Why we all need to strike the balance for better

It was International Women’s Day (IWD) on Friday, and the theme for this year is ‘balance for better’.

Interestingly, this year’s IWD has a distinct business focus. In describing the agenda for the year ahead, the website for IWD states that balance for better means to: ‘encourage gender balance in boardrooms, in the media and in wealth as a way for economies to thrive.’

I’ve been thinking about this theme – which really strikes a chord with me – in relation to the clients we work with, our own business and the business community as a whole. Achieving better balance is something we’ve been working towards in our own way over the 10 years we’ve been in business. In a male-dominated industry, we deliberately chose to focus our attention on female clients – recognising that women can hold the purse strings and in doing so, can create a better destiny for themselves and their families.

On an individual level, we’re proud of the many women we have been able to help along the way. Yet we recognise that we’re only just scratching the surface.
‘Balance’ is defined as a situation in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.

We are clearly not at this point so far as women’s wealth, or women in the business community are concerned.

So when some groups question the relevance of International Women’s Day – whether there’s any need for it and what having a designated day to both celebrate the achievements of women and to focus on the women’s agenda is needed – there seems to me to be an obvious answer. Clearly, we can’t change the world in a single day. But IWD at least provides a focal point. Its annual appearance in our diaries reminds us of how far we have come, yet how far we still have to go.

IWD gives us the platform and power of collaboration. But let’s not forget that change can be enacted by one person with one small act or change.

The glorious thing about communicating in today’s world is that we can all have a voice. Social media is accessible to the majority and writing a blog is something we can all do. So we can all, if we choose, have our own say on or during the International Women’s Day celebrations.

We can all attend an event, or mark International Women’s Day in some way.

Many people may even choose to host their own event to mark the occasion – be it within their own group of friends, at their workplace or between others in the business community.

You might even decide to use the power of the pink pound – by actively seeking out female-founded or led businesses to spend your money with.

The message here is that if we – as womenkind – really want to achieve a better balance, we all need to be accountable. And International Women’s Day is a timely and useful reminder of this.

At Addidi, we’re all striking the pose for #balanceforbetter.

Anna’s top 3 tips for female entrepreneurs

Here at Addidi, we’re lucky enough to work with several inspirational female entrepreneurs. We’ve learned a great deal from them over the years and have the following tips to pass on to the business owners of tomorrow…

Authenticity from day one

Entrepreneurs have a unique opportunity to set a culture and practices that reflect their values. Don’t underestimate how important this. Everyone knows you need passion and drive to get a business off the ground but inspiring and motivating others with your vision and purpose won’t work if it doesn’t genuinely come from the heart. Put your values at the centre of your decisions and you won’t go far off track. Analyse your skills, motivation and capacities and be honest with yourself. Ask for help when you need it. If you are authentic from day one, you’ll create something special that you can be proud of and stand by when challenges come along.

Know your business and your market

If you intend to raise finance for your enterprise you’ll need to demonstrate that you’ve done your homework. While it will be your passion for what you are doing that will engage and intrigue investors, it isn’t enough on its own to secure investment. Don’t shy away from the numbers. If it is not your strength, be honest with yourself (see above!) and get as much help, business and profit and loss management experience as you can to build your knowledge and confidence. Before going in front of investors make sure that you are clear on why your enterprise is both needed and viable. Think about your preferred exit strategy and what scaling up for long term growth will require. Understand your working capital needs as well as your P&L. Always expect to be grilled on the numbers – even by ‘friendly’ investors.

Network to build community and find mentors

Building a community of supporters and allies who share you values will help advance your enterprise. Many business leaders and successful entrepreneurs want to put something back and support women in business, so don’t feel uncomfortable about asking for advice and practical help. You can maintain networks and communities online, but real connections happen face to face. Meet people and get to know them to build rapport. If you are short on powerful advocates, take up a social activity or join a club that gives you access to influencers that can help your business take off.

The way forward for women in business

At Addidi, our women in business clients usually have one of three profiles. They’re either entrepreneurs and self-employed or they’re business leaders – getting close to or already sitting at the top table of their company or profession.

We say ‘usually’ because we know only too well it’s never ‘business as usual’ for the majority of women in business.

The rising number of us entering the workforce over the last forty years and our new economic power means we have increasing quantities of data available to track, analyse and understand what’s really going on in women’s working lives. This information is essential for benchmarking our progress, identifying challenges ahead and recording our experiences for future generations. It helps us present the case for change.

While the data can tell us a lot, conversations with our clients and women in our wider network help fill out the psychological picture. What’s clear is there isn’t a uniform landscape or experience for women in business.

