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Ep 186: Empowering Our Daughters

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Episode Summary

Jo Wimble Groves, author of Rise of the Girl, shines light on how we can encourage teen girls to chase their dreams. Plus, she shares how to help all teens to find their passions, take risks and learn from failure—no matter their gender.

Show NotesInterview TranscriptGuest Bio

Full Show Notes

Our hope is that kids will shoot for the stars, dream big, and believe they can do anything they put their mind to. We encourage them to be ambitious, hardworking, and self assured. But sometimes, even when we act as their biggest cheerleaders, teenagers–especially teenage girls–can struggle with confidence! Kids are up against a lot these days, and young women face extra barriers despite years of fighting for equality. 

In many ways, these barriers are subtle, small forces within our culture. They aren’t written into our laws or taught in school curriculum, but they’re working against the ability of our teen girls to grow into the powerful individuals they were destined to be. It’s in the way adults tell young girls to be quiet and polite while letting boys run wild, or how we might comment a little more on the way our daughters look than our sons. But it doesn’t have to be that way! If we can learn to inspire our girls instead of inhibiting them, we can encourage all our teens to follow their dreams.

This week, we’re joined by Jo Wimble Groves, author of Rise of the Girl: Seven Empowering Conversations To Have With Your Daughter. On top of being a mom of three, Jo is also a successful tech entrepreneur as the co-owner of the global mobile communications company Active Digital. As she climbed the ladder to success, Jo felt that she didn’t always have the right role models or encouragement. Now, her goal is for today’s teens to feel like they can do anything they aspire to do, no matter their gender.

In our interview, Jo and I are discussing why we still have to fight for our daughters to have an equal chance at success! We’re also talking about how you can help any teenager find their passion, and how we can encourage teens to be comfortable with failure while on the road to figuring out their life’s purpose.

Why Our Girls Need a Confidence Boost

Teen girls today aren’t always encouraged to be the confident, outspoken people we know they can be–and it shows. In the episode, Jo and I talk about how boys are willing to raise their hand in class, even when they’re only sixty percent sure they know what they’re talking about. Meanwhile, on average, girls won’t raise their hands at all unless they are 100% they have the answer–and even then they’re reluctant! Girls often feel an overwhelming pressure to be perfect, or have a fear of judgment so powerful that they stay quiet, says Jo.

Jo explains that this might be due to our tendency to encourage young women to be “good girls”. While we often tell boys to run free and play, we’re more cautious with letting our daughters do the same thing. We might view them as more fragile or naive, praise them for being quiet and unobtrusive. And while it’s important to protect and praise our kids, Jo believes that the way we speak to our daughters might be doing more harm than good.

As kids grow older, this double standard often doesn’t change. Girls are told to be careful what they post online, how they dress, and how or express themselves, because we fear they’ll send the wrong message to predatory men or boys. But we often don’t have conversations with young men about how to be respectful towards women, says Jo. If we want to work towards a more equal and just society, we have to have conversations with young men too. In the episode, Jo and I talk about how we can have these kinds of talks with our sons.

Whether we’re talking to our sons or our daughters, we hope to guide them to not only impart values, but also help them find their passion. 

Helping Teens Find their Spark

Jo is an incredibly successful business woman, but before entering the professional world, she often struggled in school. For a long time, Jo felt that perhaps she lacked intelligence…but eventually discovered that her brilliance lay outside of academics! Every teen has something they’re naturally talented at, but it might not always be obvious right away. That’s why Jo encourages parents to sign their kids up for anything and everything. 

In our interview, Jo and I talk about how the teenage years are a time to explore and experiment! The stakes are pretty low, and if a teen doesn’t like something, they can easily try something else instead! If teens are lucky, all this experimenting will lead them to find what Jo describes as a “spark”: something that they love, that excites them endlessly and propels them into making the world a better place. Jo stresses that if we don’t encourage our teens, especially our daughters, to take risks, they may never find this spark!

