As a publisher of books written by a plethora of wonderful females from the county of Yorkshire, I felt it appropriate to mark International Women’s Day (which falls this Sunday, March 8th 2020).

My stipulation for any woman taking part in this project was that they were from Yorkshire (if not originally born in the county, that they were currently living here).

The plan…

I initially asked the ladies I knew; and if I didn’t know the respondent personally, she was at least someone in my wider network. I also wanted to focus on ‘ordinary’ women, i.e. no one in the public eye. My intention was to show that these ‘ordinary’ women were anything but, and that every female you pass on the street, that you sit next to on public transport, who serves you when you’re shopping, who comments on the same post as you…that she is, indeed, extraordinary.

I wanted to find 31 women who were willing to take part. I’d ask each of them the same simple questions, publishing each individual’s responses on Instagram and Facebook each day during the 31 days of March.

What actually happened…

I sent the brief questionnaire to 31 ladies (and a few more for contingency). Then Christmas happened, so no one (myself included) placed the project at the top of their priority list. Towards the end of January, however, I realised how little time there was until International Women’s Day and I duly chased my subjects for their responses. I definitely didn’t want to pester anyone, so after a couple of nudges I left people alone.

As the project stands, five of the 31+ wonderful women I contacted took time out of their lives to send me their replies.

As well as their five responses, I do feel there’s something extra that I’ve learned from this exercise.

What this project has shown me

Every single one of the 31 women I got in touch with is crazy busy. They’re being pulled in one direction or another – by children, partners, parents, siblings and friends, who all want a piece of them. And that’s before you throw in work commitments, hobbies and downtime (which is as much a priority as anything else).

The life of a female, in my humble opinion, is always being ‘on duty’. It’s intense. There’s not one ounce of ‘spare’ time. Every commitment, every appointment…every second…has to be carved out of a hectic, packed schedule.

I’m incredibly indebted to the ladies who you will now meet. The five of you ROCK!

Louisa Rodriguez

I am a free spirit, who just wants to live as much life as I can, experiencing everything life has to offer, embracing every opportunity. To me, life is about the people we meet and the experiences we have, listening and learning and embracing new experiences provides a richness to our lives.

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Louisa Rodriguez

I love a challenge, whether that’s taking on a new role in my professional life, learning a new skill or pushing myself through Ultra Running. Challenges are where we grow; it can be messy, painful and brutal, but it’s where the transformation happens, and on the other side we become a more resilient, wiser, better version of ourselves. Learning and Development are a passion of mine – supporting others to grow and develop. It’s why I chose a career in the industry.

I believe in finding joy and gratitude wherever I can, in whatever I do, and spreading that joy to everyone I meet. Joy is being present, it is finding the fun and making the most of the moment. I set up The Joy Tank to spread the message of joy through leadership workshops and personal development retreats, along with supporting people with their wellbeing through Indian head massage and reiki.

Every day is just about showing up as the best version of myself and doing my best to make a positive different wherever I go, leaving people better than I found them.

Find me on Instagram: @thejoytank @louisa.rodriguez

Facebook: The Joy Tank

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a woman in 2020?

Finding the balance. Life is so fast. It moves so quick; we can often forget to just ‘be’ and relax. Balance to me is also about the art of being strong and vulnerable, loving and kind, but also assertive. It’s looking after yourself whilst still giving to others. It’s also about being true to you and speaking up when it is the right thing to do.

Balance is also about the balance of masculine and feminine. There’s so much masculine energy in leadership around the world. We need balance – the world is in desperate need of balance; it is the feminine that will bring this balance. We’re moving, but there’s still so much work to do to get people to understand the value and power that females bring! It is this that will not only change the world but save it!

What personally empowers you?

Doing what fills me with joy: yoga, running, gym, time with friends, mastering challenges, learning something new, being outside my comfort zone. It is self-acceptance of all that I am, my fears, my strength, insecurities, my fun spirit, cellulite and resilience. It’s believing in myself and all I have to offer.

What do you think Yorkshire does best?

The people. I find people in Yorkshire are so friendly. I really love that about living here, the random chats with strangers that I often find myself having as I go about my life in Yorkshire. I love the stunning Yorkshire scenery; it’s named God’s own country for a reason! I love walking through the peace and quiet of the Yorkshire countryside.

Michelle Oxley

I’m a proud Yorkshire lass, 45 years young. I’ve lived in Yorkshire all my life, and even though I love travel, my heart will always be here. I have three teenage children and I’ve been with my husband for 15 years. He’s my second husband and I couldn’t have married a more Yorkshire bloke! He works in the steel industry and loves his football, lager and pork scratchings! Our house is full of laughter every day, but it hasn’t always been like that.