An uneven landscape

We’re making incredible strides forward and rising to some of the biggest challenges of our day. Women are pioneering new business models and we’re advocating fairer, more flexible ways of working. Yet we’re still experiencing the cultural challenges that remain deeply embedded in many business sectors.

Entrepreneurs doing good business

The “Enterprise Gap”, the difference in the number of men and women owning companies, has decreased significantly in the last decade. Women are excelling at starting up successful businesses yet of the 5.5m SMEs (small to medium-sized enterprises) operating in the UK today, still only 20% (1.14m in total) are led by women. The gap between the number of male and female entrepreneurs may be closing, but it still exists.

Investment in women’s enterprise also remains low considering evidence that we are more likely to start businesses that are successful in the long-term. We’ve responded by forming investment groups and clubs – like Addidi Angels – to help fill the funding gap for talented entrepreneurs. Given the success of women entrepreneurs and the UK’s increasing dependence on SMEs for economic growth, this is simply good business.

The female entrepreneurs we work with put their values at the core of their business or define themselves as social entrepreneurs. Implicit in this is a sustainable approach to business that doesn’t focus solely on a profit-at-all-cost agenda. By giving back and treading lightly when it comes to environment and communities, female entrepreneurs are redressing the balance in our business ecosystem. This is hugely important for transforming business – culture and impact – in the long term.

We can do more to support each other. We want women to take the lead here and invest in enterprising women. We can use our economic power to help each other succeed and this will encourage the wider investment community to choose female enterprise too. This is how we’ll change the game.

Business leaders push through

As well as the increase in female entrepreneurs in recent years, the rise in women’s directorial roles in big business is impressive. In the last quarter of 2018, the milestone 30% quota for women on FTSE 100 boards was surpassed. This exceeds the target set in the 2011 governmental report that required a minimum of 25% female representation on boards.

That’s great news and the trend is also being matched in the FTSE 250, in which 62 companies have reached 30% representation of women, with only 9 men-only boards remaining, down from 131 in 2010.

Looking across different sectors in FTSE 100 companies, female representation on boards has also changed quite dramatically in the past 10 years. In 2007, there were no women on the boards of companies in the construction sector, and only 4% in manufacturing. Both sectors are now operating at or above the government’s target of 25%, with representation of 29% and 25% respectively.

However, some business sectors remain stubbornly excluding of female talent at all levels. My own sector tops that particular list. We all know that greater gender diversity leads to stronger financial performance, more constructive discussions and encourages disruptive thinking – which is essential for innovation.

While the Women in Finance Charter may have highlighted diversity issues, the financial sector is not acting fast enough to capitalize on the ‘diversity dividend’. It’s hard to understand how the sector will attract top talent in the future if it doesn’t take the opportunity to make positive change now.

Self-employment for flexibility and fulfilment

Self-employment is on the rise. Between 2008 and 2016 women accounted for over 80% of the new self-employed.
There are clear reasons why women are choosing this way of working. Flexibility around other responsibilities including childcare, are obvious practical benefits.

Many women choose to start up their own businesses in order to have more meaning in their
work and it is this combination of purpose and balance that motivates women to choose self-employment.

FSB (National Federation of Self Employed and Small Businesses) members report that self-employment has made a big difference in their lives – 61% said that changing how they worked has helped them to achieve a much better work/life balance, while 79% said that they greatly value having independence at work. 51% said that self-employment had given them the ability to fulfil a personal vision9.

Often corporate cultures simply don’t work for women. But self-employment isn’t the right solution for everyone. Inflexibility from employers, poor workplace cultures and financial necessity can force women into ‘involuntary’ self-employment, when it feels like the only option left. This is far from ideal but not uncommon.

The power of the ripple effect

Most of us have thankfully moved on from mimicking the worst of 1980s male behaviour in the workplace as our recipe for success. Whether you are a business leader, self-employed or an entrepreneur how you behave at work matters and has a profound effect on the culture.

It feels right to bring a sisterly, generous set of behaviours to other women in business. By extending a supportive hand to each other, we can lead by example and change the dynamics of business culture. It is up to us to take individual responsibility for setting positive, inclusive behaviours and defining expectations at work.

In a large corporate the impact of a woman taking more flexible working arrangements without compromising on her pay package sends a powerful message to other women in the company. The same is true when we extend a helping hand to a colleague, employee or business partner. If we shy away from these opportunities and conversations we are passing up on the opportunity to create positive change for other working women.

Forging powerful partnerships

Changing culture is difficult. We can’t do it on our own. Sharing our experiences is where the process begins but we need cooperation from powerful, like-minded men too in order to make deep, lasting changes. Respecting a culture’s values even as we push for new ideas and practices to be adopted is important.