When kids are in the process of discovering what they’re meant to do, they tend to quit a lot of things. It can be frustrating when they commit to the swim team for the whole year and even drag you to the store to buy a new racing swimsuit…but then suddenly don’t want to go to practices.  However, if teens are forced to keep doing something they don’t love, it might be holding them back from discovering what they do love. As Jo says in the episode, putting this kind of pressure makes teens “dreadfully unhappy”, and can put some serious strain on your relationship.

For teens and parents still figuring it all out, there’s bound to be some failure along the way. However, Jo and I talk about how failure is one of the best ways to get to success!

How Failure Leads to Progress

In our interview, Jo shares an interesting idea about how we can address failure in a productive way. When kids are trying over and over again to get something right, they might get frustrated. But Jo suggests we frame their fumbled attempts not as one-off failures, but as steps in the right direction! Instead of telling them they’ve gotten it wrong, Jo says, we should suggest that they just haven’t gotten it right yet. This helps them see why they shouldn’t give up after being met with obstacles, but instead persevere until they get the result they desire!

Jo explains that this can be shown through example, with parents being vulnerable enough to show kids that they too, make mistakes. It’s not always easy, especially when we’re trying to be the perfect parent–but the perfect parent doesn’t exist, says Jo. Showing kids that we can bounce back when we get knocked down can be a totally critical part of teaching them the skills to survive life. Plus, putting up a flawless facade isn’t going to make you a better parent, says Jo…..it’ll just make you more stressed out!

For young women, this kind of encouragement can be especially important. Women are constantly faced with the challenge of smashing stereotypes in male-dominated subjects and activities–meaning they’re expected never to mess up! If we can help them see the value in failing as a part of the road to success, they might feel more comfortable trying new things, messing up and improving until they’re prospering at their passion.

In the Episode…

It was so enlightening to speak with Jo this week about how we can help our teens find greatness, regardless of gender. On top of the topics discussed above, we also talk about:

  • How to know when a teen’s found their “spark”
  • Why role models are essential for young women
  • How you can initiate a deep conversation with your teen
  • Why we need more women in STEM fields

If you enjoyed this week’s episode, check out more of Jo’s work at jowimblegroves.co.uk or on Twitter @guiltymother. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week!

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Complete Interview Transcript

Andy: Talk to me a little bit about where it came from and what inspired you to write this book?

Jo: Yeah, so it’s been about three years in the making, and I was a young entrepreneur, and my brother and I went into business together when I was 16 and my brother was 20. I left school, and we went straight into business, and being very young, I was always quite confident, but I think role models are so important, aren’t they? Coming into the tech industry, which is the industry that we chose, I didn’t see many women like me who were in my industry who were showing me the way and showing me maybe what I should be doing or what I could achieve, and although I had this sort of confident facade, inside, I hadn’t really quite found myself, and you don’t at that age, do you? There’s so much more exploring that you have to do.

Jo: I think for a long time, I was thinking about my time at school. I was in some of the lowest sets, the grades of different types of science and mathematics, and I always felt like I had to really dig deep and worked really hard, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I always felt like I was in the bottom. And so, I wasn’t an academic. I didn’t go to university. That wasn’t the path for me, but I ended up going into business with my brother almost by accident, and he gave me an opportunity. He said, “Jo, I’m thinking about getting into the tech industry. I want to sell mobile phones,” and bearing in mind, Andy, this in the 1990s when mobile phones was really starting to take off across the globe.

Jo: So, it was a good industry to get into, and I put my hand up at 16 years old and I said, “You know what? I’m going to do it.” A lot of my friends were, again, at university and thinking about their future, having a great time, And I was already working, probably not paying myself a salary depending on how our week had gone, and it was really tough, but we have been running that business together now for over 25 years. We turn over over 7 million. We have offices across the UK and Ireland, and we look after amazing clients, and I have to pinch myself to say we made that.

