International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. But here are the facts:
Globally, over 2.7 billion women are legally restricted from having the same choice of jobs as men.
Only 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.
In 40% of economies, women’s early-stage entrepreneurial activity is half or less than half of that of men’s. (Source: unwomen.org)
Collective action and shared responsibility for driving a gender-balanced world are key.
#BalanceforBetter is the theme for International Women’s Day this year, so we spoke to four inspirational business leaders, all of them women, redressing the balance on their own terms.
Three of them happen to be our clients, but all of them are our friends – we’re so lucky to know these inspirational women!
Yes. it’s longer than our normal blogs, but once we got talking, turns out these ladies had a lot to say…
Emily Bal coaches successful people to realise how extraordinary they are so they know they can take control, create balance and be happy.
Antoinette Oglethorpe runs her eponymous company specialising in leadership development and career management for aspirational individuals and leadership companies.
Felicity Sandford runs Amazing Futures, a company which provides outsourced marketing support for businesses providing children’s activities, products and services.
Rebecca Godfrey founded Etheo Ltd, a team and leadership transformation consultancy which develops creative, inspired, engaged and future-proofed teams in highly-regulated industries.
1) Tell us a bit about yourself
Emily: I was brought up on a farm near Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire. I’m the youngest of four so it was a busy but relatively quiet life in the country. As a teenager, I craved the concrete jungle so escaped as soon as possible and ended up at university in Manchester. I’ve lived in Ealing with my husband since 2008 and have three young children. I love sunshine on my face and quality time with friends and family.
Antoinette: I was born in London studied at Newcastle and that’s where I live now, married to a wonderful man who I first dated in 1988 when we were both students there. I have no children of my own but am very proud of my 24-year-old stepson. My interest is people! I am eternally fascinated by why they do what they do.
Felicity: Originally from South Wales, although spent a sizeable chunk of my childhood living overseas (Nigeria and Saudi Arabia), so I don’t have the accent. I moved to Ealing in 2003 and now live in Hanwell with my husband, nine-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son. I love to be busy and I love London life but also enjoy time with my parents in my much quieter hometown of Cowbridge – something I can do almost every school holiday thanks to the flexibility of my business.
Rebecca: I live in Hertfordshire with my two sons, my husband and dog, Mr Mac. I am originally from Dublin, however after coming over for university and doing exactly what I mum feared would happen, “What happens if you meet an Englishman and never come home?” I have lived happily ever after with my research scientist husband Mark for the past 17 years.
2) Describe your career history
Emily: I moved to London knowing that I wanted to work in the non-profit sector. For 16 years I worked in fundraising, marketing, communications and creative roles. I’m proud of the difference I made, but I’ve always been fascinated by the people around me – the way we interact, our relationships and how we work. I’ve worked part-time since being a mum, first as Head of Creative at Fairtrade and now for myself as a coach and facilitator.
Sapna and I met years ago when we were volunteering for a local parenting group. I now volunteer for the charity, Smart Works, helping unemployed women choose a fabulous confidence-boosting outfit (donated by other women) so they can give the best possible first impression at interview.
Antoinette: After graduating I wanted to stay in Newcastle. I landed a great job at P&G, testing whether the washing powder really did get those stains out! I soon realised I was more interested in people than powders, so I took voluntary redundancy to move into training and development.
I then became Training Manager for Prontaprint – and hated it – so after much consideration decided to move back to London. Just married, I moved to Accenture, where I blossomed. I then became International Training Director for Avanade, an Accenture joint venture with Microsoft.
I next moved to XL, an insurance company. It was OK but by this time, I was divorced and dating my old boyfriend from uni. We got engaged and moved back to Newcastle to be closer to his son who lived with his mum in Scotland.
That was when I decided to go it alone.
Felicity: It was extremely corporate. After graduating with a degree in French and European Politics from the University of Surrey, I faffed around for a few years travelling and temping. I started my career as a marketing graduate trainee with KPMG, before going onto work for Reed Elsevier (now RELX Group). I was working for Rockwool Insulation and then spent several years as the UK & Ireland Marketing Communications Manager. I took voluntary redundancy in order to fund my first business venture.