It’s through communication, collaboration and cooperation that we’ll make the most profound and positive difference which will benefit all of us.

We are beginning to shape a different, inclusive and more balanced ecosystem and that’s exciting. We need to draw inspiration from each other to keep up the momentum for positive change.

Making ‘me’ time this Valentines Day

February 14th is here again and love is in the air.

Valentine’s Day often splits opinion; considered either a time to show your love and affection for others or another chance for retailers to take your hard-earned money! Whether you’re a die-hard romantic, a cynic or single, you can’t argue that a little bit of love makes the world go round and taking the time to tell someone how much you love them is certainly no bad thing.
However, what about taking some time for yourself?

It’s no secret that we are living increasingly busy lives.

Stress, anxiety and poor mental health is an everyday reality for thousands of people and a growing issue for employers and society as a whole. A 2017 government report found that poor mental health has an annual cost to employers of between £33 billion and £42 billion.

‘Career burnout’ is becoming an ever-more present scenario, especially for those who have reached the top of their game.

And it seems that working women are particularly susceptible to stress; females in full-time employment are nearly twice as likely to have a common mental health problem as full-time employed men (19.8% vs 10.9%).

Could it be that in our attempts to ‘have it all’, we’re putting ourselves at increased risk? In trying to keep our families cared for, our homes immaculate, our relationships intact and our careers on track, we’re juggling so many balls at the same time that it’s a constant drain.

So what steps can you take to invest in yourself – reducing the strain on your time and the pressure on your already stretched resources?

The need to move onto the next thing is inherent in some of us – so we find ourselves always striving to achieve and do more. So when you’ve worked hard to make it to a certain level in your job or field, yet you’re still not happy, this can lead to feelings of despair. Sometimes, it can take a ‘wake-up call’ to realise that what you thought you wanted to achieve isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. If this sounds familiar, don’t rush into any decisions; take some time to talk to those around you that you trust and put together a step-by-step plan that will help you achieve the ultimate goal – happiness.

Seek out support
We all need someone to reassure us and fall back on if we need – it’s human nature. If your employer isn’t supportive (or you’re your own boss!), look for others who may be able to offer the support you need from a professional perspective, such as a mentor or a peer. Having a solid support network in your personal life is vital too – and be sure not to take help from friends or family for granted.

Work out where your time is ‘going’
You’ll often read that it’s important to ‘make time’ for yourself through the course of a week. But if you’re already stretched to the limit and burning the candles at both ends, this can seem like an impossibility. Try keeping a detailed diary for a few weeks and analyse it afterwards, highlighting the areas where your time ‘disappears’ the most. Once you’ve done this, find a way to relieve this pressure on your time. At work, this might mean getting an extra pair of hands with a PA, virtual assistant or administrator. At home, you might look to get in some help, or else delegate jobs better within the household. Once you’ve been able to free up some time, be sure to spend it doing something you love or benefit from.

Make wiser choices
You can’t add extra hours to a day, but it is possible to spend the time you have more effectively. You can choose to spend 15 minutes on your way to work catching up on social media, or else you could choose to spend this time practicing meditation or mindfulness.

Learning to recognise say ‘no’ to things that aren’t a good use of your time is a skill that doesn’t come naturally but can be developed.

So as well as demonstrating your love for your nearest and dearest this Valentine’s Day, how about giving yourself a little bit more ‘me time’? We all take our mental health for granted when things are going well, but anyone who’s suffered from stress or anxiety will tell you that it really is worth spending time and effort investing in.

Anna Sofat: The Rise of Women’s Wealth

The rise of women’s wealth

Becoming the breadwinner
There have been huge changes in women’s lives in recent decades and we’ve become an economic force to be reckoned with. In the UK we’re setting up and running successful businesses at an astonishing rate1, more women are moving up the corporate ladder and becoming business leaders or we’re choosing the flexibility of self-employment as a route to our financial independence.

The number of us taking the lead as the main earner in our households has more than doubled in the last ten years2. We’ve come such a long way and it’s a trend that’s going to continue3. Of course our new wealth comes with challenges, but as we take our rightful places at the table, we have an exciting opportunity to change the culture of wealth and shape a fairer more balanced future for the next generation.

It’s complicated….
Many men and women we know and love will testify that being the main earner can be a mixed blessing. The relationship with our new role and rising wealth is complicated. Some of us are finding the support we need to get the balance right – but for many women the demands, responsibilities and compromises are difficult to balance.