Jo: But what it led on to, Andy, is me thinking as a woman in tech myself, I needed to be an ambassador for what I stand for because I didn’t have somebody like me. What I decided to do was actually to give back, and I’ve been spending time going into schools and universities and just talking to mostly girls but to boys as well and saying, “Your grades don’t need to define who you are or what your success can look like,” because I’m a really good example of that, of working hard, believing in myself. I focused on the things I was good at and tried to not think about the things that I wasn’t so good at, and I thought by focusing on my skills and by just being myself and really trying to put my hand up and take an opportunity without being afraid, and I just wondered how powerful that could be. And I stand in front of a room of 200 girls and I just have to think to myself if I could have just changed how one girl felt about herself that day I come away feeling like I’ve achieved something.

Jo: And then it obviously came to me. It takes me a long time to go around all the schools, and if I was to package that into a book, how powerful could it be? I could reach more people, right? I thought if I could package that into a book, maybe I could get to more girls, and it’s in the book as well. I talk one girl, one future because I always go into these talks thinking if I can just help one girl that day, I come away feeling like I’ve done some good, and that in became the mission for the book really.

Andy: Here’s something interesting that I found in your book. On page 45, you talk about an article published in Harvard Business Review in 2014 that revealed a shocking statistic. When going for a promotion, men put their hand up and applied for the job even when they only met 60% of the required qualifications, whereas women only applied if they met 100% of them. Men are confident in their abilities at about 60%, whereas women don’t feel confident if they’ve checked off each item on the list. Why is that so important? Why’d you include that in the book, and what do you think we should do about that, or how should we use that knowledge?

Jo: So, I thought that was really important because when I go into businesses with my sort of business hat on, we’re not seeing enough women in their thirties and forties going for promotion, and I wondered why. Is it this confidence gap that people talk about? Sheryl Sandberg talks about it all the time. We need more women at the table, right? So, we’ve heard that a lot. I just wondered if, because sometimes as girls, we have this sort of image of perfection is just more prevalent in girls in trying to get things right all the time. We’re not putting our hand up even when we think we can achieve. So, even if a girl has a hundred percent of the qualification, they’re not putting themself for, but because again, they have that fear of failure. What if it doesn’t work out? But what if it does? And I think men just have… Perhaps they’re just more natural risk-takers. I know that sounds more generalistic, but my husband would say the same. He would, I would a hundred percent just give something a shot.

Andy: Yeah, why not? Just go for it.

Jo: He’d go for it. He’s not worried about it. And I spoke to my daughter about this. She’s 12 years old. I said, “Erin, if you’re in a maths lesson and the teacher asks a question, what is the percentage that you need to be in order to put your hand up and give it a shot at the answer?” And this was really interesting, and she did say that if she’s not a hundred percent sure of it, she will not raise her hand in the classroom. And I said, “What if you are 75% sure?” She still won’t put hand up and she might have had it right.

Andy: Right. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Jo: She’s looking for perfection in that answer.

Andy: And that’s a lot of times more instructive when you don’t get it right, and you get to learn where the flaws are in your thinking.

Jo: If you’re not doing that at 12, when you get to 35 years old and you’re going for that promotion, she hasn’t been conditioned to do this and to put her hand up because no one’s told her to give stuff a shot. So, it’s really important that she gives things a go without worrying about whether it’s right or wrong but just having the opportunity to try.

Andy: Yeah.

Jo: I have to be careful what I say here because otherwise teachers will be like, “Jo, don’t keep telling everybody to put their hands up”.

Andy: Stop with all the wrong answers, people.

Jo: They’ll never get anything done in class because everyone’s got their hand up.

Andy: That doesn’t sound so bad to me. Talk to me a little bit about this, you have some of Howard Gardner’s research in here about the eight different types of intelligence, and you’re talking about the theory of multiple intelligences, beliefs no individual should be labeled with one specific kind of intelligence. People can have multiple strengths, in fact, a unique blend of strengths. I mean, why does that belong in this book about the rise of the girl, and how should parents think about multiple intelligences or use that information?

