THE FEMALE FOCUS WITH...LEYYA & ROSHNI OF THE OTHER BOX

We were more than excited to catch up with the female duo behind The Other Box, Leyya and Roshni, who have built an award-winning platform to empower people to work and live more inclusively. Part of CLO PR's mission is to support clients on the road to building sustainable cultures that truly embrace diversity. The Other Box is doing just that and we look up to them as a source of inspiration. Check out what the girls had to say on what drove them to help change the creative industry make-up due to the colour of their skin. 

Women of colour, like us, were being totally left out of the conversation
 Image credit: Maaria Lohiya @justmebreathing

Image credit: Maaria Lohiya @justmebreathing

1. What drove you to create The Other Box?

In the creative industries, we noticed that the 'diversity' conversation was still very much based around gender. And that meant people of colour and especially women of colour like us were being totally left out of the conversation. So we decided to change that. 

2. What's the biggest lesson you've learnt from starting up The Other Box?

For the first 18 months (so basically till about a month ago!) we were running The Other Box alongside full-time jobs and one of us studying a part-time Masters. It was really full on but we learned very quickly how to manage our time, prioritise, and, as geeky as this might sound, scheduling in down time and family time, so we don't neglect our own mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. 

3. What's been the biggest milestone for the business so far?

Going full-time was a big leap for us. It's terrifying and exciting in equal measure! 

4. Was there ever a point when you wanted to give up?

Not really! Almost every day we get amazing messages from people in our community saying how grateful they are for it, and that really keeps us going. 

5. Would you say you're close friends? And does this bring up complications in your business relationship when it comes to making decisions?

We were introduced through a mutual friend (shout out our fairy godmother Amiera!) but we weren't really friends when we decided to start The Other Box! We've obviously become very good friends since, and it helps that we complement each other with our personalities and working styles. But we also decided very early on how we wanted to work together, and we've stayed faithful to that. 

6. You're winning awards left, right and centre at the moment! Do you think the celebration of women is gaining momentum in the industry?

It is, but we never want to take away from the decades of work that has come before us! We stand on the shoulders of giants, but we definitely think things like social media help to democratise voices and allow movements to gather momentum faster. 

7. The lack of diversity is well-documented in the creative industry. What do you think is the biggest barrier to people of colour getting in and what should businesses be doing to tackle this?

This is a BIG question and - shameless plug! - we'd say do one of our Know Your Bias workshops. Diversity is more than a box-ticking or quota-filling exercise. There's a lot of deeply entrenched structural inequalities at play, and all of us need to invest time (and money) into unlearning the ways we've been naturally socialised, to create more genuinely inclusive working environments. 

8. The rise of #metoo and #timesup has created an important opening in discussion on gender equality but it has also put fear into young women of what they may expect to experience in the working world. What would you say to those wanting to pursue a career here?

We don't think it has put fear into young women! If anything, those movements are empowering young people to come into the industry and call out inappropriate behaviour. We also think these movements demonstrate the importance of community and sisterhood. There are also amazing organisations like Diet Madison Avenue who are putting in an immense amount of work to make sure voices are heard and also that we have access to legal representation. That kind of work cannot be underrated. 

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9. It feels like female solidarity is slowly starting to crest a wave. Do you think women are feeling more confident to stand up and be heard right now? 

Definitely! 

10. What's the one thing that's shocked you in your mission to raise the profile of diversity?

We still hear some horrific stories of the everyday racism and sexism people have to encounter in the workplace. We think we should all feel brave enough to call these things out, but of course we understand that it's not always easy to do that. 

11. Where do you get your inspiration?

Our own backgrounds as working-class Asian women from immigrant backgrounds gives us a fire in our belly to work hard and represent for those we feel are underrepresented. 

12. What's in store for The Other Box this year?

We're determined to get more workshops to more agencies and organisations. And we also want to do more for our TOB community, to create and share more opportunities and really change the face of the creative industries for good. And we want to make sure we continue to have fun and meet amazing people along the way! 