Even if we are happy to take the lead in providing for our family’s financial needs, we can feel conflicted about the choices we’re making. The ‘invisible labour’ of care and family demands can leave us simply too busy or exhausted to enjoy the journey we’re on. A Workplace Benefits report from Bank of America Merril Lynch published in Forbes magazine at the end of last year pointed out that women are much more susceptible to serious anxiety, stress, fear and guilt about meeting the financial needs and expectations of family and society4.

We want women to enjoy their success and lead happier, healthier, more balanced lives.
We know it’s possible and it’s why Janardan and I started Addidi and why Addidi prioritises women.

A new girl gang: changing the narrative
Women are competitive and that’s fine – we’ve needed to be to get this far. However, one just needs to go online or engage with the media to see what a hard time we’re giving each other. Motherhood, as it relates to our working lives and our attitudes to wealth, can be a particular flashpoint among women from diverse backgrounds.

Put simply, we’re having trouble reconciling our different roles and we’re in danger of losing our compassion, never mind our balance, as we struggle to deal with our own experience, bias and feelings. Giving as good as we get can only get us so far and it won’t change the status quo.

Respecting personal choices, regardless of our own circumstances and views will create a better climate for debate and more future-focused conversation. We can focus on what’s important to us, together, and change the narrative from conflict to cooperation, one conversation at a time.

Supporting and celebrating eachother’s achievements, as we navigate complex times, keeps morale high. Good examples and successful collaborations will only yield more.

Fairness: closing the earnings gap
It’s no wonder that women have been starting businesses as a route to securing independence, flexibility and a better work-life balance5, given the slow pace of change in the wider workplace. Exciting as it is to see women entrepreneurs succeeding, it certainly isn’t for everyone and it’s not enough to drive the broader change in working culture that we need to see.

While fair pay isn’t necessarily a gender issue – it is an important battle that we need to keep fighting. It’s about addressing the root cause of inequality that starts in the boardroom and ripples out to wider society. We’re all bored of reading headlines about the obscene and widening pay gap in FTSE 100 companies and beyond8.
How about some more headlines in 2019 about how much value diversity throughout an organisation adds and how much productivity and wellness are improved for all workers when the pay gap narrows6?

Employers must step up and support women to make change from within. There is an opportunity here for companies to really differentiate themselves in terms of talent development as well as attracting and retaining women. Meeting women’s diverse needs at all levels in an organization makes good business sense and raises the bar for everyone6,7.

We’d urge younger working women in particular to continue to scrutinise pay differential indicators as part of their assessment of whether or not a company or organisation is a good and suitable employer, or not.

Let’s make 2019 the year when we say enough is enough and ask female leaders and executives to take the lead in championing change. Publishing board room packages and salaries is one way of increasing transparency and offering to take pay cuts or adjustments in the boardroom – rather than asking for more – is a great way forward.

Bringing who we are to work

Communication, collaboration and cooperation are vitally important when there is so much conflict between and around us. Women bring unique and varied attributes to business and leadership and we can use our talents to create positive change in the workplace and beyond.

Bringing emotional intelligence, sensitivity and skills to work is really important. They influence our behaviours and the kinds of culture we create. If we are authentic, then others can be too. A climate of mutual respect, where individuals can say it as they see it, makes for a rewarding and authentic experience for everyone and the kind of balanced ecosystem in which we all thrive.

The more we share the stories of our experience, the easier this becomes. We can change the culture of wealth and improve the quality of our own lives as we strive for a better, fairer and more sustainable future for us all. We believe that’s worth fighting for.

Let’s not forget to enjoy the journey together.

References and sources

1. For female entrepreneurs, the UK leads the way: recent research by the Economist Intelligence Unit found 26% of high net worth women surveyed in the UK are business owners, which is a higher share than women, or men, in any other surveyed region. Economist Intelligence Unit and Royal Bank of Canada Global Survey
2. Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report, 2018
3. Kantar 2017 Winning over women report.
4. Workplace Benefits report, Bank of America Merril Lynch published in Forbes magazine, 2018
5. Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2017 report (GEM 2017) launched July 2018.
6. Since 2011, investments into companies with no female directors on their board average £2.9m, whereas adding a single female board member corresponds with a typical increase of £500,000. Aston University research
7.Amanda Weinstein. Harvard Business Review. Jan. 31, 2018. “When More Women Join the Workforce, Wages Rise — Including for Men.” https://hbr.org/2018/01/when-more-women-join-the-workforce-wages-rise-including-for-men
8. Analysis by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and the High Pay Centre showing chief executives of FTSE 100 companies are paid an average of £898 per hour – 256 times what apprentices earn on the minimum wage. The Guardian, 3rd January 2019.