Rebecca: I am an academic research scientist by background. In 2007, I hung up my white coat and left the lab behind me and entered the corporate world of pharma. It was one if the best decisions I could have made as since my career has given me the most wonderful opportunities. I’ve built and developed a successful consultancy business, I have worked with and led, colleagues, teams and organisations from more than 92 countries and have held roles ranging from Company Director of a small consultancy to Global Head and Global Director roles in two of the world’s top ten pharma companies.
3) Tell us about your business
Emily: I coach successful men and women to realise how extraordinary they are, so they know they can take control, create balance and be happy. I’m a pure coach, I don’t give advice. I work with people one-to-one, but also design and facilitate online and face-to-face coach-led group workshops. I love working in collaboration with other therapists and teamed up with a local Nutritional Therapist, Emily Fawell, to create a programme called Re:balance to help busy women take control of their health and wellbeing. I am also a corporate host for Life Clubs (https://lifeclubs.co.uk/).
Antoinette: In 2012, I set up Antoinette Oglethorpe Ltd. figuring my name was probably my best asset in the age of Google Search!
Since then, we have evolved from a more general training company to one that specialises in leadership development and career management. We work with aspirational individuals and companies who are driven to create positive change in the world and want to unlock their leadership potential so they can innovate and grow. Our clients range from fast-growing tech companies to UN Agencies.
Felicity: I provide a Virtual Marketing Manager service, specialising in marketing businesses in the child/ family focused sector and other lifestyle/ leisure brands. For the micro business I can guide them to make them more effective in their marketing. I work with business owners in person or via Zoom, helping them with their marketing plans, content marketing, social media and I review their marketing materials and websites; making suggestions and generally acting as their marketing mentor. Or I can free up their time by doing the marketing tasks for them.
I love to collaborate with other businesses too and recently joined forces with two other female entrepreneurs, Erin Thomas Wong of Making Mumpreneurs and Sara Tateno, Founder of the children’s activity app ‘Happity’ to create an online training course for children’s activity providers.
Rebecca: I founded Etheo Ltd in 2018. We are a team and leadership transformation consultancy where we develop creative, inspired, engaged and future proofed teams in highly regulated industries.
4) What led you to start your own business?
Emily: Years ago, I went on a short coaching course and I came away inspired and started to put it all into practice the very next day. When one of my team told me how much they were enjoying our one-to-ones and that I’d make a great coach I was blown away. Could coaching techniques really have that impact so quickly?
When I was made redundant in December 2016, I knew I wanted to keep working but I wanted to do something where I spent less time fire-fighting emails, could be part of real change and no longer felt like an imposter. I also wanted to bring home some money. The cost of childcare in London is off the scale and when I was really honest about how much going to work was costing me, the redundancy was the best reset button I could have asked for.
I explored all my options and was consciously avoiding trying to find another Head of Creative role. I’ve made machine embroidered greetings cards and reversible tote bags for years (look up Sew Cheeky) and I honestly thought that I’d scale up that business, but it just didn’t feel quite right. Then I remembered that coaching comment and it all started to make sense. The Coaching Academy offer a two-day taster and by the end of the first day I was hooked and signed up for the full course. I can honestly say I’ve never looked back.
Antoinette: I always thought that one day I would like to go it alone, but it was relocating to Newcastle that was the trigger. My kind of role (Global Training Director) didn’t really exist up there at the time.
Felicity: I was working at Rockwool during both my pregnancies, with long hours and travelling a lot. Whilst on maternity leave the second time, I was wondering about the logistics of childcare for two children under school age around my husband’s demanding job and commute and my marketing role with all its travel, when I spotted an advert for a nanny agency franchise. I had never even considered self-employment before but that was my plunge into the world of running a small business. After five years of running the agency (I had also been doing some freelance marketing work for children’s activity businesses) I sold my franchise and set up Amazing Futures in September 2017.
I knew I had some catching up to do in the digital marketing side of things, so I invested substantially in my personal development. I passed the Google Squared Online diploma in digital strategy and leadership in 2017. I have attended many marketing conferences and I am currently halfway through the 6-month Digital Mums programme. People ask why I am doing this with so much previous marketing experience, but I was almost completely self-taught in social media before and I want to ensure I approach things the right way. I am learning plenty on this very intense course.