 

5 MINUTES WITH....NIGEL SARBUTTS, FOUNDER OF THE PR CAVALRY

For over three decades Nigel Sarbutts has been the head of three PR agencies in Manchester, London and Leeds and he is now on a new mission to change the PR industry forever. Connecting clients with freelancers has in the past been a murky, unstructured world. Until now. We caught up with him to talk about his latest venture, The PR Cavalry, a platform to help match-make clients with the right freelancers and vice versa, to keep everyone happy in the game.  

Freelancers have historically been unsearchable

1. What drove you to create The PR Cavalry?

Having been in the communications industry for three decades, I realised that the freelancer is used in a very analogue way by agencies and businesses alike. They’ve historically been unsearchable. Recruitment of freelancers has, as far as I can remember, been time-consuming and haphazard, whilst the job search for freelancers themselves is often very random and involves a lot of time spent networking.

The process by which a freelancer is recruited is totally inefficient. You can have the most organised business where nothing could break their stride but then something goes wrong and the immediate rush is to throw bodies into a project to save it. The company jumps onto LinkedIn and calls recruitment consultancies and what they get back is a mess because the freelancer may not have the precise skills for the job. There is the need for something like The PR Cavalry to codify freelancers’ skills and match these skills to a specific brief set by the client.

What’s more, a much larger chunk of the workforce is freelance now. If you’re a team leader, the question you’re asking yourself is, ‘How can I meet the ever expanding list of client needs with a fixed team?’. The answer is to make a flexible team and make a decision to embrace the freelancer. And for freelancers, it would be far better to be found for their specific skills to meet a specific need rather than just who happened to be recommended by someone by chance.

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2. What's the biggest lesson you've learnt from starting up The PR Cavalry?

I never anticipated the complexity of building a sophisticated website based on search algorithms. Yes, I knew it would be intricate but there’s been a lot of hardcore tech decisions made behind the scenes in order to build a site that really does something well.

 

3. And greatest milestone so far?

The milestone we didn’t plan for was having a client approach us with a peach of a job before we’d actually opened the shop. The client nearly fell off her seat when she knew that she wouldn’t have to go to her board of directors to make the case for an appointment with the usual 20% fee on top of this. The freelancers pay 10% for the benefit of being matched with work suited to them. We’re still building the talent bank with freelancers and we’re not seeing resistance to this model of working, which is encouraging.

 

4. The lack of diversity is well-documented in the PR industry. What do you think is the biggest barrier to people of colour getting in and what should businesses be doing to tackle this?

PR is bedeviled with unpaid internships, it needs to become less the preserve of the privileged, which still means an in-built bias against people of colour. I think anonymised CVs could certainly help. Deloitte have anonymised their recruitment process to become far more representative of our diverse society. At 53, I see ageism also being a barrier to entry - PR is inherently a young person’s game. This needs to change.

 

5. The PR world is ever changing. What do you think are some of the biggest changes we’re set to see in the future?

The sheer number and types of comms channels that PR is habitually into now beyond media relations. This creates a double edged sword, where PR is fighting for a broader range of jobs whilst trying to maintain the expertise that it stands for. We’re also struggling with the real dip in circulation of media consumption, especially regional media. Because 70% of PR is still media relations, that means we have a smaller lever to pull in reaching key stakeholders. Clients see that as becoming less impactful. The ratio of journalists to PRs is a problem too. If there are fewer gatekeepers in the media room, it’s more difficult to get the message through.

PR doesn’t do well in the evaluation debate either. We’re creating ever more frameworks and dashboards to represent outputs but are we helping to solve real business dilemmas? We’re still not forensically geared towards helping organisations to develop and question their intent and why PR is the answer.

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6. What excites you about the PR industry?

After 30 years in the industry I still find it exciting, it’s changing so rapidly. I find it fascinating the many creative ways organisations respond to news in society. Lush has been in the press recently for its window campaign to highlight the issue of undercover police overstepping the mark to infiltrate the lives of activists. What Lush has done isn’t new but brands continue to create debate. And the accountability to stakeholders is interesting. Regional media’s power is falling off a cliff so how do the bodies that the media used to hold to account continue to respond to stakeholders? It changes how comms are organised.