Anna Sofat: The future of ‘Fat Cat Friday’​ is in our hands

Another day, another headline that causes outrage but still the facts don’t change – the 6 female CEOs of FTSE 100 companies earn half as much as their male counterparts. So what, I ask myself for the umpteenth time, can we do to combat the gender pay gap?

The first thing I will say is that creating more tick boxes with obvious loop holes is not the answer. Fat cat Friday leaves a bad taste in my mouth for many reasons, most notably the fact that the average CEO earns a shocking 133 times more than the average worker. The gap has more than doubled over the past 30 years whilst the average salary has barely kept pace with inflation.

Whilst this brings about questions of ethics and social responsibility what we all forget, is that it also impacts the bottom line. This kind of unprecedented growth in salary is often not reflected in growing profits, and at time defies any logical reason.

Having worked in the business and financial landscape for some 30 years now, it is unsurprising to me that issues of lack of good governance and egotistical politics get in the way of even the savviest businesses making responsible decisions. We have allowed the culture of wealth and business to become ugly and increasingly unfair.

Whilst I don’t have all the answers, or a quick fix to overcome this widespread crisis, I have always believed change can come from the majority, and we don’t have to wait for the leaders to act. When the little decisions made by thousands of people on a daily basis alter, the world changes. This gives me hope that despite the endless stream of cash and influence that the c-suite possesses, it is in the hands of us, the majority, to rectify.

The good news is that there is a growing number of women at the top and younger entrepreneurs, and I am confident that their impact will be a positive one for the future of business. With diversity comes success and I hope that my vision for a more equal and sustainable future isn’t too far away.

A Christmas note from Anna Sofat

As 2018 draws to a close, it’s time to take a look back over what has been a year of ups and downs.

The year seemed to begin with a flourish – the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote was upon us and there seemed to be a real desire for change and progress for women. As the year went on, some of this momentum slipped, and as the results of gender pay gap reporting starting to unfold and the latest Women on Boards statistics were revealed, it became apparent that not as much progress has been made as we would like. The government has set out its agenda for the Hampton-Alexander review and it will be interesting to see how this progresses into 2019.
So far as the economy is concerned, the first few months of the year largely continued in the same vein as the past couple of years, with sustained growth in the markets translating into some great gains for client portfolios. As political uncertainty around Brexit began to unfold, along with concerns over international trade, we’ve returned to a period of volatility. During such times, it’s important to take a long-term view; we’ve been through periods of instability before and come out better for it – you only need to look back a few years to the Global Financial Crisis!

2018 has also been a special year for Addidi as we marked our ten year anniversary. We were able to celebrate the milestone with many of our clients in October, alongside launching our new website and ‘Voice of Women’s Wealth’ campaign.

Amongst the madness of the festive season, it’s always important to try and take the time to reflect. As a financial adviser, I come across the good and the bad of money and the effect it has on people. Money doesn’t always bring happiness, despite what people think, and using wealth to try and bring happiness, either to yourself or to others, is a message we are keen to impart on our clients. It’s no coincidence that we use the words ‘create’, ‘invest’ and ‘enjoy’ when communicating with clients. We help clients to create wealth, by giving them a plan and helping them to implement it. We then provide the tools for clients to invest, ideally to give them a sustainable income for the longer term. Thereafter it’s time to enjoy what you have worked hard to achieve.

This festive season, Addidi has taken the step of making our annual charitable donation. When we set up the business, we decided that we would donate 1% of our annual turnover to charitable causes. This is a promise we have been able to stick to, picking a number of charities to split the donations across at the end of our financial year at the beginning of April. In this, our tenth year, this percentage has grown to a not-insignificant sum. Having seen the homeless crisis on our streets worsening over the past 12 months in particular, we have taken the decision to donate 25% of our annual charity fund to Crisis; giving them a boost as the winter starts to kick in.

So as we head towards the festive season and the start of a New Year, maybe we should all take some time out to think what wealth is really about. Having wealth isn’t about being wealthy. It isn’t about extravagant gifts or grand gestures. Sometimes, true wealth is simply about using what you have in the most meaningful way.
Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and best wishes for 2019.

– Anna

Voice’s of Addidi: Sarah Matthew

As part of the 100 year celebrations of women gaining the right to vote in the UK for the first time, Addidi is proud to be featured in UK Parliament’s official commemorative album, Voice & Vote.

To help celebrate this milestone in our history, we’ve decided to put together a series called ‘Voices of Addidi’. Featuring conversations with members of the Addidi team, clients, friends and associates, each piece will look at what gaining the right to vote means and the experiences of the individual in relation to women and equality.

