Four tips for ambitious and disruptive women

Stay positive, keep focused and collaborate.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 08 Mar 2016

Disruption: do women do it differently? We assembled a panel at a gathering of MT's 35 Women Under 35 network last night to address that very question. The lineup included Cilla Snowball, boss of leading ad agency AMV BBDO and Smruti Sriram the CEO of fabric bag manufacturer Supreme Creations. They were joined by John Vincent, who co-founded the healthy fast food chain Leon, and Isla Kennedy, a digital consultant at Accenture, which sponsored the event. Over the course of the lively debate, our panel came up with a few handy pieces of insight for women looking to disrupt the world of business.

1. You don't have to be an 'entrepreneur' to be an innovator

The data shows that men are more likely to start their own business, says Cilla Snowball, but you don't have to be an entrepreneur like Martha Lane Fox or Anita Roddick to be a disruptive woman. 'For me, innovation is a very quiet innovation by stealth,' she says. 'It's not necessarily an inventor, but it's someone who is making huge strides in an organisaion as the company grows.'

Cilla Snowball is the group chairman and group CEO of AMV BBDO

Business leaders like EasyJet's Carolyn McCall and Camelot's Dianne Thompson have shown you can make a big difference to a company that already exists, she said. '[Dianne Thompson] didn't invent the national lottery, but she invented an innovative way to make it grow and become a world class lottery.'

2. Persevere

Don't let setbacks knock your confidence. 'You have to be optimistic,' said Kennedy. 'I'm an optimistic person - I had a skiing accident when I was at university, and had to spend seven months in rehab before I went back to university. It was about having that structure around you, but also about having that determination. '

3. Focus on your goals

Smruti Sriram is the CEO of Supreme Creations

'I think very often, everyone wants something, but its very fuzzy, it's not detailed enough,' said Sriram. 'If you really want to do something you've got to be pretty detailed about how you're going to get there, and you've got to chop and change tactics.

'Be clear - don't just say "I want to make a million pounds". How are you going to make a million pounds? What are you actually going to do to make those steps - to make a million pounds, to sell a company, to start a company.' 

4. Make the most of family and friends

You can learn a lot from those around you. 'Fathers, husbands, sons, uncles and whatever, need to teach girls the tough traits of business,' said Sriram, who was brought into Supreme Creations by her father, who founded the business. 'Negotiation is grotty and grimey at times, and some skills, which are perhaps a little more aggressive or male-centric, girls aren't always exposed to.'  

John Vincent is the co-founder of Leon, Isla Kennedy is a digital consultant at Accenture

What's more, innovating is easier in the company of those you trust. 'There are some people in business who believe confrontation leads to innovation - I don't subscribe to that philosophy at all,' said Snowball. 'We believe in collaboration here, leading to great creativity, because people are at their best when they are inspired, when they're trusted. They can take bold decisions with friends around us.'

'I think Darwin is misquoted,' Vincent added. 'People think that survival of the fittest is based on competition, but we now know that species that collaborate are actually the most successful.'


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