We’re also facing a tidal wave with the gig economy growing. If we get The PR Cavalry right, we will put a dent in it.

 

7. Where do you get your inspiration?

I am a voracious consumer of news. I am constantly looking to the people I follow on Twitter to get knocked on the side of the head with new ideas. I love the fact that I can go onto the platform and find the new, the odd and the wonderful to keep the day interesting.

 

8. What's in store for The PR Cavalry this year?

We have two milestones still to come. We need to make sure the shelves are stocked enough with talented freelancers before opening up to clients so they feel that there is a broad and deep talent pool to search. And we need to make a profit. Watch this space!

https://prcavalry.com

THE FEMALE FOCUS WITH...SARA & MARIA TRECHMAN, FOUNDERS OF WELL&TRULY

We do love a good snack at CLO PR. No more so than one which is on the healthier side so less of that guilt is hanging over us. Move over Walkers, Well&Truly have got our back when it comes to satisfying, wholesome snacks. We spoke to one half of Well&Truly, Maria Trechman, about her desire, along with her sister-in-law Sara, to challenge the oh-so-clean world of ‘healthy eating’ and the outdated ‘guilty pleasures’ label of mainstream snacks. We love the fact that the brand is packed full of positivity!

Being two female founders hasn’t held us back. If anything, our investors outright said they were excited to be backing an all-female team.
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1. What drove you to set up Well&Truly?

My sister-in-law Sara and I both felt that there was a serious lack of great tasting snacks that weren’t really bad for you. The old kale crisps just didn’t quite hit the spot for us taste wise, so we set out to un-junk and improve the nutritional profiles of classic snacking favourites such as Doritos and Nik Naks without compromising on the great taste. Snacking should be a pleasure and we don’t think the word “guilt” should have anything to do with it.

2. What's the biggest lesson you've learnt in setting up the business?

That having a co-founder to share all the ups and downs with is invaluable, and that everything always take longer than you expect whether it’s the development of a new flavour or the listing with a new customer. 

3. What has surprised you most about the process?

How many investors are genuinely excited about the F&B space - it’s fantastic to be pitching something that everyone in the room can see, feel, smell and taste. We often let our products do most of the talking!

4. What has been the thing you've most struggled with that you've had to overcome?

As a start-up you face challenges on a daily basis. You need to juggle so many roles and tasks which you don’t always have experience in, but being co-founders has helped us a lot as we always have someone to bounce ideas off and challenge each other. One of our biggest challenges is staying on top of cashflow to make sure we can continue to grow quickly. We’ve put in place several models to help us monitor this and stay one step ahead.

5. Have you needed to raise investment? If so, how have you found it and do you think being female founders affected the negotiations?

We’ve done two investment rounds to date and found the process surprisingly enjoyable albeit very time consuming. Being two female founders didn’t hold us back, if anything several of our investors outright said they were excited to be backing an all-female team. It also enabled us to apply and secure funding from AllBright, the all female fund.

6. What's the one thing you'd like to change about the food industry?

We’d like to see more frequent range reviews to be able to introduce new products more often, and a reduction in the amount of plastic packaging. We’ve just reduced the plastic in some of our packaging by 20%, and whilst this doesn’t go anywhere near solving the problem, it’s a start. If all food brands did the same that would be a pretty great improvement vs where we are today and a good platform for further reductions.

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7. The number of snack brands out there on our shelves is incredible. Was it ever a worry to be part of a busy marketplace? What do you think has ensured you're still firmly in the game?

The snacking market is hugely exciting, and there’s been a lot of innovation at the healthier end of the spectrum in recent years. We try not to worry about the competition but instead focus on doing what we do as best as possible. The key to our success is our no-compromise approach when it comes to taste and health. When it comes to snacking taste is king, but today’s consumer also demand improved health credentials and Well&Truly delivers both.

8. Many women experience the so-called 'imposter syndrome'. Is this something you’ve experienced and do you have any tips on managing it?

Dips in confidence happen to most people and we’ve definitely had periods where we’ve questioned ourselves. We work hard on recognising the signs of self-doubt and the negative effects it can have on performance. It’s an ongoing journey!

