'I get offered more opportunities than my male co-founder,' says 35 Under 35 star

35 WOMEN UNDER 35: WHERE ARE THEY NOW? FreshMinds co-founder Caroline Plumb, who appeared on our list back in 2005, on why it pays to be a female entrepreneur.

by Kate Bassett
Last Updated: 28 Jul 2014

What have you been up to since you appeared in our 35 Women Under 35 list?

My main focus has been on growing FreshMinds, the growth consultancy I set up after graduating from university. The business has more than trebled in size since I appeared on the 35 Women Under 35 List, now a team of insight and innovation specialists and digital strategists, working with the world’s best-loved brands – which feels like a massive achievement. I’m also one of the UK’s Business Ambassadors so I’ve been lucky enough to travel the globe, promoting the country’s fantastic creative industries. And I’ve become an expert in all things duplo, thanks to my two (soon to be three) small children.

Which businesswoman do you most admire and why?

Camila Batmanghelidjh, the founder and director of Kids Company. Camilla is a truly inspirational leader. Not only does she have a clear vision for the charity but she’s incredibility passionate about what she does – she’s even remortgaging her flat twice to ensure the survival of Kids Company. Her commitment and drive is infectious and spurs on everyone around her.

Do you have (or have you had) a mentor? If so, who and why?

Yes – in fact I’ve had a number over the years. The most notable is Paul Perkin [a business coach at Oxford Innovation] who has been has been an advisor and mentor to both myself and FreshMinds for many years. Having an external mentor is especially important when you’re running your own business as you don’t have a line manager to look to for expertise or advice. Having an external mentor can fill that gap by broadening your knowledge and giving you a new perspective on challenging situations. 

What's been your biggest business setback/mistake?

When I look back, I wish I had invested in ongoing operational improvements for the business much earlier on. Streamlining processes has had a real impact and if this had been a cornerstone of the business from the early days, we’d have repeated the rewards much sooner.

What are your top tips for negotiating a pay rise?

Working for myself, I’ve only ever been on the other side of the fence but my top tip would be to keep any emotions out of the negotiation process. It’s important to be rational and business-focused – on the value you are delivering for the business and the reasons why you should be awarded a raise.

How do you juggle the work/life balance? Any advice?

Juggling work and life is about finding a balance and trade-off that’s personal to you. This isn’t going to be the same choice that everyone else makes and that’s absolutely fine. There’s little point in comparing your choices or decisions to others, especially if that makes you feel guilty! The key thing is to do what’s right for you. My other tip would be to harness any technology that makes your life more simple and efficient – from Amazon Prime for last-minute birthday presents to Citymapper for finding the quickest route from A to B.

What's your take on boardroom quotas?

Personally, I’m not a fan of formal quotas but I do think that setting clear targets for boardroom diversity and regularly reporting progress against these is a great way of encouraging broader representation at the highest levels of a business. The 30% Club has made great progress on this and in naming the shaming the public companies that are falling behind, which I hope is starting to make a difference. The next step towards really making a difference in the boardroom is to address the gender imbalance in executive roles, not just in non-executive positions. 

What nuggets of advice would you give to young women starting out on their careers?

My first tip would be to proactively invest in your networks. By this, I don’t mean thinking about what your networks can do for you – instead consider how you can actively support those around you. Doing so can really pay off and open up opportunities further down the line. My second piece of advice would be to stay connected to the business’ finances and its customers’ needs. Whatever your role, it’s vital to have a deep understanding of these two core areas.

As a high-flying businesswoman, have you ever faced discrimination in your industry?

I’ve been lucky in that any discrimination I’ve faced has generally been positive. There are far fewer female than male entrepreneurs and as a result, I’ve often found that I was offered more opportunities than my male co-founder. This always seemed rather unfair – business leaders should be judged on their achievements, not their gender.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I hope I’ll be continuing to drive success for my business, FreshMinds. And if everything goes to plan, I’ll also be successfully juggling my different roles as a CEO, wife, mother, daughter and friend with some sense of balance and having fun while doing it. If that all came together in the next five years, I’d be delighted! Finally, I want to make sure that I keep doing things outside of my comfort zone to really challenge myself.

Read this year's 35 Women Under 35 list here.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime