Women in business: networking for growth

Owner and Managing Director of Forward Ladies, Griselda Togobo, talks to us about the challenges of working in a male-dominated engineering sector and what shaped her passion for entrepreneurialism and the women in business agenda.

Finding inner resilience

My whole career was in a male-dominated sector. My university class was less than 10% girls and my first experience of work was not female-friendly. It takes a certain type of person to be able to weather the degrading comments that are made in those sectors. If you're not that person, if you don't have the skill to deal with it or the mental resilience to face those challenges, it's very difficult. One of the reasons I left was because I didn't want to expend energy telling people not to be a certain way.

The rewards of hard work

I channelled my energy into shaping my own career and helping young women take on the challenges that have stopped others and break new barriers when the time is right for them. My drive to achieve that came from having a very entrepreneurial mum. She had no education, raised nine children herself and encountered domestic violence but she went on to build some fantastic businesses. I saw how hard she worked and how much reward she got from that.

Qualities of entrepreneurial success

To be a successful entrepreneur you need a number of qualities:

  1. Self-confidence - you need to be confident in your ability to create something out of nothing.
  2. The ability to deal with uncertainty - the whole nature of entrepreneurship means not knowing what tomorrow will bring, or the challenges you're going to face. You need the mental fortitude and capacity to deal with all these moving parts, plan for tomorrow but exist day to day.
  3. The ability to sell - if you can't go out and generate interest in what you're doing and sell it then it doesn't matter how fantastic your product or service is, you're going to struggle.
  4. Vision - when it comes to being able to scale up a business, having the vision to build the right team and lead that team to deliver your vision is crucial.
  5. Financial acumen - you can bring in an accountant to manage your finances for you, but if you're not disciplined about finance, your business will fail.

Emotional investment

Having a business is like having a baby. You see people running businesses and they make it look easy, but you have to be prepared to learn and develop your skills to achieve that. It's a journey of personal development. I have degrees, but in the last seven years of running my own business, I've learnt a lot more. You can have all the intellect, but nobody can prepare you for the emotional investment or the sheer graft of running your own business. Like having a baby, though, it's worth it.

It's not always easy. As a young mum, the government has no provision at all for women who run their own businesses and take maternity leave. There's also a huge lack of flexibility. Businesses pay lip-service to work-life balance, yet the numbers are not changing, which means it's not working.

Without that belief in yourself and that you have something to offer people, it's very hard to build a business.

Griselda Togobo, owner and MD of Forward Ladies

Supporting women in business

Accessing senior networks, where the opportunities are really significant, can be tough. Breakfast clubs and drinks receptions exclude those reliant on standard childcare, for example. At Forward Ladies, our networking events take that into account. Our programmes are designed to give women the tools to deal with those challenges and support women in business.

For the first time we have the most women in Parliament, which is a huge win, but there's still a shortage of women leaders across all sectors. Changes are coming, but there's still a long way to go.

There's also work to be done to make the UK more entrepreneur-friendly. Manifestos from the UK's political parties ahead of the General Election contained no provision to encourage entrepreneurship. Uncertainty around Brexit and the lack of communication on key issues like market access and freedom of movement make it hard to plan for the future.

Tips for growing businesses

To have a chance at success, the UK economy needs the business growth and job creation that entrepreneurs bring and there are huge opportunities out there. My top tips for those growing their own business would be:

  1. Understand your strengths and weaknesses. Play to your strengths and be ready to learn all the skills you need to overcome the weaknesses.
  2. Build a network around you of people that can support you and be ambassadors of your brand and your business.
  3. Meet people before you need them. You can't always afford to pay these people market value for what you're trying to do, but when you have a relationship, that relationship is worth more than any currency.

If I've learnt anything, it's not to work so hard simply because there's work to be done, to say no a bit more and to not pursue every opportunity. It's not about how hard you work, it's how smart you are about what you're doing.

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