International Women’s Day 2021: celebrate the life of Amelia Earhart

Today we celebrate International Women’s Day, with the message #ChooseToChallenge

This year’s campaign focuses on taking action for equality, by calling out bias, questioning stereotypes and celebrating women’s achievements. Women the world over want and deserve, an equal future that’s sustainable, with equal rights and opportunities. To get us there, the world needs women to have the freedom to make the most of every opportunity open to them. When women lead, we see positive results. 

Greta Thunberg and Anne Boden are two of the modern-day Eleanor Roosevelts and Marie Curies – the first woman to win a Nobel Prize – female champions, trying to make a difference, determined women who want to make their mark. When they do stuff, it’s remarkable – I’ve always admired Elspeth Beard, the first British woman to ride a motorcycle around the world, 1982-84. check out her book, Lone Rider, it’s a great read.

Deborah Meaden and Justine Roberts are role models for today’s female entrepreneurs, but for me, Amelia Earhart captures the very essence of female entrepreneurship, check out this quote from her, brimming with drive and focus:

The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life and the procedure, the process is its own reward.

Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Her disappearance in 1937 during an attempt to circumnavigate the world was a tragic loss. Her flying achievements are extraordinary and demonstrate her strength and spirit as a female pioneer, to be celebrated on this day.

With no previous interest, she attended a stunt-flying exhibition and became seriously interested in aviation. On December 28, 1920, pilot Frank Hawks gave her a ride that would forever change her life. Following this, she took her first flying lesson on January 3, 1921 and, in six months, managed to save enough money to buy her first plane. The second-hand Kinner Airster was a two-seater biplane painted bright yellow – The Canary – and she set her first women’s record by rising to an altitude of 14,000 ft.

Then in April 1928, she took a phone call: How would you like to be the first woman to fly the Atlantic? After an interview in New York with the project coordinators, she was asked to join the flight. She left Trepassey Harbour, Newfoundland, in a Fokker F7 named Friendship on June 17, 1928, and arrived at Burry Port, Wales 21 hours later. When the crew returned to the United States, they were greeted with a ticker-tape parade in New York and a reception held by President Calvin Coolidge at the White House.

George Putnam then entered her life. The two developed a friendship during preparation for the Atlantic crossing and were married February 7, 1931. Intent on retaining her independence, she referred to the marriage as a partnership with dual controls. Together, they worked on plans for Earhart to become the first woman and the second person to fly solo the Atlantic.

On May 20, 1932, five years to the day after Lindbergh, she took off from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, to Paris. Strong north winds, icy conditions, and mechanical problems plagued the flight and forced her to land in a pasture near Londonderry, Ireland. She’d done it. President Herbert Hoover presented Earhart with a gold medal from the National Geographic Society. Congress awarded her the Distinguished Flying Cross-the first ever given to a woman. Earhart felt the flight proved that men and women were equal in jobs requiring intelligence, coordination, speed, coolness, and willpower.

In the years that followed, Earhart continued to reach new heights. On January 11, 1935, she became the first person to fly solo across the Pacific from Honolulu to California. 

In 1937, as Earhart neared her 40th birthday, she was ready for her biggest challenge: she wanted to be the first woman to fly around the world. Despite a botched attempt in March that damaged her plane, a determined Earhart had the twin engine Lockheed Electra rebuilt. I have a feeling that there is just about one more good flight left in my system, and I hope this trip is it, she said.

On June 1, Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan departed from Miami and began the 29,000-mile journey. On June 29 they landed in Lae, New Guinea with just 7,000 miles remaining. Frequently, inaccurate maps had made navigation difficult, and their next hop to Howland Island was by far the most challenging.

Howland Island, in the Pacific, is a mile and a half long and half-mile wide. Every unessential item was removed from the plane to make room for extra fuel, which gave Earhart approximately 274 extra miles more. The US Coastguard was stationed just offshore of Howland Island and two other US ships, burning every light on board, were positioned along the flight route as markers.

On July 2, at 10am local time, the pair took off. Despite ideal weather reports they flew into overcast skies and intermittent rain showers. This made celestial navigation difficult. As dawn neared, Earhart called the US Coastguard reporting cloudy weather, cloudy. The Coastguard sent a steady stream of transmissions but she could not hear them. At 7.42am, the Coastguard picked up the message Fuel is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet.

At 8.45am, Earhart reported We are running north and south. Nothing further was heard from her. A rescue immediately commenced and became the most extensive air and sea search in naval history. On July 19, after spending $4m and scouring 250,000 square miles of ocean, the US government called off the operation. In 1938, a lighthouse was constructed on Howland Island in her memory. On 5 January 1939, Amelia Earhart was declared legally dead by the US Court. Neither the plane or bodies were recovered.

