In the last instalment of our women in the workplace series, I met five top women, who talked exclusively to Standard Life about the innovative world of female entrepreneurship. Today we meet five more inspiring women – and look ahead to International Women’s Day.
Anne de Kerckhove, CEO of Iron Group, which builds and invests in the digital subscription world.
“Having been in top leadership roles for over 10 years, I have definitely seen a bias, particularly when women are not satisfied with results. They will often be labelled aggressive or even hysterical.
When in a situation of conflict, we naturally feel threatened and thus, our biases get accentuated. However I have also seen many women (including myself) leverage our feminine side, and lower numbers in top management, to our advantage. It’s neither black or white.”
Steph Douglas is founder of Don’t Buy Her Flowers, selling gift packages that are all about encouraging the recipient to take some time for themselves.
“Running a business is all consuming and if you have children, that juggle is tough. I wish I could say it impacts men and women the same amount but we’re not there yet – we’re still influenced by our parents’ generation and more traditional roles, so women often feel bad for missing the school pick-ups or being distracted by our phone in the park.
It gets easier, but that first year was especially tough, mostly because I was really hard on myself. So how do women succeed against these challenges? I think we’re better at empathy, so when it comes to understanding their customers and building a brand via connecting with them on social media, which is so crucial to start ups, women have the edge.”
Gemma Young is co-founder and CEO of Settled, an online property selling service.
“I’m surprised at the lack of women in start-ups, particularly the tech scene. It’s clear that the issue of gender balance is greater than I expected and the reasons behind why more women aren’t putting themselves into start-up roles or founding companies goes deeper than I anticipated. Communication, listening and getting under the surface of people’s opinions are amongst the most important aspects of running an early stage business. If we were getting scientific, these traits are more typically associated to oestrogen than to testosterone.”
Miriam Dervan is founder and CEO of mdgroup, a global business service company working within the life science and corporate sectors.
“Being a woman in a man’s world is a big challenge and I often find myself fighting just to be taken seriously. Women also often have to juggle home life and children, and can be penalised as a result of this. But women are determined creatures: we work harder in order not to fail, to prove we can do it. We are multi-taskers too, so that helps immensely. And most women have an eye for detail, which is helpful in business.”
Bethany Koby is founder of Technology Will Save Us – a company on a mission to spark creativity and imaginative play through hands-on technology.
“For the first time since the 1980s, there appears to be a constructive debate and action taking place in the world of entrepreneurship, politics and education. I do not believe the lack of females and diversity is the problem, it is a symptom of a much bigger systemic mindset that society has been conditioned to accept.
It is our job to rise above discrimination and pave the change we want to see in the world, invent new systems, business models, and ways of working that benefit diversity in business.
The reality is that diversity is no longer just a numbers game, not just another politically correct workplace initiative; it’s about bridging the opportunity gaps that will continue to widen if we ignore the messages that the marketplace is clearly telling us. It’s becoming less about defining the individual and much more about the individual defining the business. As such, enterprises must adopt diversity as a strategy for growth if they are to compete in the 21st century.”
Thanks, Bethany, for a suitably inspiring conclusion to our whistle-stop tour of 10 top businesses, owned or managed by women. And thanks to all the business-women who’ve taken part in the interviews – and good luck with your commercial and personal future to every one of you.
Today is International Women’s Day, and we’ll wind up our series of articles with a look into the future.