On international woman’s day I had the privilege of being invited to attend a webinar run by Brighton and Hove Jewish Community Development (BNJC) on International Women’s Day. The speakers were excellent. One of the panellists was Rose Read, the Head of People and Culture at Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club (BHAFC). I have known Rose for some time working with her and the Club to help strengthen their approach to business and human rights and addressing the risk of modern slavery.
Rose shared her personal story and encouraged listeners that ‘we all have a responsibility and opportunity as women to step forward and be part of the solution and to tell our story’.
Whilst I am a regular public speaker, confident in using my voice to address legal and commercial issues that challenge business and society, I have never shared my own story fully or in fact embraced the title as a ‘woman business owner ‘ or ‘entrepreneur’. During one of my online training sessions, TrinaBolton (from the US Department of Labour) called this out- naming my entrepreneurial spirit. I was flattered but it also planted a seed in me which has lain dormant until listening to last night’s webinar. I have to ask myself ‘Why don’t I see myself in this light? Why don’t I acclaim the fact that I am a successful business owner as well as a mom? Why don’t I share my own story of struggle and resilience other than perhaps with some closer confidantes?
So, inspired by Rose, here are a few thoughts I want to share with other women who still need to find their voice or may have a small fire inside them prompting them to take a risk, step out, try that business idea. Similar to many women, I have a story of a husband leaving me with a newborn baby and a toddler, facing huge debts and an uncertain future. I know that my faith is what pulled me through, along with women and a few close friends championing me. Like many other women who find themselves in this place, I had the difficult choice of working out how to survive financially and be a single parent. During this period, I set up my business – it seemed the only thing that I could do when finding a part time job as an environmental lawyer was proving impossible (how the world has changed!).
CLT envirolaw was birthed and has been running now for 11 years, albeit rebranded as Ardea International. I had a vision of building a boutique firm based on a passion to support business to meet their compliance requirements to address modern slavery, environmental and human rights issues and to harness their power to transform communities positively. I also decided to set up a paid internship programme for graduates to encourage and develop them, as a contrast to my own experience in much of my legal career where these programmes were limited or non-existent. At no time during the past 11 years did I really mark this achievement as being the result of being an ‘entrepreneur’. Nor did I label myself as a ‘business owner’ – somehow those titles belonged to men or to woman that we might see leading major brands, such as the Jo Malone’s of this world. That is changing.
I am still on a journey and grateful that as I grow older I can appreciate this. The business ebbs and flows but our client base is growing. We work with some fantastic organisations and our vision is to continue to help them become more sustainable and to facilitate awareness and change around the critical issues or environment and negative human rights impacts facing our world today. We build relationships and we seek to foster a culture of encouragement and support.
I am sure that there are many other women (and men) on a similar journey and seeking ways to voice their own stories. Perhaps they just need some encouragement. Here are some tips that might be helpful to those of you thinking of getting started or who are on the journey now:
1.Find your passion and work out how that can fit your lifestyle and needs
2.Be comfortable with the fact that others may not share that vision
3.Learn to accept constructive criticism but ignore the naysayers
4. Read, read, read to help you grow your knowledge and develop your niche
5. Establish your values and set a vision
6.Network – people will always ‘buy’ people and champion other women/men along the way
7.Accept that part of the journey will be hours of volunteering time to develop your vision and networks- what you reap you sow
8. Find ways to give back
9. Delegate – sometimes someone else needs the exact job to grow that you hate doing
10. Believe in who you are.