I now offer businesses the same highly-trained level of social media expertise as any other qualified Digital Mum, along with my wider marketing expertise. I take a holistic approach. A lot of small businesses think social media is all they need to do to market their business these days but that isn’t true, so I am able to help them form a fully-integrated marketing plan. With my extensive business network, I am able to easily find them someone who is skilled at doing anything I can’t.
Rebecca: I was in the most amazing job, working for an incredible company reporting into someone who I had looked up to my whole career. Five months into that job it was going great, the feedback I was getting was more than I could have hoped for and my team and I were making major waves across the organisation. However, on the flip side, I was working all hours, travelling a lot and missing my babies and husband like crazy.
Less than a year before I had lost my dad, having already lost my mum 13 years before. On 27th December 2017, my dad’s first birthday since his passing, I woke up and thought what on earth am I doing putting work before my family? Had I not learnt anything? That afternoon I quit.
One month before, at a team development day a question came up “What would you do if you had no fear?”
I said that I would build a business to support leaders and teams to live happier, more fulfilled lives. And so, I did just that. After losing my gorgeous dad, it no longer seemed scary.
Etheo is named after my sons Ethan and Theo as a constant reminder of why I made this change.
5) Were there any big or lucky breaks that – or people who – helped you?
Emily: I felt really lucky to have had some amazing clients who trusted me while I was still training – including Sapna. I only needed 39 coaching hours to qualify but when the time came, I already had over 100 sessions under my belt. I still learn something new from every session.
Sapna very kindly offered to help me with my branding in exchange for coaching, which was a privilege, and after being friends for years it was amazing to see her at work. I absolutely love everything about my look and feel and people comment all the time. We worked on it at just the right time and it made me feel polished and professional when in reality I was just starting out. Fake it ‘til you make it and all that!
And finally, a friend introduced me to Nina Grunfeld at Life Clubs last summer. Nina is a highly experienced psychologist and coach and I’ve learnt so much from her. She’s great at encouraging me to play to my strengths and maintain perspective.
Antoinette: When we decided to move North and I decided to set up on my own, I contacted my friend and mentor, David, who had been so instrumental in my decision to move to London many years earlier. He invited me to be a partner in his consultancy firm which was a great “soft landing”. I had the opportunity to focus on client delivery and learn from that experience while he won all the work.
Felicity: Yes loads! I have found the female entrepreneur circle to be enormously collaborative and supportive. I am also lucky to work from a co-working space called The Workary and have lots of people at hand to ask questions on accounts and I.T. hardware.
Rebecca: I knew when I was starting that I had the experience from my career to transform leaders and their teams and had built and led a business before but building a business from scratch there is so much more you need to know. One of the best decisions I made was to join the Key Person of Influence accelerator (where I met Sapna!).
It’s been a game changer in that I have learnt so much about how to position and develop my business, but also, I am now part of a large group of entrepreneurs where we support, challenge and inspire each other and most importantly we hold each other to account – something so important to the lonely solopreneur.
6) What successes are you most proud of?
Emily: Qualifying with distinction (the Personal Performance Diploma) while maintaining my definition of balance. Flexible working is such a buzz word and I think I embody what so many working mothers aspire to. I love what I do and I am good at it. Being made redundant was terrifying but I now have the flexibility and balance that I used to crave. I work hard but feel I get back much more than I put in.
Antoinette: I have been self-employed for twelve years. For six of those, I have been running my own company. It has been a rollercoaster and I’ve had good years and bad. But I have never had to ask my husband for money!
In 2016 I published my first book, Grow Your Geeks. a Handbook for Developing Leaders in High-Tech Organisations. I never thought I’d do anything like that, yet now I’m writing my second book about career conversations in the workplace.
Felicity: It’s still early days. I’m still only in my second year but I am proud of successes like being a Finalist at the Npower National Business Awards last summer, I’m pleased I forced myself out of my comfort zone to participate in a podcast for BT Business. That’s basically it – I’m proud of myself for stretching my boundaries. Most people shy away from putting themselves out there and taking calculated risks like business owners have to, but I’m glad I’ve pushed myself to do it.
Rebecca: Helping an award-winning pharma consultancy develop strategies to face Brexit using 3,000 LEGO® bricks was a high point but I am most proud of what we do when I see the connections between people in a team transform over the course of just a few hours in our workshops.