9. Where do you get your inspiration?

The London start up scene is hugely inspirational and we constantly meet up with other founders to share stories and learnings. This is where we have learnt the most and try to give back as much as possible to other founders who are just starting out.

10. Who do you look up to?

Any working parent holding it all together whilst finding time to care for their little ones is a hero in our books! 

11. What does 2018 hold for Well&Truly?

2018 is a hugely exciting year for Well&Truly with the launch of our rebrand going live early this summer, new exciting flavours hitting the shelves - including our first vegan flavour -and an acceleration of our international business.

12. If you weren't doing what you do now, you'd be....

Looking after my baby boy whilst thinking up new fun business ideas in the baby space! I’m pretty sure Sara would be setting out to scale another crazy high mountain in the Himalayas (she’s done it before!) or trek across Greenland and then come back to set up an online sustainable start up.

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THE FEMALE FOCUS WITH....ASMA SHAH, FOUNDER & CEO OF YOU MAKE IT

We met the firecracker, Asma Shah, who set up charity You Make It to empower young unemployed women to realise their potential regardless of their background. CLO PR is part of the charity's mentorship scheme to support some of the cohort to build confidence and skills in PR and publicity. We loved talking to Asma. She tells us straight the situation of fighting for true diversity in business and society.

We help to give women self-worth and a sense of entitlement to improve their personal and professional lives. Sisterhood is built into our programme.
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1.     What drove you to set up You Make It? 

My upbringing was such that I was raised by my single mum in Peckham on a council estate. My mum originally came to this country from Pakistan with my father and my 2 older sisters and myself and older sister were born here. She left a violent marriage while in London and welived in a refuge. From that moment on, my mum forged a successful career in education in which people believed in her and encouraged her to achieve against all the odds. Her determination for us to have a good start in life is what inspired me to set up You Make It. 

Once out of university I got into the creative industry but was struck by the sheer density of white privilege and I found myself losing out on promotions next to my peers. 2011 was the beginning of austerity in this country and I saw how people with backgrounds like mine were falling through the cracks in employment and support. This was topped with many years living inthe East End, where I saw how the divide between rich and poor had begun to build, with coffee shops never employing women of colour. In the aftermath of my mum passing, and the reflection this provoked her struggles and those of myself and sisters, I decided it was time to change what I was seeing around me and propel women’s lives against the odds. 

2.     What has surprised you most about the women who come through You Make It? 

Nothing. I am like them. I’m 44 now and know what it’s like to grow up in difficult circumstances. Women are resilient and strong. What does surprise me, though, is that the women who come through are not jumped on by employers. Statistics highlight that unemployment has dropped in London but this is not the case for black and Asian demographics. We’ve got a long way to go. I think Brexit and the Windrush scandal have started to show that people are acknowledging racism as real.

3.     What do you think is the biggest value women gain from You Make It?

We help to give women self-worth and a sense of entitlement to improve their personal and professional lives. Sisterhood is built into our programme. These women have tiny circles of friends and contacts. They may have depression or have suffered abuse and neglect. We show them that they’re not alone. People in working class backgrounds are not exposed to lessons on how to build contacts - we help them to grow their network and their confidence. 

4.     What’s been your proudest moment since starting up You Make It?

Every graduation event is a proud moment. It’s when myself and the team are truly reminded why we’re doing this and hear the journeys the women have been on. It’s always a time when I think, ‘Oh my god, this works!’ and a chance to reflect on the fact that I took risks to set up a company with £3k, juggling paid work. The number of programmes we launch double every year and it’s still working.

5.     The rise of #metoo and #timesup has created an important opening in discussion on gender equality but it has also put fear into young women of what they may expect to experience in the working world. What would you say to those about to pursue a career?

On entering the workforce you’ve got to have a strong understanding of your self-worth. You Make It does exactly this - it coaxes it out of our cohorts. If you’re confident, you’ll be in a better position to challenge discrimination in the workplace. It’s important to be fearless. 

 A You Make It member of the cohort presenting her business ideas to mentors.