Our first Voice of Addidi is Sarah Matthew. With a long and successful career in pharmaceutical marketing and healthcare communications, Sarah co-founded leading international healthcare communications and medical education consultancy, Virgo Health. She is now Chair of Hanover Health and also founder of The Vibrant Company.

We’re celebrating 100 years of women gaining the vote this year. What are your thoughts on the landmark?
It’s obviously right that we are marking this incredibly important milestone and my main feeling is one of gratitude to those brave and visionary people, women and men, who fought so hard to gain the vote for women 100 years ago. Thanks to them, I grew up with the belief that I could achieve anything I set my mind to. I therefore consider myself extremely fortunate to have created the career and the life that I have.
At the same time, it’s a natural reflection point for assessing how far we have come. We have much to be proud of but in my opinion there is still a long way to go before we have true equality – not just for women, but for equal and diverse inclusion and representation across the board.

Women have made much progress over the last 100 years but what are your views on where we still have to go?
As someone who advises, coaches and mentors business leaders, examples of where we still need improvement are all too numerous and one I encounter on a regular basis is funding for start-ups, where it is apparent that access to finance is far more limited for women entrepreneurs than their male counterparts. This is the main reason I decided to become an angel investor via the Addidi Angels programme, established as the first all-women angel investment club in the UK – it’s important to pay it forward and give other women the same access to opportunities I had earlier on in my own career. Although a great deal of progress has indeed been made, the rate of continuing improvement can make for rather depressing reading.
Of the FTSE 100 companies, only 6 have a female CEO – a stark statistic in anyone’s eyes. This correlates with the continuing struggles that women have in gaining senior positions in business. The contributing factors are complex, but for all the women I speak to, for all the businesses I work with and for all the events I attend on this topic, the fact that in the twenty-first century women still constitute the majority of primary care-givers and primary managers of their respective households, remains the greatest challenge to navigate. The impact can be felt across the whole of a woman’s working life, as intimately illustrated by the findings of this year’s Gender Pay Gap report, and ultimately results in a huge loss to industry of female talent. It’s simply too high a price to pay.

When it’s an established fact that having women on company boards leads to better financial success, we must address the whole pipeline. We can do better and we can go faster.

What advice would you give to a women starting out in her career today?
My key piece of advice is to have the confidence to follow your own path and don’t accept the status quo. We need women to invent, to innovate and to be front and centre in creating a better future. Seek mentors, men and women, who are forging new paths in the direction you’re interested in.
I’m a fierce champion for women in business and I’m involved with a number of women’s forums. Often what I see is that conformity with the ‘now’ results in a completely innocent and unconscious, self-imposed ‘glass ceiling’. We are used to hearing about how women in the workplace can lack confidence, but as I have already alluded to, often the bigger stumbling block and perhaps even the cause, misconstrued as a confidence issue, is women actively choosing not to progress to more senior positions due to the conflict they fear will be created between their career and family life. There is no need for this to be the case in my eyes and as well as businesses, society itself needs to look at and question this.
All the time that women accept and are expected to accept the default position of primary caregiver and/or household manager, we will continue to struggle to reach the top in the business world. Men and women can function equally as well in roles at work and at home and yet that’s not what we’re seeing. As an example, all the data suggest that women are still responsible for the vast majority of domestic chores, including cooking meals in the home, but contrast that with the lists of the most celebrated chefs in the world, which are consistently almost all men.
My husband took a break in his career to become the primary carer for our family when my business took off and in fact a significant number of the senior women I know are supported by their partners assuming the role of CHO (Chief Household Officer2)! It’s something we need to talk about more as it’s still not widely seen as a desirable option in society. Witness the pitifully low take-up by fathers of shared parental leave. I’m certainly not saying that it’s impossible for both partners to have simultaneously successful careers as that’s clearly not the case, or that women shouldn’t choose looking after their families over their career. If that’s genuinely their choice, they should be fully supported in making it. But if there is a choice to be made, does it have to be the female partner, or given all the obstacles and inertia, does it just seem like the easier option?

Is there a woman, living or deceased, that has inspired you?
There is someone who was a real inspiration to me earlier on in my career – Margot James, who is now a conservative MP. She was co-owner of Shire Hall, the first specialist healthcare communications company in the UK and the first agency I worked for after leaving the ‘client side’. She set a powerful example as a female entrepreneur and in the way behaved as a leader. She was admired by and inspiring to all who worked with her and one of the best bosses I ever had.