Jo: So, I really liked this when I was doing my research because sometimes when we think about being intelligent, it could mean that you’re a grade A student and you’re a whizz at maths or science or English.

Andy: Well, that’s what it means, yeah.

Jo: Well, there’s lots of different types of intelligence. Such as myself, so I might not have done very well at my maths and my English, I was very average, but actually my creative intelligence are amazing because I am now an author and I was able to package the things that I would consider as my strengths into shaping my career and my Journey. So, again, I just love looking at children as individuals and thinking about what their skill set are. There’s a famous guy called Dr. Peter Benson who I also mentioned in the book who talks about everybody having a spark.

Andy: That was the next thing I was going to ask you about.

Jo: Oh, I just love his TED Talk, and I love him. I just think the stuff that he was saying about how everybody has a spark and is just waiting to be lit, and I think through this sort of multiple intelligences, when you align all of that together, they really help to uncover who that individual is. When they find their passions and their strengths and the things that make them who they are, I think that’s when it all comes the fruition, and that’s when people can really find the things that they enjoy which may shape their future and may their career, such as mine.

Andy: Yep. Having that openness that you don’t really know what that is going to be for your kids and that you’re trying to help them discover, or I see the teenage years a lot of times as like a kind of a phase of experimenting. It’s like they’re a little scientist trying to find your spark, trying to find what it is that sort of brings together your abilities, your intelligences that really are innate to you, and also things that just get you going, that light you up and that you’re passionate about. And when you can find sort of the overlapping circles of those things, then that is… Your life becomes expansive from that point. Instead of trying to sort of force our kids into what we think is important or what we want them to get better at, sort of how do we take a step back and sort of guide them into discovering which intelligences are best for them and trying to find what that spark is for themselves.

Jo: Yeah. And I think children in particular can do that by trying different hobbies, trying different sports, and again, it all comes with not being afraid, putting your hand up to try something. And actually, there’ll be a lot of stuff that they probably don’t like, and that’s also really important to understand that. So, whether you try gymnastics, whether you try rugby, whether you try soccer, whether you go to girl guiding and maybe do lots of art and craft or do stuff outside, it could be archery, it could be anything. They could be a fantastic artist and be really creative. They could end up becoming an architect. They could think really, really differently, and being able to look at different things on different levels, but they can only do that if, as parents and caregivers, we open the opportunities for them so they can give stuff a try.

Jo: In most cases, I don’t know what it’s like in the States, but you can go and try stuff. They do trials. You can just get your trainers on and go and try things, and so many of my friends and people that I know almost found their passion by accident. There’s a great contribution in my book from Rochelle Clarke who’s a rugby player. She’s one of the most capped England rugby players in the world. She was telling me how being a 15-year-old, she was at school. She felt like she was quite chunky. She just defines herself as chunky when she was at school, but that’s the way that she was built. She never quite felt like she always fitted in. She wasn’t in that cool group. And then one day somebody asked her could she play rugby because somebody had dropped out, and she said, “I don’t know how to play. Am I the right person to ask?” They said, “Ah, just come along. Just give it a go. You’ll be great.” Actually, she went along, gave it a go, and the coaches said, wow, “This girl can play rugby.”

Jo: She ended up playing for her country which is obviously incredible, and just from almost started playing by accident. This coach saw that spark, saw that potential in her and thought, “Wow, she’s really good rugby player.” And what’s so lovely about it is that from being that 15-year-old thinking that I’m not tall and skinny and I don’t look like everybody else, her body is so strong. Her body became her strength and became her career, and I love that. I just think that’s such a powerful message for girls that rugby is for all shapes and sizes as well. My daughter’s quite small. She plays rugby. She’s great. She shoots up the wing and gets a try when people aren’t looking, and I just think whatever shape or size, there is a sport for everybody as well.