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Michelle Oxley

I went through a dark time before I met my now-husband, and the years that followed were tough as I dealt with the fallout. I came from an abusive relationship, which left me with PTSD. This, I believe, contributed to my postnatal depression, which I suffered twice.

About four years ago I’d had enough misery and I fell into running my own online business (I didn’t go looking for it, I could barely get dressed on a morning!).

As I started my business, I was introduced to self-development. I started to meditate, I read books, wrote journals and affirmations. This Yorkshire lass would have seen it as tree hugging in the past, but it not only changed my life, it saved it. 

In 2019 I was diagnosed with M.E. Instead of seeing it as a stumbling block, I consider it a challenge. To continue to grow, not despite my problems but because of them.

Connect with me at Facebook.com/ChelleOxley or michelle@therealhousewifeofyorkshire.com

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a woman in 2020?

I feel the biggest challenge as a woman today is coming to terms with who you are. We are often conditioned to be mums and wives. We do everything for everyone and there comes a time when the kids no longer want to hold your hand, and it’s been so long since you were ‘you’ that you forget who you were. You can’t go out clubbing till 5am – even if you wanted to, you’d be asleep by 10pm! Everyone has been your priority for so long, you’ve forgotten how to be yourself. Having to ‘find’ yourself at 45 is not just hard, it’s bloody scary!

What personally empowers you?

Seeing women my age doing something for themselves. It may be as small as starting to put makeup on again, having their hair done, buying posh knickers instead of a six pack when they do the weekly shop, or it could be something huge like starting their own business. The joy in their faces says it all. It says It am ME!

I may be battle scarred, I may have wobbly bits and need to cross my legs when I laugh nowadays, but I’m finally doing this for ME! 

What do you think Yorkshire does best?

I think Yorkshire raises the best women. Yorkshire women are resilient, hardworking, no-nonsense and tough. We can go through the worst times and still say, ‘It’ll be reyt!’. We are the toughest women out there, but we are also the most loving, caring and supportive. A Yorkshire woman would give you her last penny, she’ll hold you while you cry and do anything for you. But she will always finish it with, ‘Now then, go and wesh thi’ face and put a smile on. Show ‘em thas all reyt, lass!’ 

Julie Swain

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Julie Swain

My name is Julie and I’m 43 years old. I’ve worked for the Yorkshire Ambulance Service for just over ten years and I’ve been a qualified paramedic for almost eight years. Although I love my job, it can be exhausting, stressful and emotionally draining. I don’t think I’ve slept properly since I joined the service!

I love the outdoors and have a very active lifestyle. I like walking, running and cycling, and I’m training for my eighth marathon – even though, after the first, I said I’d never do another! In June 2018, I completed my one and only (so far) ultra-marathon (Race to the King – a mere 53.4 miles along the South Downs Path), which I finished in 12 hours and 21 minutes.

I’m an avid reader – on average, I read around 60 books a year. I’m hugely addicted to Twitter and, over the last few years, have built up quite a good following. I talk about the books I’ve read (as well as my work and my marathon training) and I’m lucky enough to be respected by a number of publicists, authors and agents, who send me proofs to read before the books are published, in exchange for an honest review. I’ve also met (in real life) many fellow book lovers and have made some lifelong friendships.

I am very precious about my books and I’ve been making Buddles (padded book sleeves to protect your books) for a few years now. Further details can be found here: https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/bookbuddle I’m on Instagram at @buddlebook and @julesbuddle on Twitter.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a woman in 2020?

From a personal point of view, I would say my biggest challenge is to change society’s perception of women without children. I don’t have children and often, when people find out how old I am, they feel it’s okay for them to question why this is – or they’ll tell me that I still have plenty of time (which, of course, I don’t!) or have I considered adopting? Not all women (and men, for that matter) want children; some can’t have them, but we’re no less of a woman because we don’t.

What personally empowers you?

I am personally empowered by people who take on challenges they thought were beyond them (whether or not they succeed). As an example, my sister makes me proud every day. She was a single mother to three daughters; she was in a job she hated that paid little. She took herself off to university to do a degree in film and media makeup, and she now owns her own beauty salon, Prept York, which won ‘Best Beauty and Hair’ in its first year at the recent Minster FM awards. She amazes me with how she juggles her family and work life, and I love her dearly for it.

What do you think Yorkshire does best?

Heritage. We celebrate our history. We’re proud of those who got us to where we are – like my dad and grandad who worked at the pit. They worked incredibly hard to support their families, and to give us the lives we have today. I was very lucky to visit the National Coal Mining Museum in Wakefield in October as part of Restart A Heart Day, and met more of the men who grafted in horrendous conditions. They’re still working there today, passing on the history of coal mining to others. That’s what Yorkshire is – proud!

