graduates.
- The numbers and the research are both on our side.
From Mark Zuckerberg to Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the media loves to tell stories about twentysomethings with fresh ideas building successful enterprise giants from the ground up. It’s interesting, it’s exciting, and it’s dramatic. But when you look at the numbers, these young founders are far from the norm. In fact, they’re actually the ones who beat the odds; there are twice as many entrepreneurs over the age of 50 as there are under 25, and 38% of founders are over the age of 40.
Research shows why those findings make sense: according to a Kellogg study, people are truly becoming more innovative at older ages. It takes time for all of our education and work experience to settle in our brain and trigger new ideas about better ways of doing things. In today’s world, where people are living longer, healthier lives, older entrepreneurs have the energy and the resources to act on those ideas.
- We’re thinking about building our legacy.
As a general rule, women over 50 are starting to think about building our legacy for the future, meaning that we’re not slowing down–we’re speeding up as we start to envision the finish line off in the distance. Psychology bears this theory out. 50-year-olds are solidly in the seventh developmental stage, “generativity”, of psychologist Erik Erikson’s eight developmental life stages. The “generativity” stage is defined as a time of increased productivity and creativity, as people want to contribute to society and the world around them. Think of it like a “midlife crisis” in the sense that 50-and-overs are ready to take risks and make major life changes–but in a good way, and not actually a crisis at all.
- We’re pursuing less crowded markets.
Popularized by Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, many modern entrepreneurs aim to pursue a “blue ocean strategy” in which their product won’t have any competition, so that they can expect to capture a greater share of the potential market. With the product landscape targeting tech-savvy twentysomethings oversaturated, that creates a prime opportunity for over-50 entrepreneurs to innovate new products targeting the increasing number of older Americans, a market that is relatively wide open: only 10% of marketing budgets are designated for the 50+ age group, even though they account for over half of all consumer expenditures in the U.S. That’s a huge missed opportunity, and older entrepreneurs are in the perfect position to take advantage of the imbalance.
Keep Your Eyes on Women Over 50
While Forbes touts its youth-focused “30 under 30” list, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the next great innovation will be born out of youthful exuberance; it’s more likely that it will be born out of old-school wisdom, and that that wisdom will come from a woman over 50.
Below is a video of Sharon Bush speaking at the Lobkowicz Palace in Prague at the European Families in Business Conference for Campden Wealth. She was a keynote speaker discussing overcoming the glare of the spotlight and empowering the next generation to become healthy contributors to society.
Sharon Bush is an accomplished philanthropist who has worked for nearly four decades to bring resources to underprivileged women, children and families around the world. Her altruism and business acumen have had a powerful results, and many global organizations have recognized her humanitarian efforts with awards and accolades.