Andy: So, what exactly is a spark? You say there’s more. Dr. Benson has identified more than 220 different types of sparks. But I like some of these definitions that you have in here, give energy and joy, provide the feeling of being alive, useful, and purposeful, be so absorbing to the point that you lose yourself in the moment, originate from inside a person, be a skill, talent, interest, or gift, be a person’s prime source of meaning, self-directed action and purpose, have the potential to make the world a better place for others. What can we do to help our daughters recognize what their sparks are or to find those?

Jo: I suppose from a young age, girls need to understand what their own values are, and like you say, perhaps it even starts from building great friendships. Knowing that feeling of being kind, giving back. I don’t know about you, Andy, but I always believe in karma as well. You do good stuff, and all of a sudden, someone comes to you and they’ve got an opportunity for you, and that opportunity might end up lighting your spark. But I think from a young age, we have got to be those role models for our girls. We’ve got to show them what we’re doing, and I hope as well, I hope my children see me giving back and trying to help other girls and lifting them up because they are watching us all the time. Even my daughter is a role model for her brothers. They need to be watching her and seeing what she’s up to and how she’s building great friendships, how she’s being kind, helping other people, and being there for her friends, and just making sure that she’s just being a good person. Be a good person.

Andy: Yeah. But that’s interesting because you talk about being a good person, but you also talk in your book about not calling our daughter a good girl.

Jo: Yes. Well, there’s a difference, isn’t there? Being a good girl is a phrase that we’ve used that I don’t know… Being a good person means that you’re sort of being kind and being considerate. But there’s also the difference of being a good girl and staying in the lines because I think for a long time, we’ve praised girls for sitting quietly in the corner and not making any noise, and I’m sure I’m guilty of that.

Andy: Oh yeah. Right.

Jo: I have two sons and they’re really loud.

Andy: Just comes out. Yeah.

Jo: I know. I know. And she’s being a good girl because she’s-

Andy: So well behaved over there. Yeah.

Jo: Yeah. But then what I’ve also is how are we showing our girls how to use their voices and stand up for the things that matter for them, or stand up for the things when someone is being unkind, or being mean, or they’re being bullied because we’ve conditioned them for so many years to be good and be quiet. They need to take this opportunity now at every age really to stand up for the things that matter for them. Social media gets a bad reputation sometimes, but it has in many ways given children an opportunity to share the things that are important to them and have a voice online.

Andy: What do we do when our daughter runs into a problem that’s too hard and that they feel like they can’t handle, or that they say they can’t do, or they start talking about how they feel like they’re under too much pressure?

Jo: One of the things that we do a lot as parents I think is we talk to them a lot. We almost love the sound our own voices because as parents, we think we are conditioned that we are supposed to know all the answers. But when we get to this age that we are, we realize that our parents also didn’t really know all the answers.

Jo: One of the bits of advice that I give in the book and also was given through the contributors is to be an active listener. Because we talk so much, we don’t sometimes give our children the space that they need to really talk about the things that are on their mind or the things that are upsetting them, and we don’t always have all the answers, but sometimes… When I did this research, it said more than anything what teenagers want is they want to be heard. So, there’s lots of advice in the book such as how can we get that information out of our teenager? Because sometimes you think, “Right, we’re going to set at the kitchen table and I’m going to sit opposite them,” and it feels like an interrogation room.

Andy: Totally, yep.

Jo: That’s not what they want.

Andy: No.

Jo: The best thing to do sometimes is to go for a walk because actually when you’re side by side, you are almost impartial. No one is more important than the other person. You are completely in line, and not having that eye contact, you can do this in the car as well, not having the eye contact can also be a really good way of allowing them to just say, “Mum or Dad, I’m having trouble at school. This is happening. I just don’t know what to do about it. What is your advice and how can you help?” And have that time to gather your thoughts, get as much information out of them that you can, but they want the space to be able to talk freely without us just talking over them the whole time or having a go at them which is what we do. Tidy your room. You need to do this. You need to do that.