What are your thoughts as we look ahead?
I truly believe that if the concept of ‘work’ was invented today, practices and attitudes would be very different and not dictated by the often outmoded habits of our past. As one of the two female co-founders of Virgo Health back in 2003, our company proved that even fifteen years ago it was possible to be highly flexible, family-friendly and super-successful.
Yes, flexible working arrangements are becoming increasingly commonplace for a lot of us and there are stand-out examples of completely new models being created, especially by innovative start-ups. We have the technology, we just need the will and determination that our forebears had 100 years ago!
With more people seeking a healthier work/life balance, not to mention a burgeoning ageing population to care for, juggling a career and family life will become more rather than less of a challenge for everyone and those businesses who fully recognise and adapt for this will undoubtedly gain competitive advantage.
In the years to come I believe equality will only be reached when it really works both ways – when we tell girls and boys that the options and even obligations ahead of them in life are the same, at work, at home and in general, regardless of gender. The body of evidence suggests that despite some of our best efforts, this is still not happening.
I have two sons and I’m very aware of the messages and morals they absorb from the world around them. Attitudes towards equality are harboured from a young age and even if not overt or intentionally harmful, social norms leave their mark. For us to re-gain the momentum of change, we need to challenge the social norm. This applies to all of us; men, women, children, businesses and society.

1. According to the latest figures from the Hampton-Alexander review, which date from November 2017
2. Credit to Brenda Trenowden, Global Chair of the 30% Club and Head of FIG Europe, ANZ Bank, from whom I first heard this title.

Deborah Fitzgerald: Choosing to live differently

Making the move to Amsterdam reconnected me with my values and changed my life.

Human beings are spectacularly bad at predicting outcomes; the evidence is all around us, positive and negative. Sometimes the benefits and costs, the risks and rewards seem obvious, but often it can take years for the impacts of one or other decision to fully unfurl.

When we’re making choices we tend to identify with the benefits and rewards of a particular option (convenience, for example), but are not so good at predicting the downside (climate change).

While we can conceptually grasp that change – in us and in our universe – is constant and inevitable, and that what works today won’t necessarily be fit for purpose tomorrow, our first-line response to change is often resistance.

Getting comfortable with the idea of uncertain outcomes is at the heart of disruption and innovation – it can be liberating, and help us make radical choices and better decisions, just when we need them most.

In 2008 I chose to leave a successful, high-profile career, and my life in London, to move to Amsterdam with my husband.

It has been a life-affirming and liberating choice and just what I needed. A good outcome, so far. It’s a revelation to live somewhere else; even if you think you know the place, you learn a huge amount about yourself.

We’d been living in London for almost twenty years. My husband worked in social services for local government; I was marketing director of a global branding consultancy.

I’d had a rewarding career working with exceptional people, brands and organisations. I’d worked hard and was at the top of my game, well paid with a six-figure salary and the rest. With a small loving family, an active private and professional social life, and a lovely flat in town – what’s not to like?

I’m miserable. I feel guilty, ungrateful and weirdly angry. I’ve lost balance. It feels for the first time that I’m doing this job because I have to, not because I want to. I fear I have become a rat. A rat with a nice handbag, but a rat nonetheless, in a race I no longer care about winning. I feel seriously disconnected from my values and I’m anxious and disoriented.

March 2008 – We go to Amsterdam for a weekend break to help us recalibrate. It is our third visit to the lowlands this year. My Dad lived here for a few years and we stop at a bar that he used to frequent. We’ve been talking about how much we like the culture and rhythm of life here, it feels more in sync with our values. There’s a domestic, friendly scale to the architecture of the city. It’s a very creative and livable environment. We both feel relaxed and free and are sad to leave.

I start planning change. We need to work. Initially we think about decamping to the UK countryside, maybe Yorkshire or Dorset. I briefly flirt with an idea that focuses on distributing regional produce.

Just this simple act of imaginative thinking starts to shift my mind into a positive place and reconnect me with what I value. I begin to feel excited about the possibilities ahead.

I start exploring opportunities to live and work in Europe. I find a lovely flat on the river Amstel and interesting work through my network. A beloved friend calls and tells me he is moving to Amsterdam with his partner and it feels like a deal clincher for me. We take the plunge and by June, we’re living there.

I was shocked by how difficult I found the first year of living somewhere else, particularly as I’d lived abroad and travelled a lot as a child, and in my work. I missed my friends and family profoundly and it took me time to adjust.

As for life in The Netherlands: well, the Dutch are famously ‘direct’, and they say what they think. This can be difficult if you’re English or having a sensitive day. In business it can be frustrating – everyone has something to say and consensus can be hard to reach – but generally, I’ve come to prefer the straight line to going around the houses. You know where you stand.

