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City University Panel: What it means to be a woman in the 21st century

I had the immense privilege of being part of a panel discussion on what it means to be a woman in the 21st century organised by the BAME Women Society, Women in Business Society, and Women in Law Society at City University.

The panel included the brilliant Anju Solanki (CEO of MEA Consulting), Katy Thompson (Community Leader - Streetbase), Stephanie Itimi (CEO of Seidea) and Joey Li (Co-founder of Leiho).

The world is so grim but seeing the students in the room full of passion, hungry to learn, and engaged restored my faith in humanity! The questions the audience asked were so insightful I have decided to share them below because I am sure they can benefit many. I am certain that some of the wording was different on the night because I cannot remember verbatim but I have tried to keep to the essence of the questions!

 

1. I am being told by my male colleague that I am being overly emotional and as a result, will never make it? Do you have any tips on how to deal with this?

Make sure you know who you are dealing with. If you know the person is a logic/number-oriented person stick to the facts and back everything with some statistics.

Feel sorry for him. Emotions are what makes us human and the ability to express them can be a superpower that helps us connect with our fellow humans, whether we are at work or in our personal relationships.

 

2. I work in HR and was wondering if you had any advice on how to make diversity and inclusion a reality rather than just a marketing stunt?

The best way to make them commit is to give them insight into what it is like to be someone from a minority background. It is hard to forget this experience.

It doesn’t work to coerce people. They will become defensive. If you forcefully confront someone’s biases you will just reinforce them.

You need to offer a solution rather than just highlighting a problem. Be problem solving focused.

 

3. How do I find a mentor?

Make sure you draft your email explaining exactly why you want a mentor. Be as specific as possible.

If you manage to secure time with a mentor, make sure to send them a thank you email or (even better) a handwritten note to show your appreciation and to secure a long-lasting relationship.

If they have written an article, then briefly mention it and tell them why you would like to be mentored by them specifically.

 

4. What were the challenges you (the panel) faced when you started your businesses?

It can be extremely lonely at times so make sure you build a support network around you. This advice used to frustrate me but I came to realise it is essential. Make sure that those on your network are also entrepreneurs because it is very hard to relate to someone with a 9-5 job (and vice-versa). Even the most empathetic person out there will not be able to understand what you are going through.

Funding: you need to know what you want. Do you want to grow fast? Then the investor route could be a solution however if you give away too much equity from the start you can lose control of your company very quickly.

Being broke in business is a blessing in disguise. It forces you to think outside of the box. Your creativity will be in full force.

 

All of these amazing answers came from the panel and I hope you found them useful.