A You Make It member of the cohort presenting her business ideas to mentors.

6.     Many women experience so called imposter syndrome. Is this something you’ve experienced and do you have any tips on managing it?

This is not just an issue of gender. Company management - particularly run by white middle class men - has a responsibility to build cultures that promote and reward people based on their merit, rather than just because you look and talk like them. 

7.     You Make It currently operates within the area of Hackney and Tower Hamlets. Are there plans to expand to other areas?

I have thought long and hard about building impact in other areas. However, we have created something in the East End, as I understand it and I am part of the community. We’re looking at ways of growing it by sharing knowledge of how we work with other organisations and how they can apply our model. Sharing what we do for others to do it feels right, otherwise we risk diluting our mission.

8.     Where do you get your inspiration?

My personal experience and being a responsible member of society by looking at inequality and deciding what needs to happen are both inspiring to me. Also, the women we work with inspire me - they make me carry on. There is an element of accountability and the need to contribute to the social and cultural capital we’re building together.

Company management has a responsibility to build cultures that reward people based on their merit, rather than just because you look and talk like them

9.     Who do you look up to?

Myself. I appreciate my background, of being one of 4 girls where there was not always an emotional focus on us as my mum was often working. I respect what I’ve managed to do from where I’ve come from. I also think ‘look up to’ is interesting - I believe we’re all equal and no one should look up to anyone.

10.  What plans does You Make It have in store this year?

As a charity, we’re fighting for survival. We have programmes locked down until the end of the year but it’s all about raising funds to continue the good work. We're focusing on a mix of traditional fundraising and partnering with organisations and sponsors for the 2019 programmes. We’ll be doing more thinking around how to share our model through a You Make It Knowledge Hub which will share practice with stakeholders who want to learn from us. 

http://www.you-make-it.org

THE FEMALE FOCUS WITH....JO HAGGER

Jo Hagger is a force to be reckoned with in the digital industry. Clo was more than keen to talk to Jo about her experience of leading successful businesses, her passion for mentoring and thoughts on the #metoo era. Clo met Jo at an event for which she was on the panel and instantly admired her tenacity and mission for positive impact. Jo has led businesses including glue London (now Isobar, part of DentsuAegis), AAR and SapientNitro. She works in a consultant-coach capacity with a number of agency leaders and businesses and her most recent roles include Senior Industry Head at Google and MD at Possible and Wunderman. Read on to find out more about what makes this woman tick. 

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1. You've had quite a year! Tell us what you're up to at the moment.

Currently enjoying a short sabbatical, to build up my good karma - time with the family, volunteering, and considering lot’s of interesting possibilities. 

2. You have led some of the most successful agencies out there. What's the one job you feel has given you the most personal satisfaction?

Without question, managing Glue London through some crazy successful and creative years. Finding and working out how to attract the best people, building the team, developing and growing the business and doing some brilliant work in the process.

3. You've talked about your hate for being described as 'ambitious' and a 'go-getter', just because you're at the top of the chain. Do you think there's a lot of negatively perceived ideas of what success looks like?

I think there are a lot of 'loaded' words that we use without much thought or care, for sure. I also think it's really narrow minded to consider 'success' in one dimension and assume that everyone has the same notion of what that looks like. For me, success is about happiness, life balance and always learning new things. 

4. There's a well-documented heritage of sexism in the industry. As one of the few women at C-level, is this something you've had to deal with?

I have encountered sexism in many different contexts and flavours, although never to such a degree that it’s stopped me doing what I wanted to do. In that respect I feel pretty lucky, but I also feel the weight of responsibility that we should all feel, to drive positive change and make tangible positive steps towards improving gender diversity, inclusion and mutual respect - in business and in life. 

5. The industry has a big pressure to address equality right now. For example, the IPA just announced it will introduce a code of conduct in the wake of the 'Top Five' email, do you think the industry is doing enough and what, in your opinion, should help to solve this?

