When my middle daughter brought home an invitation from her school to participate in Career Day, I immediately replied. I remembered my Grade 7 Career Day and thought it was fun to now be at the stage of life where I would be the one at the front of the room. Little did the teacher expect me to tell kids to not get a job.
I’m not sure what the teachers thought of having an entrepreneur on the roster. I suspect they needed a certain quota of adults coming in, and were not very particular about who it was. In my first class, when I said “you don’t have to get a job.” I saw the alarm on the teacher’s face. Her eyes darted to the door and I am sure she was considering a dash to the office to report me. Heck, it would not have been the first time I’ve been kicked out of class.
I redeemed myself by stressing to the kids that the skills I learned in school have benefited me in my entrepreneurial life. I use middle school math skills when I’m measuring sales and quality performance, or calculating ROI. I use the research and writing skills I developed in university when working on marketing projects or preparing for a speaking presentation.
But overall, my message was that you don’t have to choose a job. You can create one for yourself. Or better yet, you can build a business which will create jobs for other people – the true definition of an entrepreneur, in my book.
I put lots of names up on the board and asked if anyone recognized them. William & Alfred Billes. Harrison & Wallace McCain. John McLaughlin. Ron Joyce. Mike Lazaridis. Some kids didn’t know that the Blackberry was developed by a Canadian company. Others didn’t know that Tim Hortons was a hockey player. My concern about our school system deepened. Now I was eyeing the door.
Then I asked the kids why there were only men listed on the board. “Why weren’t women in Canada creating companies 30, 50, 100 years ago?” I said. The responses were interesting. Many had no idea. One boy politely and earnestly said “girls are not able to be entrepreneurs”. It was heartening to see the immediate uproar from the girls. The poor boy really didn’t know better (what is his mother teaching him??).We talked about the difference between being capable and being allowed. Women didn’t even have full voting rights in Canada until 1919. Up to the early 1960s the cultural expectation was for women to give up their jobs to become wives and mothers. There was no room or time or space for starting companies and inventing things (ok, yes, there were academics, Elizabeth Arden, Elsie MacGill, and other trailblazers. I was trying to make a point with impressionable pre-teens, so cut me some slack).
I told the girls in the class that they had more opportunities than any generation of Canadians before them. That women can be visionaries and create companies just as well as men. Getting a job isn’t their only option. They can build and invent. My hope is that when those Grade 7 girls have children old enough to go to Career Day, the entrepreneur who presents can write the names of many famous Canadian women entrepreneurs.
All mothers (and fathers) who are solopreneurs, entrepreneurs, and franchisees should teach their kids that jobs are not the only option in life. We need the next generation of Christine Macgees, Cora Tsouflidous, and Sandra Wilsons.