7) What do you love about running your own business?
Emily: The buck stops with you. You can move quickly, say yes to whatever feels right.
Antoinette: I love the freedom, autonomy, and the challenge. I am tested on a daily basis which I find invigorating. I’m still working out how, but I feel my business is the vehicle through which I can make a difference to the world – my legacy.
Felicity: I love the like the freedom of hours, the creativity and mental stimulation, the continual learning. I also love the fact that I meet so many interesting and inspirational people every single week. Far more so than I ever did in my corporate days. Mostly I love that it doesn’t feel like a job, I am passionate about what I do, something I could never have said about my previous careers – there were elements of my corporate jobs that I enjoyed sure, but was I passionate about it? Nope, most the time I felt like I was faking it and working my socks off to make those at the top richer!
Rebecca: I passionately believe that work should be a place where we feel connected, fulfilled, inspired and energised. That we should come to work, work hard, get stuff done and then go home to a full and happy life. Work should not drain us so we have nothing left. Being able to focus my whole business around this belief is the stuff of dreams.
8) Anything you hate about IT?
Emily: There’s never enough time to do everything! Luckily, I’m good at prioritising so know what needs my attention first.
Antoinette: Sales and marketing. I’m not bad at converting leads once I have them but getting enough leads and getting the commitment from clients is an ongoing hassle.
I often bemoan the fact that my associates are not beholden to me; they obviously all have their own businesses and I have no control over whether they are available to work for me or not!
Felicity: I hate that certain friends, family members and acquaintances assume I don’t have a ‘real job’ – that because I work flexibly (often late into the night) so I can pick my kids up from school most days that I don’t work.
Also what is really tough is the first two years (halfway through my second) is a humungous learning curve, but I feel like I am breaking through it at last!
Rebecca: There is no such thing as office hours – especially with social media – I am sure at times I am addicted to my phone! Sometimes the excitement of building a business and the fact that it feels like a hobby to me means that sometimes I have to be reminded to take a break not only for me but for my family, after all that is the reason why I made this change after all.
9) HOW DID YOU overcome ANY CHALLENGES?
Emily: My only childcare for my first year was two children in school 9am – 3pm and my toddler in a local playgroup three mornings a week. In the second year the three-year-old went into the school nursery and does a total of 24 hours a week and my day still ends at 3pm. So time is my biggest battle. Some days I literally run everywhere but I love the buzz of it. I’ve learnt to ask for help from friends when needed and then reciprocate. Last summer, the children went to stay with my parents for four days while I was working, and we all loved the change.
I’ve also learnt not to compare myself to anyone else. Either in real life or online. Single images rarely tell the whole story. We’re all unique. I feel people are curious about coaching and that this interest is often followed with a suck of air through the teeth and ‘…but there are so many coaches out there…’. Well, yes. There are. But there’s only one of me. And I’m the right coach for someone, somewhere.
Antoinette: See answer to question 8. My other biggest challenge is geography. We live in Newcastle but most of my clients are in London. It’s exhausting. My husband and I are apart too much. And it’s hard to be responsive to clients when it takes six hours of travel and considerable expense just to have a coffee!
Felicity: I have had to overcome my natural inclination towards procrastinating on tasks I hate such as admin and accounts – but I am getting there! In general, it’s the same as most working parents though – juggling childcare and as they’ve got older, the volume of extracurricular activities with my client and training course workload.
Rebecca: Starting up is hard, it’s hard work, it’s emotional, it’s challenging. For me it’s always been important to keep a focus on why I am doing what I do and the value we bring to our end customer. This is what keeps me going on the tough days.
Also surrounding yourself with people who lift you up and share your passions is so important. Without doubt, without the support of my husband Mark I would not have had the career I have had nor the courage to set up on my own. His background as a Scientific Leader himself means that I can test hypotheses with him as he understands the environment of highly-regulated industries more than most.
10) What would you say is the secret to your success so far?
Emily: Being me. Whenever I’ve tried to play a part I’ve fallen flat on my face. I find people I hardly know open up to me because I listen to understand rather than reply. However, when they are listening, I am happy to talk about what I do. You never know where your next client is going to come from…
Also finding my own coaches based on what my current need is. My first coach was a great sounding board and thought provoker while I set up my business. My current coach is more of a business mentor and she is supporting me while I grow my presence online.
