Who has inspired you in business?
My biggest inspiration has been my father, who went from having everything after inheriting a family business to losing everything as a result of civil war. Not only did he show me what true grit, determination, hard work and sheer bravery in business looks like, but he was instrumental in shaping my own confidence and independence because of how incredibly supportive he always was of my own career ambitions.
I am also inspired by Oprah Winfrey – not because of who she is today, but because of how she got there. Despite the odds being stacked against her, despite challenges along the way; her courage and vision, coupled with her honest approach, business acumen and determination to help others succeed as she has, is a real inspiration.
What has been your biggest setback and how did you overcome it?
There are two moments that spring to mind. The first was when I moved to the UK in 1999. Having worked for Unilever in South Africa, and with what I believed were very transferable marketing skills, I expected to find a role fairly easily but kept getting feedback that I lacked UK experience. I was determined enough to be prepared to take a step down to get that all-important first UK role, which gave me the stepping stone and credibility in this market.
The second was during the early 2000’s, when I worked in a number of VC funded start-ups. Personally I highly recommend everyone work in a start-up at least once in your life to really experience the highs and lows of business. For me, I experienced the lows of being made redundant twice back-to-back, and the impact this has on your confidence. It took me a long time to get that confidence back. The lessons I learnt were to prove your value every day, never to take a role for granted, and to make sure you create a financial cushion to fall back on if you need it.
What is the biggest challenge still facing women in business today and how should it be solved?
The biggest challenge is confidence. Whether women have taken time out to raise a family or not, it is frequently our own lack of confidence that prevents us from pushing ourselves forward, from asking for flexible working arrangements or applying for that promotion. This is exacerbated where there is a lack of support from a partner/spouse, and also by organisations themselves, where they do not create flexible environments that are life friendly.
At TrustFord we pride ourselves on offering women opportunities to progress, and have invested in development programmes. During the past three years we’ve grown female representation on our board from 10% to 20%, and our leadership team from 9% to 23%. Luckily, as men have increasingly taken on more responsibility for children, they are demanding more family friendly policies from organisations – which helps women too.
What piece of advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?
When I started out in my career, I was convinced that I wanted to follow a path into working in finance. Where I ended up couldn’t have been further away from this. My advice would be not to overthink too much what your career will look like, but to focus instead on what it will ‘feel’ like.
This may sound strange, but if you do this you start to create a roadmap towards your ideal, which will push you into taking on roles and opportunities in industries you might otherwise have rejected. Although I had a long term ambition, I would never have been brave enough to take on start-up positions or to switch industries if I hadn’t focussed on how each position was building towards creating that reality.
My other piece of advice is not to be afraid. As women in particular, we often wonder whether we’re good enough for a position, and our own self-limiting beliefs are frequently the only thing holding us back. Don’t be afraid to push yourself forward, to reach for those opportunities, and always believe you can do it.
Choose a partner who will support you in your ambitions, as without this you will end up inevitably making sacrifices in your career. And finally, lift as you climb. As you become more senior, you have a responsibility to help those following you. This applies equally to men and women – but focus on developing the confidence in your female talent.
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