The absence of women from many top jobs might suggest that the concept of a glass ceiling is still very much a reality. There has, however, been an encouraging upturn of female entrepreneurs, bucking gender trends even in traditionally male-dominated industries. Some of the UK’s most inspirational female entrepreneurs from a diverse set of backgrounds talk to inspiresme about overcoming the challenges they have faced.
Archie Archer - Contraband International Ltd
Events and entertainment agency Contraband International started life as a market stall in Portobello. In 1995 founder, Archie Archer sold all her worldly possessions and flew out to India with a rucksack and £1,000 to start a business. Archer went onto set up Contraband International Ltd in 2003 which now supplies over 6,000 performers to over 1,500 events yearly as well as achieving turnover in excess of £2m.
“Being a single mum and juggling the rapid growth of my business has been one of my biggest challenges. When my son was born I was working from home, today we have 12 full time staff and the company is growing to SME status, putting that structure into place, whilst running the day to day business means I’m stretched at work.”
“Having a really good support network around me in the office as well as a great nanny has enabled me to grow the company, whilst being there for my son. Interestingly, our entire team is nearly all made up of women. However, there are no office politics and the general vibe is incredibly relaxed. In my opinion, this is easily achieved through leading by example and being a great role model.”
Melissa Burton - Goody Good Stuff
Melissa Burton launched Goody Good Stuff, an award winning confectionary brand in 2010.
Burton’s expertise also extend to business rescue, management of a large scale property portfolios and commercial lending. In 2011, Burton was featured as one of North West Business Insider’s ‘42 Under 42 Leading Business Figures’ and named ‘Best Entrepreneur in Europe, the Middle East and Africa’ at The Stevie Awards.
“The biggest challenge I continually face is getting male investors, shareholder board members, and business decision makers to take me seriously and listen to me as an equal. This is an unfortunate consequence of the lack of females in executive level positions. However, I do feel that this is getting better every day as an impressive number of new businesses are headed by women.”
Burton says that she overcame this challenge by: “Studying harder, preparing better and being even more devoted to my business than my male counterparts. By stating facts and delivering on targets and promises, I have built up a reputation of integrity and result-producing performance.”
Find out what else Burton had to say about Goody Good Stuff in our Q&A with her.
Nathalie Dauriac-Stoebe - Signia Wealth
Nathalie Dauriac-Stoebe is the founder and CEO of Signia Wealth, an independent wealth management company managing over £2bn of assets on behalf of some of the world’s wealthiest people.
At 26, Dauriac-Stoebe was a senior partner at UK private bank; Coutts & Co as well as one of the four founding members of the Coutts Private Office. Her achievements have been recognised with numerous awards.
“As a working mother, I feel finding a work-life balance is important. It's true to say it is a massive challenge that many women face. My advice to women is to never give up and if you are passionate about what you want to achieve and true to yourself then it is possible. It's a myth that being a woman holds you back - I recently became a mother and building something for my daughter's future is what fuels my desire to succeed.”
Dr Rebecca Harding - Delta Economics
Dr Rebecca Harding is the founder and CEO of Delta Economics, a market intelligence and research led economics consultancy whose clients have included HSBC, Microsoft, and the European Union.
Dr Harding has held senior posts in leading academic, think-tank and corporate organisations, including London Business School, Deloitte, the Work Foundation and the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor.
“With so few women in economics and finance at a senior level, one of my recurring challenges is to ensure that the fact that a woman set up and runs Delta Economics is not the only thing of interest about us!”
“Having the right people around you as the team builds is essential. Unfortunately it is often the case that those strengths divide on gender lines; women, for example, tend to be much better at project management. As a female CEO I am acutely aware of the fact that some of the younger female members of the team may get pushed into stereotypical roles as a result. I always encourage people to do things that are outside of their immediate comfort zone, so they can develop.”
Kate Craig-Wood - Memset
Kate Craig-Wood is the co-founder of IT hosting company, Memset. She is an officer of BCS's influential Data Centre Specialist Group and the youngest ever main board member of Intellect UK. She also chairs Intellect's Climate Change Group, and co-leads the technical strand of the Cabinet Office's G-Cloud and App Store project.
Craig-Wood says her greatest challenge has been: “Being taken seriously as a leading female entrepreneur who is also a technology expert in the very male-dominated IT industry. I often find that I have to go to some lengths to demonstrate my understanding of technology and business before men that don't know me twig – this girl really knows her stuff.”
Adding that this can be achieved: “Through confidence and demonstrable achievements! Being a female is not a weakness, indeed I adamantly believe that the fact that at Memset, we have a gender-balanced executive management team in my brother and I has significantly contributed to our stellar success.”