Andy: Right.

Jo: Have you handed in your homework on time? We’re always on top of them, but we need to be better including myself to be an active listener and to give them the space to talk about the things that are important to them.

Andy: What about how we sometimes suddenly discourage girls from doing things or from taking risks? You talk about how there’s a tendency to encourage timid behavior in girls. Researchers found that moms and dads were very likely to warn their daughters about the risks of playing on a fire pole and assist them on it, whereas boys were encouraged to a play on a fire pole despite any trepidation. We do this over and over and over again where our sons, we’re like, “Hey, yeah. All right, well, don’t have too much fun, but go enjoy the party.” And our daughters, we’re like, “Okay, well, it’s a big… We need to be really careful.” And we’re sort of subtly repeatedly sending the message in all of these different situations that risks are good and okay and fun for boys and are really serious and should be avoided by girls. I wonder how we can start to become more aware of that or not do that so much.

Jo: Yeah, absolutely right, and we’ve been doing it for generations, not intentionally. I’ve got two brothers and I don’t know if I was treated any differently because I think my dad in some ways was quite a modern dad because we all played basketball. We did boxing. We had these sort of motorbikes. We used to go out in the fields. I was always falling off, but I wasn’t told because I was a girl that I couldn’t do that. So, I’m pleased that I grew up knowing that I could try and do what my brothers were doing. But in that really interesting TED Talk by Caroline Paul where she talks about the boys going up the fire pole, and the girls, we’re like, “Be careful and don’t fall,” but why would a girl fall more than a boy, and I don’t know why we do that, but I think unintentionally we do because we just have this overarching need to overprotect them perhaps.

Andy: And even on social media, we’re like, “Hey, there’s sexting. You need to be really careful and these picture can go anywhere.” And then for our sons, we’re like, “Hey, be nice to people. Don’t bully people on there.” I don’t know. It’s just for every type of scenario, we’re sending double-standard messages in terms of how to behave or what to look out for. We don’t even realize it a lot of times. It’s just sort of we think we’re being helpful or giving good advice.

Jo: Yeah. But I think we need to be having more conversations with boys, that we should be raising these modern boys so that they are also understanding how girls are and what their needs are, but we don’t need to keep having all of this separation. You’re talking about the sex thing, but actually, why are we not talking to boys about that as well? And bullying can be just as harsh with girls, like you say, sometimes worse with the girls than maybe it can be with the boys.

Andy: Right.

Jo: So, sometimes the boys might do a lot more pushing and shoving where the girls can be very hurtful with their words.

Andy: Yeah. Right.

Jo: Maybe different types of style, both very, very hurtful.

Andy: But we just worry about our daughter being the victim more than our sons for some reason.

Jo: Yeah, we have issues here in the UK with women being able to walk down the streets and feeling safe. They are still real issues that are happening all the time. So, yeah, there is probably still a need for girls to be aware and to be safe, for sure. But when it comes to taking risks, I suppose it’s about showing them opportunities where they can take calculated risks and see whether that risk might be worth the reward.

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About Jo Wimble Groves

Jo Wimble Groves is the author of Rise of the Girl.

Jo is the co-owner of global award winning mobile tech company, Active Digital, a business she founded with her brother. They have been running the company together for over twenty years, a partnership that began when Jo was just a teenager. 

Jo is also a motivational speaker. She delivers talks and workshops encouraging more women to step into senior management roles within the business world. She also visits high schools and colleges to speak to students about building a successful future. 
Her blog, ‘Guilty Mother’ focuses on parenting, work life balance and how we build resilience into our children. It has 55,000 followers across the globe. Her writing has also been featured in The Guardian, Training Journal, Changeboard, InStyle UK magazine, Sky News and on The BBC. In 2010, Jo was selected in Management Today’s ’35 under 35′ in The Sunday Times. She’s won  three Women in Business awards in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and was featured in  We Are The City ‘Top 100 Women in Tech’ features.

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