Antoinette: Relationships. I have a “Personal Boardroom” of trusted friends and advisors (like Sapna, my branding go-to) who I rely on for help and support.
Felicity: There’s no one secret. It’s a combination of plucking up courage, determination, resilience, networking and loads of hard work. Anyone who runs a successful business uses all of those qualities, I’m sure!
Rebecca: Connection. I have always enjoyed connecting with and collaborating with people – in person throughout my career, over LinkedIn, through mutual contacts. These connections have been invaluable now in building my business. What’s great is that those people I before only spoke to via LinkedIn I am now meeting in person and collaborating with!
11) What kind of strategies or tips do you have for…
Emily: Simon Sinek said, “Start with Why” and this is so true. The more you know about why you’re doing something or where you’re aiming for the better. I’m also a massive fan of visualisation and as well as doing it for myself I use it with clients who are struggling with what it is they really, really want.
Felicity: To look at the end goal and focus on the bigger vision. Although at the moment the thing that’s motivating me is that we want more space so we need a bigger house!
Antoinette: What legacy do you want to leave? (Sorry. Showing my age!) What do you want to be known for/remembered for?
Rebecca: Keeping an eye on why you are doing what you are doing. Sometimes building a business can feel overwhelming – remembering it’s one step at a time. When I do get overwhelmed and have those “why am I doing this?” moments, I look back at one month and three months earlier and remind myself of the progress I am making.
Emily: Being really organised at home means that I can then fully focus on my business as soon as the kids are at school. I break tasks right down so if I only have five minutes, I can fill it. Saving time is a priority – I put my washing machine on a timer so it’s ready to hang out when I wake up, I plan our meals every week and then do an online shop that arrives at breakfast time. My husband and I also share an iPhone calendar which has put an end to the “I didn’t know about that…!” conversations.
I’d also like to say that I’m running the first LifeClubs online programme called From Chaos to Calm that starts on Sunday 10th March 2019, to help busy people focus, get organised and feel calmer and more in control. Full details here.
Antoinette: Less is more. What is the LEAST you need to do today? In other words, if you only do one thing, what is the ONE thing that would make everything else easier or unnecessary (read The One Thing by Gary Keller)
Felicity: I love to break things down into monthly goals, and then weekly to-do lists which I can check off as I go. It was a tip I carried over from my corporate days and it really keeps me on track.
Rebecca: I am an ex-compliance director so I love a procedure or process. I put in place template forms, processes and policies as much as I can so that planning, preparing for and holding my workshops is really time-efficient. It also helps me to delegate things to my VA.
Emily: I use the Eisenhower matrix to prioritise and it saves me every time I feel overwhelmed. By re-drawing my to do list according to urgency and importance I gain complete clarity and work efficiently.
Antoinette: Outsource anything that costs less than your time. My best friend’s mother taught me that when I was in my twenties and moaning about housework. She made me work out how long it took me (ages!) and the equivalent cost based on my wage. It was then a no-brainer to invest in a cleaner.
Felicity: Social media schedulers – I also outsource the stuff I really hate like some admin, bookkeeping and accounting, I use Xero – and then I can get on
I also use Milanote – I pay a monthly fee and it’s got loads of templates and organisational tools, great for planning documents. I’ve also started to use Trello for project management and Slack for seamless communication when I’m working with larger teams.
Rebecca: Outsource as much as you can! From ironing to cleaning to washing the dog. Anything that takes me away from my family time, I outsource so that I can use that time to build the business. I started working with a VA at the beginning of the year and that has been so, so helpful, not only in what they take off of me but in having someone there to discuss plans. They are so much more organised than me!
Emily: JFDI – Just Effing Do It. Overwhelm is the main reason I procrastinate so just making a start on something that feels huge or terrifying really helps.
Antoinette: Eat that Frog by Brian Tracey
Felicity: I also read that book! I always try and eat a frog every day – i.e. tackle first at least one thing that I really don’t want to do.