No I don’t think the industry is doing enough at all. A lot of the problems exist or are set at the very top and become systemic. I’m hopeful that the brave and tenacious entrepreneurs and future business leaders (female and male) who are leading the charge towards more progressive and inclusive business practices will get more and more publicity and traction. I also think that calling out bad practice needs to be a lot more widespread and honest - and backed by action. 

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6. The rise of #metoo and #timesup has created an important opening in discussion on gender equality but it has also put fear into young women of what they may expect to experience in the working world. What would you say to those wanting to pursue a career in advertising /marketing?

Do your research and know why you want to do it, know that the people you’ll work for are good people and that you’ll be able to learn whilst working hard and supported to find the right career path for you over time. If you are going to work in the industry then it has to be fun as well as hard work - and to be fun you’ve got to be surrounded by the right people. 

7. You're a SheSays mentor, Creative Equals coach, Inspiring the Future volunteer, NABS mentor and Help for Heroes mentor.  What draws you to coaching? 

Seeing what amazing and beautiful things people are capable of when given the opportunity (and often when they’re not!).

8. There are a lot of young (and older) women starting their own businesses and are seeking coaching on how to take their business to the next level. What would you say is the biggest thing that women need to get right to run a business?

Being clear about your proposition - why you exist, what you’re there to do and who you want to do that for and with which customers. This isn’t complex in itself but it takes time, clarity and discipline to follow your path. And find a good supportive mentor or coach who can provide extra counsel or support when needed ;)

9. What is the one thing you find keeps coming up as the problem that needs solving for your mentees?

Fear of what happens in career terms after having a family or simply how to cope with the juggling and multiple demands. Not least of all those demands we put upon ourselves and lack of confidence.

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10. Do you think women at the top get enough support in business? 

I think women at the very top often benefit from very good and extensive support systems extrinsically, but emotional support can be much harder to come by. It’s the classic ‘loneliness of the leader’, which is where clubs and networks (like WACL, for me) can be invaluable. 

11. Being at the top of a business, are you able to stay inspired?

I am always inspired, but often by things or people that are nothing at all to do with work or business!

12. Where do you get your inspiration?

New experiences, meeting great people, coaching and mentoring, and continual learning. 

13. Who do you look up to?

My mum - she’s strong, loving, fearless and a staunch feminist.

14. If you weren't doing what you do now, you'd be....

On a beach in Mexico, cooking up my next project?!  

5 MINUTES WITH....LAURA JACKSON, CO-FOUNDER OF POPCORN SHED

Popcorn. It doesn't get better as a tasty treat. The little crunchy puffs of air have been experiencing a golden age of popularity due to the wide diversification in flavours and popping methods. We were delighted when Laura Jackson, co-founder of Popcorn Shed, agreed to be interviewed as we're big fans. Popcorn Shed are bringing the gourmet popcorn to the foodie palate with panache and some moreish varieties. She talks about what drove her to set up the business with her cousin Sam....

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1. What drove you to create Popcorn Shed?

My cousin Sam and I discovered gourmet popcorn during a trip to the US, and on returning to the UK we realised that great tasting and high-quality popcorn was not easy to source and spotted a gap in the mainstream market. We had always flirted with the idea of running our own family food business together, and in a moment of madness around our 30th birthdays, we had a “now or never” moment.

2. What's the biggest lesson you've learnt from starting up Popcorn Shed? 

That creating a brand and business is not a static thing. You don’t just launch and that’s it. You need to be nimble and constantly reacting to feedback and adjusting to improve.

3. What's the one piece of business advice you wish you'd been given when you started? 

Talk to everyone and share your idea. Feedback and advice is invaluable. There is a tendency for people to feel like they don’t want to share their business idea for fear that someone may steal it. However, unless your idea is so revolutionary and the barrier to entry is very low, it is very unlikely to happen! Be bold and just do it! What’s the worst that can happen? I always say it’s ok to try and fail but it’s not ok to not try.

4. Was there ever a point when you wanted to give up? 

I’ve definitely had my moments! But running your own business has high highs and low lows so you learn to become resilient. I don’t think giving up is really in my blood. 

