This Small Business Advice Week, we have been talking to women about their journey into the business world and what advice they would give other women to succeed in their chosen profession.
One such successful business woman is 27-year-old Emma Lees, from Lytham in Lancashire – who is the managing director of Wolf. She launched the branding and design business, just six months ago and already has an impressive portfolio of clients for whom she is developing branded design solutions.
She has suffered a barrage of sexism since launching her business, but this has only made her more determined to succeed and stand alongside and support other women in business.
So Emma, what challenges have you faced being a female leader?
Before I set up my business, I hadn’t experienced a massive amount of gender related issues or sexism in the workplace – only the odd inappropriate comment here and there. However, when I started up the business and began networking and taking on clients, I experienced an astonishing amount of sexism – everything from not being taken seriously and talked down to by my male equals, to being the subject of inappropriate and salacious comments within a professional environment.
What is the best/most memorable experience have you had being a female leader so far?
The best experience I have had over the past few months has been a news feature about Wolf’s flourishing growth in the Blackpool Gazette. When I saw the piece alongside the picture of myself I felt so incredibly proud of the fact that I had overcome any negative connotations or difficulties of being a woman in business and I had independently built my company up to that point from absolutely nothing.
What have been the worst experiences?
The worst experiences that I have faced have been the moments when I haven’t been taken seriously or I have been treated in an inappropriate manner solely because of my gender. There were times when I shunned business events purely to avoid such situations, which only hindered my company’s growth. I was once told by a male businessman that it was my fault that I wasn’t being taken seriously and was receiving degrading and sexualised comments, I was letting it happen. I have also been laughed at when I’ve proudly stated that I wanted to work with and support other women in business, as if I was another little feminist having a hissy fit. I have worked hard to learn to manage such situations – which at the face of it is an appalling thing to have to do.
In what way do you think you may have had a different experience of rising to the top compared to a male counterpart?
From my experience so far, I feel my growth has been hindered incredibly by the sexism I have experienced. There were a lot of moments where it greatly affected my confidence and made me doubt my abilities, which now just makes me that much more proud of everything I have achieved. Compared to the majority of business men that I have met so far, I have discovered I am not as ruthless in my pursuit of generating business and financial profit. I still have the same principles that I started off with – I want to create amazing design solutions for great people.
Have you had to have a coping strategy for being one of a handful of women in what has traditionally been a ‘man’s world’?
To start I found it incredibly difficult to cope with being treated differently or inappropriately because of my gender. There were times when I came away from situations in tears, and I even sometimes felt like giving up entirely. All of these little experiences add up over time and can greatly affect the way you think about yourself. It has definitely changed my character, and I am now much more hardy because of it. I do also have a handful of male business friends whose interests are purely to support me on equal terms, which serves to remind me that I’m not fighting a losing battle.
Now, I constantly take the time to remind myself of what I have achieved and what I am capable of, in spite of how I am sometimes treated. In this day and age, it is far too easy to focus on the negatives and to put yourself down before you build yourself up, especially when you are constantly experiencing degrading situations. Now, I approach situations with the affirmation that I am just as capable as anybody else. I also have a great female support network, which has been an immense help with my business growth and confidence.
What one piece of advice would you give to a new start up?
Don’t ever doubt yourself. Don’t let other people devalue who you are and everything you have set out to achieve – you will flourish in spite of them. Go for it!
What is your life motto?
‘Life goes by in all it’s stages and phases’ – said by my Grandad.