There is no doubt that the world will always remember Amelia Earhart for her courage, vision, and groundbreaking achievements, in aviation for women. In a letter to her husband, written in case a flight proved to be her last, her brave spirit was clear: Please know I am quite aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.

Amelia Earhart was before her time, showing many attributes of a C21st female entrepreneur that are worth noting:

She had a positive attitude  Earhart struggled at the outset as all entrepreneurs, but had amazing inner strength. She used adversity to her advantage. At the end of a struggle, you’re a better, more valuable person. Helen Keller said Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.

She had integrity Entrepreneurs don’t need to leave victims in their path to be victorious. You don’t need to step on others to step to the next level. Integrity must be the very core of your character. Always put honour before money and live by your convictions. As you gain respect and trust, your company will grow. Earhart created admiration for her endeavours, and her integrity was a key element in this.

She was focused on her next step Goals are dreams with a plan for realisation. Commit your short and long-term goals to writing. Record how and when you’ll achieve them. Post your goals in plain sight and review them often. Record the reward when the goal is attained. Remember that you can’t hit a mark you can’t see, and continual success demands a plan.

The greatest point of resistance for entrepreneurs is often just before breakthrough. Earhart had plenty of challenges, but constantly looked forward. We must have a stubborn resolve to see ourselves to the other side. When challenging circumstances seek to derail us, if we just take that next step, we’ll find that we’ve made it.

She had huge self-belief Look at any entrepreneur and you will see how much they believe in themselves. Self-belief is probably the single most important trait possessed by any successful entrepreneur. If you don’t believe you can succeed, then you won’t get very far. Of course, Earhart had this in spades.

She was driven by passion Successful entrepreneurs are always passionate about what they do because they tend to create businesses around the things they enjoy. Oprah Winfrey suffered a difficult childhood, then built a career around her passion to help others. Anita Roddick was passionate about environmental and social activism and her company, The Body Shop, was the first to prohibit the use of products tested on animals. Amelia Earhart was passionate about testing herself against unproven targets.

Find your own passion, believe in it and turn it into something you can really be proud of. As Anita Roddick once said To succeed you have to believe in something with such a passion that it becomes a reality.

She had a clear sense of purpose There is no point in starting a business unless you possess a strong sense of purpose. You have to believe that you are destined for great (and good) things. Just look at women like Coco Chanel or Oprah Winfrey – they believed they had a purpose in life. They wanted to make a difference, and they certainly did. To be a successful female entrepreneur you have to believe in yourself and believe that what you are doing is making a difference. That strong sense of purpose will be reflected in your business, which will only stand the test of time

She was fuelled by bravery and persistence Whether you’re a man or woman, it takes guts to start a business and deal with the challenges you will undoubtedly face. You have to constantly push yourself out of your comfort zone to move forward, taking risks and accepting that when things go wrong, you can always survive and turn things around. Be brave and you will never look back. We can only imagine Earhart’s bravery each time she set off on one of her ventures.

Just like Earhart, to be a successful, startup businesswoman, you have to be persistent and never give up. Such energy cannot be planned and managed, often entrepreneurs do not know where their impulse is taking them. They can give no account in advance of where they are going or explain completely where they have been. They have been possessed for a time with an extraordinary passion, which is unintelligible in ordinary terms.

Amelia Earhart is a model of the modern independent woman, and an icon of the spirit of adventure, her myth made all the more alluring by her mysterious disappearance and failure at her final challenge. Like all entrepreneurs, it was down to sheer effort, thinking big and bold, and having a clear focus.

Yet despite Earhart’s achievements and those of other iconic female role models, female entrepreneurs with the ability, influence and passion to transform a generation are often ignored, with just one in five startups that receive investment being founded by a woman. Why? One reason could be that female entrepreneurs seeking investment for their new idea are likely to be almost entirely male faces. Just 13% of senior investment teams are women, and almost half of investment teams have no women at all. This surely contributes to a stark gender imbalance in the businesses that investors fund. 

The gender bias female entrepreneurs face undoubtedly deters many. Add to this the reality that women still take on a far larger share of family related responsibilities than men, and it is no surprise that so few female innovators take the plunge. While this is fundamentally unfair in a diverse, democratic and open-minded society, it is also economically short-sighted – research shows that the UK is losing out on £250bn of economic value each year because of the daunting barriers facing women entrepreneurs.

The unprecedented energy and attention around gender equality for entrepreneurship makes this a moment when extraordinary progress is possible. We short-change women if we set our sights too low. In the earliest days of American democracy, Abigail Adams (wife of John Adams, and mother of John Quincy Adams) urged the architects of the Constitution to ‘remember the ladies’. As Earhart said, There is more to life than being a passenger. Now is your time.

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