5. As cousins, does this bring up complications in your business relationship when it comes to making decisions? 

We’re very close, more like brother and sister so although we do fight, it’s never personal. It’s always for the good of the business. I think running your own business has enough stresses so having a business partner who you can fully trust and rely on is a must. We have complimentary skills but the same work ethic so it works very well.

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6. What's been the biggest milestone for the business so far? 

There have been so many! I think for me it was getting our first fan letter.

7. Who is your inspiration? 

My father. He is a very hardworking man who was the first professional in his family and now runs a very successful business. 

8. What keeps you motivated? 

Popcorn Shed is all about enhancing those sharing moments that matter so hearing how much customers love the taste of our popcorn and our brand keeps me buzzing.

9. What other entrepreneurs do you look up to? 

Two other female food entrepreneurs who I really respect are Camilla Barnard and Pippa Murray. Camilla is the founder of Rude Health (the healthy eating brand). They started their business with no food background in their kitchen and today they have a huge range, stocked nationwide and she launched it with 2 young kids! I also think that what Pippa has achieved with her nut butter brand Pip and Nut is incredible and she isn’t even 30 yet!

10.  If you weren't doing this, you would be.... 

Hmmmm… probably what I was doing before- digital project management, making sure you can subscribe for binge TV and keeping your online banking working (most of the time!).

https://popcornshed.com

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THE FEMALE FOCUS: IT'S TIME TO PRESS FOR PROGRESS

 Jess, Clo, Nat striking a pose...

Jess, Clo, Nat striking a pose...

Wow. What a few weeks it's been. Some serious girl power vibes have been coursing through our conversations and work, and we've loved it. As part of our initiative, The Female Focus, in partnership with Jess and Nat of Mac & Moore, we have talked to so many talented and inspiring women who intersect many different sectors and roles, to get their views on what it means to be a woman in the business world. But more than that; we probed into the change we need to see this year to support women to create a truly balanced society. So here's a round-up of what they had to say....

We can be unwelcoming to other women
— Rosh Thanki, trailer Editor and lifestyle Instagrammer

First, we asked them what the biggest issue or barrier for women in business is. What really came through was that the working environment is masculine in nature and male-dominated in power, which makes the creation of change a challenge. Emma Sexton, Founder of MYWW and Broadcaster for Badass Women's Hour, said: "(We need to) change our working culture and one dimensional view of what makes a successful leader. Work is masculine in nature and until we value feminine values and leadership qualities as a viable alternative women are going to lose out.” Sarah Welsh and Fara Kabir, co-founders of Hanx, the first luxury vegan male condom designed for women, highlighted that it's the underrepresentation of women at the top, which means that good habits can't trickle down. They told us: "The number of female CEO's is ridiculously low in comparison to our male counterparts. There is still more to be done with regards to pushing women to reach their potential in leading roles." The pattern is particularly prominent for women belonging to an ethnic minority. Sheeza Anjum, social media and digital content specialist, has worked with some of the biggest creative and digital agencies in the world, "but unfortunately every single time I step through the door I can’t help but notice there is a serious lack of role models and mentors for women like me." 

I’ve sadly seen so much lately about women pulling up the ladder behind them
— Antonia Taylor, PR specialist

And there is not enough support for women who are having children to provide flexibility for them to do so. Freelance PR consultant and founder of Little Gnashers, Victoria Dove, is one of them. She said, "Many employers are missing out on top talent because they can’t arrange their businesses to offer flexible working hours. We all have mobiles, laptops and the internet so it really shouldn’t be an issue anymore for office-based jobs."  Work Well Being founder Louise Padmore thinks that, whilst the rules around shared parental leave go some way to evening out the balance of responsibility for childcare, for many men there’s a workplace culture that still makes this feel like an unacceptable thing for them to do.

But it's not just men building barriers to equality, it's womankind too. Rosh Thanki, trailer editor and creative lifestyle Instagrammer, highlighted: "We can be unwelcoming to other women in the same industry". There is also the well documented 'imposter syndrome' - a fear of failure - which has a big effect on many women and something we,  as women, have to push to overcome ourselves in order to break the cycle. Heidi Budino, Freelance Global Sustainability & Social Purpose consultant at Shell, pointed out, "As a society we still associate authority with a man which leads to women often feeling like they need to downplay their authority, doing things like apologising". Founder and CEO of You Make It, Asma Shah, offered up some steps in the right direction, "We need to hear more from women who have experimented and failed and that this is okay, because you learn more from failure than from successes." We need to create positive role models out of failure.