Rebecca: This is my downfall, I am great at emptying a dishwasher, brushing the dog, building flat pack furniture (!) when there are things to be done that I don’t like doing! At the end of each day, though, I write a list for the next day and so even if I don’t want to do something I have to!
Emily: These days I exercise more for the mental health benefits than the physical ones. I love the freedom of running and take my trainers wherever I go. Jetlag was waking me early in New York last spring and the early morning run around Central Park was magical. To make the most of the time, I run listening to podcasts or The Greatest Showman soundtrack. I do Pilates a few times a week too, to keep the aches and pains at bay and it really works. I also love a box set. The Crown, House of Cards and Sex Education are recent binges.
Antoinette: Go out with your partner or family. If you’re at home watching the TV, the likelihood is you’ll have one eye on the TV and the other on your iPad or phone. If you go out and leave the gadgets at home, you’ll focus on each other.
Or do something that requires your total concentration – rally car driving, scuba diving, etc.
Felicity: I like to swim and do yoga or go for walks. At weekends I try to do as little work as possible – we’re National Trust members so we do a lot of days out with the family.
Rebecca: Spending time with my kids or walking my dog. With two crazy boys there is very little else you can think or worry about when you are running around after them. Spending time with family is really grounding – after all, kids and dogs don’t care much about business worries.
Emily: A glass of something delicious, and probably sparkling, at around 5pm on a Friday is my favourite way to end a week. There’s normally something to celebrate – whether it be a new client or some small steps towards something bigger. Last year my husband and I had a big party to each celebrate turning 40 and being 10 years married and I’ve vowed to celebrate, and not ignore, birthdays going forward. We need to celebrate life and being alive rather than mourn and dread the passing years.
Antoinette: Champagne. Always champagne!
Felicity: I might go out for dinner, open a bottle of Prosecco, buy something nice. Although I don’t really tend to buy lots of things for myself since I’ve had children – I recently treated myself to a Kurt Geiger handbag I really liked!
Rebecca: My husband and I celebrate every success we each have, from the end of a project, a new contract signed, a challenge overcome. Celebrating the small wins is so important!
Emily: I have my own definition of balance that is unique to me. Some weeks I’m very much going towards it. Others I feel very far away from it. Being self-employed means you can create a wonderful sense of freedom but could be working all the time. So, knowing how much you need or want to work and being strict with when enough is enough is key. And always remember that when you say ‘no’ you’re also saying ‘yes’ – either to yourself or something or someone else.
Antoinette: Love your work and make it part of your life. Then you don’t need to balance.
Felicity; I tend to work during school hours and then I do stuff with the kids after school. I might work a bit in the evenings, but weekends are saved for my family.
Rebecca: For me, work/life balance isn’t about the number of hours you work but the impact work has on your life. We try to make sure we have real downtime in the evenings between the end of school clubs and the kids’ bedtimes, where we are present in the moment not thinking about the day before or the next day. If we need to discuss or think about work it comes after the kids are in bed. More often than not the worries you wanted to talk about are often resolved by that time as your downtime has given your brain time to work it through itself.
Finally – any Last words for other women who are thinking of starting their own businesses, or have just started out?
Emily: Go for it! Don’t wait until everything is perfect to start. It never will be. But having a clear idea of your long-term vision and taking small steps towards it every day is key. A brilliant exercise to dream big is Debbie Millman’s Plan for a Remarkable Life. Details can be found here https://yourtenyearplan.com/
Antoinette: Find mentors and talk to successful business people who can share their real-life experience and advice. Do not get blinded by the online start-up “gurus” and “experts”. There are a lot of charlatans out there.
Felicity: Especially when you’re running your own business, there’ll be days when you feel you’re really cracking it and then there’ll be other days that you feel you’re the biggest failure ever. You just need to learn to enjoy the highs and deal with the lows and that they are only temporary, things will change and you’re in control.
Rebecca: Don’t let unfounded fear hold you back.
In the words of Baz Luhrmann “Don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday”
For me, it was 4.20pm on Monday 20th February 2017.
Whilst life has taken so much from me it has also given me reminders of how brief and fleeting this life is. Get out and live it, after all you can’t say “Next time”.
Great words to end on.
Thank you all so much for sharing your valuable time and wisdom with us – hopefully, it will inspire other women too.
Happy International Women’s Day!