Lisa Walker

Amongst the many roles I play, I’m a business owner of almost eight years. My business is as a Personal Development coach. I work predominantly with professional women and men, helping them gain clarity in their business and professional life – which, in turn, results in them having greater confidence to move forward and succeed in whichever areas they choose. That’s the short cut version, obviously! It’s exciting, enlightening and empowering work for my clients and me, too, to be honest.

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Lisa Walker

I work with my clients on a 1:1 basis, as part of a small coaching group, through larger workshops or as part of a training programme I provide for businesses. Whatever work I do, it’s important that we look at the bigger picture for individuals, change unhealthy behaviour patterns, and consider how our thoughts and feelings impact our actions, and ultimately work towards a positive, thriving mindset. It’s amazing work, and I get to help fabulous clients who are all looking to move forward, grow and develop.

I often explain to my clients that I’ve probably been where they are right now. Sometimes, I’m literally only a few steps in front. This makes my relationships with my clients one that I’m honoured to have. Helping people to recognise what they’re capable of, what they can achieve, and what they actually want in life is an amazing way to spend my time.

I can be found here: www.whiteapplethinking.co.uk or www.facebook.com/whiteapplethinking

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a woman in 2020?

The biggest challenge facing women in 2020, not just me, is the constant need to compare and compete with other women. Social media plays a huge role in most of our lives; images and words are out there, and they can be positive, but they can also be alarmingly damaging. Our challenge is to build one another up and not buy into the idea that we have to compete. As a group of humans, we must rise above that mentality and be the good we wish to see in others. If that sounds like too big a job then begin by being kind, always.

What personally empowers you?

I am definitely empowered by those I work with. It takes strength to work on yourself and not everyone is able to do it. It takes a determination and an openness to be curious and to question yourself and your behaviours. I greatly admire those who are prepared to do that. Taking responsibility for your own development and happiness is probably the most empowering thing you can do, and it has an amazing impact on everyone you come into contact with, too!

What do you think Yorkshire does best?

I am a very proud Yorkshire woman. I think one of the things we do so well in this county is not take ourselves too seriously. I was born in Sheffield and have lived in Barnsley for the past nine years. The humour and warmth from both places fill me with pride. The ‘chatty-ness’ of the vast majority you meet, and the willingness to share a story and pass the time of day, is something that other places you visit just don’t have. Talking is definitely something we do well!

Katie Portman

I’m a blogger, author and freelance writer; wife to Jamie and mother to two children: Elsie and Leo. Originally from Lancashire, I’m an honorary Yorkshirewoman after living in Barnsley for the last couple of decades.

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Katie Portman

My award-winning blog is called ‘Pouting in Heels’, and it features – as well as my personal experiences and opinions – discussions about parenting , style tips and topical issues. I love writing and was therefore ‘chuffed’, as we say in Yorkshire, to have my first book published by The Writing Hall last year, entitled ‘A Little Pick Me Up’.

You can find me here: facebook.com/poutinginheels and on Instagram: @PoutingInHeels

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a woman in 2020?

Ensuring my voice remains strong. Social media is a wonderful tool and it has provided me (and other women) with numerous platforms on which to share thoughts and opinions. I have been active on social media for a long time now and I must admit, I found public engagement and people’s responses to be much more wholesome, kind and supportive than the state of play today.

Trolling, today, is widespread, and despite the recent ‘Be Kind’ campaign after the death of Caroline Flack, some people still feel they have the right to put others down and ridicule them (though I bet very few of them would say the same if they were face to face with the person they were criticising). Most days I’m easily able to ignore the vitriol in favour of fabulous support, inspiration and women supporting other women. However, every now and again, I can’t deny that I need to take a break from social media for just a short while to preserve my sanity!

What personally empowers you?

Seeing other women do well – it fires me up to achieve goals in my own life. Good role models, such as my hero Oprah Winfrey. And the ladies in my network who run businesses/hold down demanding jobs whilst still finding the time to read with the kids, help with homework, and Hinch their home regularly. I personally don’t believe that women can have it all (if you were to read my book you’d understand why I think this is the case); saying that, there are some ladies out there managing spectacularly well.

Ensuring my daughter Elsie has a healthy view of herself empowers me as a mother; I try to instil within her a solid self-esteem, lots of self-confidence and a good measure of self-worth. It’s a sad reflection on society that I don’t worry quite as much about Leo in this regard – not because I won’t ensure he has the same level of self-love, but because I doubt he’ll face as much criticism from the outside world as his sister. Working to change any aspect of this patriarchal imbalance empowers me on so many levels.

What do you think Yorkshire does best?

I’ve never known the residents of any other county proclaim as much pride for their surroundings as the people of Yorkshire. Every citizen would fight to the death to defend their own Yorkshire town or city – you just don’t see this elsewhere! It’s easy to see why they’re so proud of their part of the world, though, the Yorkshire scenery and its swathes of countryside are simply stunning.

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