Melody Hossaini - InspirEngage
A former contestant on the BBC’s The Apprentice, Melody Hossaini began work in the youth sector aged just 13 and went onto found InspirEngage International in 2009.
InspirEngage International is a social enterprise designed to help improve the lives of young people through skills development and training. So far the organisation has reached over 1 million young people in over 100 countries.
“After a recent presentation, a young man from the audience spoke to me and said that he had enjoyed the talk and found it to be very 'professional’. His choice of words intrigued me. He went onto explain that his initial reaction after seeing me appear on stage with long hair, wearing make-up and high heeled shoes was: ‘Here’s another silly girl relying on her looks to get ahead’.”
“I wish I could say just stay yourself and allow other people to deal with their own wrongful perceptions; however, I overcame these challenges by presenting myself as a hard-talking business woman, proving I am serious about what I do.”
Alyssa Smith - Alyssa Smith Jewellery
Jewellery designer Alyssa Smith graduated with no specific business experience or funds to start her own company. After spending time researching and working within the jewellery industry, Smith founded alyssasmith.co.uk an online store retailing her own jewellery range.
Since then, her designs have been worn by numerous celebrities and are about to be launched in several, well-known high street stores.
“I’ve faced quite a few challenges including not being taken seriously at networking meetings in the early days. They tended to be full of experienced business men and I was usually one of the only females there, this made it difficult for me to make my voice heard or be taken seriously.’’
“I overcame this by acting as though I were oozing confidence as well as being as charismatic as possible, presenting a really positive image of why being an independent, female business owner is such a great thing. As it happens, lots of the people that I met at these meetings are now customers!’’
Fiona Wood - Naturally Cool Kids
Naturally Cool Kids, manufacturers and retails natural skincare products for children and is the brainchild of mother of two, Fiona Wood.
After being voted the winner of Barclays Take One Small Step New Business Idea Competition the company has been able to operate on a much larger scale and has since gone onto win numerous industry awards.
“I am always taken back by the reaction on people’s faces when they visit our stand at trade shows. They look genuinely surprised that I could possibly own the business, have developed and branded it alone.”
Wood adds that she has dealt with such situations: “With confidence and the amount of passion that I have for what I do. They then become very interested and like to hear the whole story, I like it when they finally say wow that’s fantastic and really respect me for it.”
Kelly Goss - Rock 'N' Needle
Kelly Goss founded fashion label, Rock ‘n’ Needle in 2008 when completing her studies at London Fashion Retail Academy. The brand has continued to gain momentum with its first new, printed collection being exhibited at PURE Trade Show 2011.
Goss has won several awards and been selected for a place at Drapers Next Generation Academy 2012.
“My biggest challenge has been working on the business by myself. I didn’t go to university and don’t have years of experience to fall back on. I’ve overcome this by seeking knowledgeable people in the areas where I was struggling - this has been achieved through savvy networking and persistence!”
Goss offers the following advice: “Always follow your gut instinct. If you have a strong intuition that something is wrong then it probably is. Also don’t be afraid to ask.”
Anne Walker MBE - International Dance Supplies
Anne Walker opened her own dance school in Liverpool aged 17. International Dance Supplies is now the UK’s largest wholesale dancewear retailer serving dance professionals and retailers in 44 countries. Walker has won a Stevie Award, in the category of ‘Best Entrepreneur’ and was made an MBE in 2011.
“Whenever I am introduced to business men they are very interested to talk when they hear the first part of our company name; International. As soon as they hear the word dance they lose interest. If they listen long enough to hear more about the size of the company and what we do, they are utterly amazed. It is a massive challenge to be taken seriously as a business woman when you have dance in your business name.”
“We constantly strive to overcome this by being the most professional, innovative and inspiring company in our field. We work with all the top dance schools, associations and mainstream press so as many people as possible are aware that we are more than just a dancewear company.”
Sarah Wood - Unruly Media
Unruly Media is an award winning global platform for social video advertising with offices across the world. It has delivered more than 1,400 successful social video campaigns for global brands including T-Mobile’s acclaimed ‘Life's for Sharing’ series.
Sarah Wood, who was named ‘Female Entrepreneur of the Year’ at the Fast Growth Business Awards 2011, co-founded the business in 2006.
"Being female isn’t really an issue at Unruly. Our senior team is fairly evenly split between men and women. Where there are barriers, they tend to come from within for example from a lack of self-confidence rather than any external glass ceiling."
"A strong sense of community can be invaluable. London’s start-up scene is buzzing and there’s no shortage of groups, hubs, meet-ups, incubators where entrepreneurs can come together to share knowledge and experiences."