I enter into a blogpost about being a woman in business with trepidation. In fact I've started over writing this post maybe half a dozen times. Truth told, I can't remember a time when I've felt that my gender has been an issue with how seriously my business has been taken, or if it has hindered my suitability to do my job.
But actually, that's because I've chosen to work in an industry where gender stereotypes and barriers are rarely an issue. And the more I think about it, the more I think the issues of being a woman in the working world actually played a part in my decision to become self employed. In jobs of old, nothing would make my blood boil more than being told to 'cheer up' when a male customer's inappropriate comments didn't raise the titter they expected. I've never felt so humiliated as when a boss made a passing remark about my chest to a client on the phone. How, in any walk of life, should making judgement on a colleague's plans to procreate ever be appropriate?
But when I was invited to attend a conference surrounding the issue of women in business, still I shyed away. Despite the aforementioned experiences, getting gender specific advise didn't seem the answer to me. Why spend precious time and energy shouting about the trials and glass ceilings women face in business, adding fuel to the fire so to speak? Just knuckle down and prove the bastards wrong, surely? I had missguided visions of a bunch of bra-burning bored housewives, complaining about the pressures of being 'superwoman' or relishing in nauseating terms like 'mumpreneur'.
I really couldn't've been more wrong. From the room full of bright eyed and bushy tailed women who attended the Leading Women Conference 2013, I got a sense of not 'I'm a woman in business, these are all the issues I face' but more an attitude of 'Here are the issues and challenges I have, and oh I happen to be a woman in business' Less shouty, bolshy determination to loudly quash social and economic barriers and more, 'oh, those barriers? I'll just quietly sidestep those while I concentrate on getting shit done, thanks very much'.
There were stories of starting up a business aimed at women, finding yourself again after taking 15 years out of work to be a mum, and the most inspiring stories of all from lead speaker for the day, Glamour Magazine's Number 1 Business Woman, Michelle Mone. Founder and co-owner of Ultimo Brands International (Ultimo Bras fame) Michelle has spent the last 14 years creating 13 inventions, winning World Young Business Achiever, scoring the first celebrity modelling campaign for her brand, supplying retailers from Selfridges to Asda, being the first UK lingerie brand to debut at NYFW, joining the Board of Directors for the Princes Trust and being awarded an OBE from the Queen, to name a few.
But also, we heard a more candid side to Michelle's success - tales of near bankruptcy (twice), losing hugely important distribution networks, of a cheating husband who tried to buy her business from right under her nose, campaign-ending spats with celebrity friends. Yet through telling all of these tales, some of which made even the most hardened of women in the room flinch, Mone was not seeking sympathy or on the other hand, extreme praise for the obstacles she has overcome during her working life. No, in her typically Glaswegien attitude, Mone was simply telling it like it is - no airs and graces, no hyped sense of achievement because of her gender - just, this is what I've achieved, and I happen to be a woman.
My Fave Bits from the Leading Women Conference 2013; Inspiring Female Entrepreneurship
- You can download Michelle Mone's top tips on getting your dream job, how to write a good CV and how to start your own business here
- the Coppafeel story is so fricken inspiring - 'you can't polish a turd, but you can roll it in glitter'
- I was lucky enough to ask Michelle a burning business question - how to let go of control as your business grows? Her answer - 'implement KPIs in your business to let it grow and let go of control'
- Rachel Jones' must have in every business woman's life - the trio of 3. A younger person to coach and encourage (while also keeping your own passions alive from their excitement and enthusiasm!), a peer to sound ideas of and share experiences with and an elder to look up to and be inspired by.