The work culture is surprisingly different, considering the country is only 100 kilometres or so from the UK. On meeting you, the Dutch tend not to ask you what you do for a living as a first or even second question. They don’t define themselves or others by their work or profession. It’s an innovative and entrepreneurial environment. It’s refreshing and liberating and has allowed me to be more fully who I am in all parts of my life. Biking everywhere and being able to make it to yoga classes every evening if I choose are simple daily pleasures.

Of course research, reconnaissance and planning are important when you are making big, life changing decisions. But truth is you can’t know everything that lies ahead. I’ve found that making a positive choice, taking a big leap becomes possible when you are able to let go of certainty, are open to different outcomes and trust yourself and your innate adaptability.

• Trust your instinct
• Practice a bit of imaginative thinking
• Let your values lead your big life decisions
• Embrace uncertainty
• Be prepared to be surprised
• Listen to your feelings and emotions
• Draw practical support from trusted advisers and people who have your best interests at heart

I’m mindful that the right and freedom to choose the life we want to live has been hard won and is still denied to many women by their circumstances. If you have the opportunity to live a life you can truly choose – I say why not grab it!

Sarah Matthew: Why women should make ‘Radical’ choices

As we celebrate the centenary of women gaining the right to vote in the UK – to express their political choice – it’s a natural time for us to reflect on the available choices for women today.

A lot has changed in the last one hundred years, but we still have a long way to go to achieve true equality. The gender pay gap, the number of women on boards and the level of disparity in pension provision between men and women are all testament to this.

However, my experience is that a lack of choice is not always the issue. It’s often more a case of being able to see the full range of choices that do or could exist and finding the courage to pursue them. In my coaching and mentoring work, with both men and women, I see people who are frustrated and stressed by how their lives are playing out…until they realise that have inadvertently ‘slept-walked’ into the expectations of their society, their families or their broader communities.

When we feel obliged to do what’s expected of us rather than follow our hearts and do what gives us the greatest joy; when we allow our lives to be governed by the shoulds and should nots we inherit and absorb from others, then we innocently collude in enabling the habits and limitations of our collective past to steal from our own possibilities for the future. We all do this, at least to some extent, but as women, the effects can be felt even more profoundly. We tend to experience more conditioning around needing to conform and fit in.

By some happy accident, I seem to have been born with a rebellious streak and perhaps this is what enables me to spot when my clients are victims of their unconscious choices – when they are playing the game of life according to other people’s rules. I have done my best to invent my own rules and as a result, I have been told throughout my career that my choices are ‘radical’, but the truth is that they have only ever seemed utterly intuitive to me.

When the most obvious choice should have been for me to go to university, I really didn’t want to go, so I chose a different path and went on to build a successful career in pharmaceutical marketing.

When, as the youngest person in my company to hold a senior marketing position, the natural choice should have been the next rung up the corporate ladder, I chose to leave. I had always known that I wanted to run my own business and when I was offered a job by an ambitious PR agency, I joined them, became MD just a year later, learned tons, worked harder than I’d ever worked in my life and had an absolute ball.

It certainly wasn’t a standard choice to then decide to start a new business only 24 hours after giving birth to my eldest son. However, it was only when he was placed in my arms that I realised there was no way I could go back to my crazy job! I was the major earner in our house and so not working wasn’t an option, but it was going to be on my terms.

Together with my arch competitor, who also happened to be my friend, we created Virgo Health and I became Joint CEO whilst my husband became CHO (Chief Household officer) of our family. It worked brilliantly for us, even though our choice of Dad as the primary carer wasn’t (and still isn’t) the norm.

When we later sold our business to secure the global scale necessary for further growth, I was given a prestigious global role, but I chose instead to start a new chapter with a completely new venture, The Vibrant Company*.

I know there are still many rules that have governed my unconscious choices and the more I look, the more I see, but when I see them, I can choose to change them. In terms of giving other women the confidence to make their own choices, there are still many practical things that need to happen and especially:
– Supporting them to build financial independence and security
– Providing more funding and practical support for female entrepreneurs and women-owned start-ups
– Continuing to demand greater flexibility and family-friendly design in the practices, processes and infrastructure within our workplaces to accommodate our caring responsibilities – for men as well as women.
– This speaks to my firm belief is that true equality will only happen when it genuinely works both ways, so let’s continue to challenge stereotypes for both genders.

However, beyond these considerations is something even more powerful and critical: the need to help people, and especially women, see that they don’t have to choose options from a menu someone else has written for them. We can choose to be true to ourselves. We can create our own options and even our own menus. This is how we will become limitless.

*The Vibrant Company is a first-of-its-kind blend of consulting, mentoring and transformative coaching for leaders and their teams.

Sarah Matthew – Founder of The Vibrant Company
Follow Sarah on Twitter @SarahJMatthew