In support of International Women’s Day and to help break the bias for women in business, throughout March we’re sharing stories from some of our inspirational female entrepreneur and founder clients, who each share their successes and the challenges they’ve faced and how they’ve overcome them. These stories are coupled with insights from female solicitors at Harper James, who discuss the necessary changes that will allow women’s voices to be heard in business.
Entrepreneur Mariani Robinson runs Naturally Lady which produces high-quality, eco-friendly reusable sanitary products.
Sarah Gunton is a commercial partner at Harper James, whose experience spans almost three decades. As a successful solicitor and mother, Sarah manages to balance her work with her home life, a challenge that many working women face.
In this interview, Mariani and Sarah discuss how they manage to balance their work and life as successful women. They explore decision making as a woman and their experiences reaching success in their selected fields.
Female-led start-ups received just 2.3% of VC funding in 2020, according to reports. How can businesses owned by women achieve a stronger and fairer share in the future?
Mariani: ‘I believe it all depends on the resources available, such as information, training and specific funding schemes for female entrepreneurs to succeed and thrive. To be an entrepreneur requires a certain level of confidence in knowing the product or service you want to offer, understanding the industry and its consumers and your main competitors. Think outside of the box, as a consumer yourself, what would attract you to buy your service or your product that differentiate you from your competitors?’
Sarah: ‘It may be in part that women need to want the money more; and that may only come from many more years of change in education and society. A quicker fix would be to ensure that women are better represented in the businesses that allocate VC funding although, again, it may be that this will only happen if entrepreneurs begin to set up VC firms that want to look for businesses owned by women.’
As a female entrepreneur / successful person what do you believe the biggest challenges are that you face on a day-to-day basis?
Mariani: ‘It is not about gender, but as a woman, we are more emotionally linked to decisions and if we are well informed of our options, we are more likely to make these decisions, even the riskier ones. Entrepreneurs must have some level of risk and gamble and should not be afraid of failing and learning from the mistakes.
However, as a woman, mother, wife, sister and daughter, sometimes we ponder too much what is right or wrong. Whereas men tend to focus on what they want to get out of the deal and just decide on what is necessary to get there.’
Sarah: ‘Making sure that my professional life does not swamp out my personal life; particularly when there is also a house-and-children-management life in the mix. Sometimes it pays to get off the ‘career conveyor belt’ and do things differently. In my case, moving to a young, entrepreneurial, virtual law firm. I struggled to find my ‘true voice’, probably because I assumed (without really considering the matter) that the right way was simply to be ‘better than the boys’. In reality, there are usually a number of different ways of doing a job, each perfectly acceptable in terms of results. It is possible to operate on the basis that it is actually a woman’s world as well as a man’s world without offending clients, customers and colleagues.’
Can you share three tips that might help women accelerate their entrepreneurial growth?
Mariani: ‘Be brave. Believe in yourself. Go for it, now is the time. Don't leave until tomorrow what you can do today.’
Sarah: ‘Do try and ‘go with your gut’. Intuition is often attributed to women but it is not one of the skills of which entrepreneurs tend to boast. It may be that women are indeed more risk averse than men. However, with the right advice, you can identify, assess and manage risks so that they no longer appear, or indeed are demonstrated not to be, as scary as they originally appear.’
What might the Government do to better support female entrepreneurs?
Mariani: ‘Offer training for women in entrepreneurial skills such as offering special support together with a line of credit for start-ups.’
Sarah: ‘Recruitment to ensure that a representative proportion of politicians and civil servants are females who understand the ways in which women operate differently from men and are in a position to make change happen. Make sure that those women are entitled to work flexibly and that their contribution is properly valued and, if necessary, measured by application of different criteria to those traditionally applied in performance management. Lead from the front.’
What advice would you give to a young woman planning to set up her own business?
Mariani: ‘Believe in your dream and idea and go for it. Failure or errors may occur on the way, but you will overcome them and come out stronger and more experienced.’
IWD 2022 #BreakTheBias – Enabling and inspiring female entrepreneurs
Join us for the rest of our series of interviews with some of our remarkable female clients and solicitors who share their stories to help enable and inspire female entrepreneurial businesses.
Read our other interviews in this series:
- Whitney Bromberg Hawkins (Founder of FLOWERBX) & Kate Wright (Head of Client Services) – on female mentoring
- Rebecca Sloan (Founder of Piddle Patch) & Abby Watson (Senior Corporate Solicitor) – on family
- Hawaa Budraa (Co-Founder and CEO at Onaria Technologies Ltd) & Jas Bhogal (Corporate Partner) – on investment
- Sarah Bridget Dees (CEO of My EU Pay Ltd) & Lillian Tsang (Senior Data Protection and Privacy Solicitor) - on mistaken identity
- Jennifer Young (Founder of Jennifer Young Limited) & Sally Gwilliam (Senior Employment Solicitor) – on confidence