We often put on a brave face when times get tough. We accept burdens and say that everything’s fine. But if we spoke up and out more often we might have to deal with less crap.
— Caitlin Evans, Poet and Senior Planner at MBA

It's not just habits we have to shift but fundamental systems that have historically inculcated the male focus.

So what's the solution?

Caitlin Evans, a Senior Planner at MBA, thinks that the status quo environment means that women just put up with it and won't speak out, "We often put on a brave face when times get tough. We accept burdens and say that everything’s fine. But if we spoke up and out more often we might have to deal with less crap. I want to open up really productive, ongoing conversations." There was a resounding response from the women we spoke to that they are all planning to delete the apologies. It's got to start somewhere and our narrative should be apology-less but we need to push harder for progress. Heidi Budino adds, "I’m going to be more aware in meetings when men are in the room, bring female colleagues into the conversation if I feel they’re hesitating to speak up or call a man out if they’re talking over me and not letting me finish."

“Bring female colleagues into the conversation”
— Heidi Budino, Freelance Global Sustainability & Social Purpose consultant at Shell

When it comes to building flexibility in the workplace for mothers, Jaxx Nelson, founder of Whisk Deliversan online delivery service for new parents, has plans for her fellow female friends who are family planning. "I’ll be encouraging (them) to speak openly with their company management about work flexibility. It's so important for women to be able to maintain our fought-for careers and have the family life we want."

Antonia Taylor, a PR specialist, believes that mentoring will help. "I’ve sadly seen so much lately about women pulling up the ladder behind them. Having a mentor earlier on in my career would have been game-changing. So I’d like to invest in that, possibly working with other women in my field to create something meaningful."

There's a long road ahead but the conversations building and building, and women are opening up and shouting louder. But they, as well as men, need to push harder to see the change we want to see. 

The Female Focus doesn't stop here. CLO PR and Mac & Moore will be teaming up for more activities with the lens angling on women in due course, as well as continuing to talk to mavericks who are trying to change up the status quo and pull the matriarchy up in their wake. Watch this space!

 This illustration was expertly drawn by Louise Ormerod, a Senior Designer at ZAK agency

This illustration was expertly drawn by Louise Ormerod, a Senior Designer at ZAK agency

THE FEMALE FOCUS: WE PARTNER WITH YOU MAKE IT

As part of our joint series with the talented girls at Mac&Moore, The Female Focus, we want to share with you some exciting news. We will be partnering with You Make It, a charity which offers creative programmes for women to equip them with the tools to transform their lives through personal empowerment. The mission of You Make It falls within the Sustainable Developments Goals set out by the UN to end poverty, promote good health and well-being, provide life-long learning opportunities and fight gender inequality.

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Since You Make It launched in 2011, 82% of women supported are in sustained paid employment, working on their own start-ups or have accessed formal education places. It was set up by Asma Shah out of anger at inequality in London. The first years of her life were turbulent, her mother fleeing a violent marriage and taking Ms Shah and her three sisters with her. Despite that, Ms Shah, who has held management positions at Channel 4, the Roundhouse and Creative Skillset, always believed she would go to university and get a good job. Yet, she says, many black and Asian working class women lack self-confidence and a sense of a “right to the city”. She says of You Make It that it’s not just about giving tools for employment but addressing the stuff that really holds women back, like lack of confidence and networks.

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As part of the scheme, CLO PR aims to create positive impact by providing mentorships to two women to help them reach their potential. We’ll be supporting them with training in PR, marketing and social media skills, as well as ideas for how to promote their businesses to wider audiences. We can’t wait to get cracking and meet Honey Malaolu, a local fashion designer based in Hackney and Hera Williams, founder of Aspire Girls Squad, a community interest company offering support to young girls aged 10-16 years old.

Watch this space!