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.
Sarah Bridget Dees works as the General Counsel of My EU Pay Ltd. With over 20 years in the finance sector, Sarah has gained experience in executive leadership positions in FTSE 100 financial corporate institutions, including Barclays Bank and Goldman Sachs.
Lillian Tsang is a senior data protection and privacy solicitor at Harper James. Having previously worked in-house and in private practice, Lillian’s experience spans legal and commercial challenges for start-up and big household name companies. Lillian also has an MBA, which allows her to fully understand the commercial problems organisations face and enables her to provide a strategic pragmatic approach in her guidance to clients.
In this interview, Sarah and Lillian share their experiences as successful women in their field and pioneers. They explore the all-too-often case of mistaken identity that powerful women can experience in the workplace, from being mistaken as an assistant to being underestimated for how you look.
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?
Sarah: ‘I believe more VCs should invest and incubate female led businesses. VCs also need to ensure they have adequate female representation internally to seek out these opportunities and mentor their founders.’
As a female entrepreneur / successful woman in your field what do you believe the biggest challenges are that you face on a day-to-day basis?
Sarah: ‘Challenges include mistaken identity (being asked are you the analyst/personal assistant etc.) but luckily not too many others.’
Lillian: ‘Women in the workplace and gender equality has come a long way. I have in my time seen women break the so-called glass ceiling from becoming CEOs of FTSE 100 companies or Fortune 500 companies. We have amazing women rise to the top of their field in the tech sphere. And throughout my working life I have advised women in senior posts with incredible minds and passion who are getting their products and services “out there”.
Challenges I have faced are probably to do with unconscious bias as a woman – when you are walking into a boardroom full of men it can be intimidating. I remember starting out in my career having to deliver reports and “hard facts” in a room full of men. Inside I was thinking whether they would actually listen to a petite Chinese female fresh out of law school. I think over the years what comes from work/life experience is owning your conviction to say what you have to say without that inner voice saying should I even be saying this or what are the consequences of saying it. I think it is about inner confidence and once you have established that the world is your oyster.’
Can you share three tips that might help women accelerate their entrepreneurial growth?
Sarah: ‘Be detailed - ensure you follow up every lead, return emails when your network has put you in touch with potential contacts and keep VCs informed. Never quit the hustle. And network like crazy.’
Lillian: ‘There are amazing networking groups specifically for women or women entrepreneurs. I think joining these groups are an amazing way to connect with like-minded people who can offer support and encouragement to pursue your goals.
Having a mentor is always a great thing whether the mentor is a male or female. Having someone who has been in the industry, offering words or wisdom and even opening connections is never a bad thing. I had the opportunity to mentor and be mentored and its amazing dynamics of giving and receiving to be a better person.
Being open is my third tip. Just being open to what is out there makes you more agile so you can adapt to changes as they come. Just because you might have a brilliant idea or product does not mean that idea product must stay fixed – it can evolve over time. So being open to new ideas and opinions or doing things “out of the box” which you might not have thought about is always a good mindset to have.’
What might the Government do to better support female entrepreneurs?
Sarah: ‘Allocate grants which assist with better childcare opportunities for entrepreneurs.’
Lillian: ‘I think in the last couple of years the government has really come through with various incentives and in its support for female entrepreneurs. For example, in the financial sector there is the “Investing in Women Code” which is a pledge by financial services firms to improve female entrepreneurs’ access to resources, tools and finance to build their vision.
“Women in Innovations Award” is another great scheme run by the government as part of its Industrial Strategy Grand Challenges. It funds new female-led businesses and projects that contribute to solving one of the government’s Grand Challenges in the area of artificial intelligence and data, the aging society, and the future of mobility.’
What advice would you give to a young woman planning to set up her own business?
Sarah: ‘Do your research - what problem are you trying to solve for customers? Do they see it as a problem? What is your solution and why is it better than what is out there?’
Lillian: ‘Researching your market is important as is knowing what your key objectives are. Setting up a business is not easy. For a big portion of my working life I have worked with organisations from start-ups to household names and it does not matter what size the organisation is; they all run into the same issues and problems, except one might have a bigger cash flow or more resources.
If you are starting out - try out as many specialties as you can and get a feel as to what you like. I think there needs to be a certain amount of “passion” for a specialty too – that always helps you get up in the morning.’
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.
Up next, you’ll hear from:
- Jennifer Young (Founder of Jennifer Young Limited) & Sally Gwilliam (Senior Employment Solicitor) – on confidence
- Mariani Robinson (Founder of Naturally Lady) & Sarah Gunton (Commercial Partner) - on work/life balance
- 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