Amanda: Hello and welcome to episode 8 of the Inspiring Women Interviews podcast. Today I am interviewing Sue [Lawton 00:00:14] MB. Sue is a global expert on women and enterprise. She creates business opportunities for women entrepreneurs and she’s a founder of Reconnect Europe, establishing the WEConnect International Program around the world. WEConnect is a global charity and it connects women business owners with corporation contract opportunities, something that traditionally women have found difficult to do.
Sue has also worked extensively with underrepresented communities around the world including the US, Canada, Australia, Turkey and Belize and she continues as an advisor to WEConnect International and also to WIPP International whose mission is to build powerful, collaborative networks among leading women lead organizations. She does that to help them leverage their joint power to negotiate policy and economic solutions to help women to achieve economic independence and participate fully in their countries economic growth.
Sue is also currently working with the Secretary at the UN High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment and I will be asking Sue about this during the interview.
She holds an MA and is a special advisor to the APPG for Women in Enterprise. She’s a fellow of the RSA and a trustee at the Commonwealth Girl’s Education Fund and she’s been awarded a MBE for services promoting women’s business and leadership worldwide so an absolutely wonderful podcast guest and really, really privileged to be interviewing you. Thank you for being here today Sue.
Sue: It’s my pleasure.
Amanda: Sue, I was just asking you before about … I said, “Are you a mom?” You said, “Yes. I have 2 boys aged 36 and 38.” They have obviously flown the nest now, but I just wanted to really start at the beginning and how you started your career?
Sue: I started my career as a social worker so I’ve always had a social conscience. I came from an area of Lancashire that was not very affluent and I did not pass my 11-plus so I went to a secondary modern school which took me a long time to then catch up academically, but I was in school with lots of deprived children and it made me realize that there was much social work to be done so social worker.
Amanda: I remember the secondary model system and the perception was it’s either grammar school or secondary modern and if you get into secondary modern then your life is over. You’re doomed.
Sue: That’s absolutely correct. It took me until I was 16 and a lot of determination to finely be able to transfer from a secondary modern to a grammar school, but it was funny, once I got into the grammar school I then went to an all girls’ Catholic convent grammar school and it was completely different so instead I applied to do a year as a foreign exchange student in America and instead of doing upper 6, I went and did 12th grade in an American high school which was a very interesting experience as my mom in the dad in UK didn’t even own a telephone so we didn’t speak for a year.
When I see young people going off on their gap years now being extremely exciting and brave with their mobile phones and using Skype, I keep thinking back about my own mom who didn’t get to talk to me for 12 months.
Amanda: You must of been thinking, you don’t know your born with your Skype and your computer and your instant messaging?
Sue: Absolutely and I mean I don’t take anything away from them. They’re traveling further probably than I did, but it still was a pretty brave thing to do I thought at the time.
Amanda: Very brave and I’m just interested in so what happened? You went to secondary modern so you got that big red X against your name for going to secondary modern.
Sue: Oh yeah.
Amanda: But somehow between the age of 11 until the age of 16, something quite significant must have happened for you to have had that determination to say, “I’m not doing this,” and to have moved schools and really pulled yourself up. What happened there?
Sue: Well, I think I’m just a born opportunist. I failed my 11-plus. It took my years. It took me until I was 60 to get over that one which is why I’m such a great believer in the comprehensive school system, but I never lost the belief that actually I should of passed my 11-plus. Why didn’t I do that and how dare they not choose me to go to grammar school.
Amanda: Good for you, but I guess you were unusual in that?
Sue: Yeah. Most of the children that I went to school with in fact left at the age of 15. There were just a few solitary souls left by the time we got to be 16 and very few went on to college and further education. In fact, I was the only one who then carried on to the girls’ grammar school.
Amanda: Sue, have you seen a video that has been 1 of those viral videos and I came across it just the other day and I’m not quite sure who it is, but it’s set in a court room and he’s making a argument for the education system to really pull itself up and to start being far more innovative saying the education system is failing children and look at all the changes that are going on in the world yet the education system is staying the same and it starts off as a fantastic image. It starts off with a gold fish in a bowl saying that essentially what an education system does now pretty much throughout the world apart from places like Finland is to say to a gold fish, “Right, you will get graded on whether you can climb this tree.” Have you seen that?
Sue: No, but I think I should.
Amanda: I’ll have to send you a link to it and I’ll put a link in the show notes to it because I think it’s very relevant to how the education system fails people at a young age by putting them in boxes and judging them by norms that certainly … well, most probably shouldn’t be norms any more.
Sue: Yeah. I think you’re right. I think the difficulties it takes some people a little bit longer to learn how to operate within the education system so I did end up finally years later getting 2 masters degrees, but it took me a bit longer than it would of taken most people, but it did mean that I truly appreciated the opportunity to get my masters degrees and I’m hugely proud of them.
Amanda: Your masters degrees, you have 1 in social enterprise. Is that right?
Sue: Yep and the first one was in human resource management and the second one is in social enterprise management and development. In fact, returning back to my social work origins in wanting to do social business to help community growth.
Amanda: When did you do that social enterprise MA?
Sue: That one would of been in about 2003.
Amanda: Okay. Where you still a social worker at that point?
Sue: No, no, no. I stopped being a social worker after the first 4 years of my working career. At that time when you had a baby you left work and so I left social work with the thought that I may return at some point, but in fact life took many other turns and many other opportunities and although I still maintain my interest in community growth, I never returned to the specific role as a professional social worker.
Amanda: Okay so what happened then? You left work because that’s what you had to do and that was your first son and then 2 years later your second son came along. Were you still not working?
Sue: Yeah, 20 months later. I still wasn’t working, but very shortly after that I met somebody who was working for the publishing house, Osborne Publishing which I loved their books. I was a convert to their wonderful books even before I had anything to do with them and they were wanting to set up a direct sales arm because they felt that women who had children could not get into bookshops because that size with prams was difficult or the children’s bookshop section was probably upstairs and they wanted a way whereby the mothers particularly could really look at the books and decide if they were the relevant books for their children rather than just buy something random quickly and have made a wrong choice. I was asked if I would help in the trial to set up a direct sales arm and I did and that grew into a full time career which because Osborne Books At Home.
Amanda: Gosh, which we all know and love today. Osborne Books is still going as At Home aren’t they?
Sue: Still going strong, yeah, and Osborne Books At Home is still going strong, but when I started there were just 3 of us. When I left 15 years later there were 3,000, majority of women, a few men, direct selling Osborne Books, but the joy of that was that it was my introduction to working with women owned businesses because what we were essentially doing was offering those women an opportunity to build their own business around the product of an Osborne book and so it was 50 years of learning how to work with women, how to get them to grow their confidence, to be professional, to grow their business to the size that they wanted it. Some remained very, very part time. Others made very successful full time jobs about being Osborne organizers with a full team underneath them. A very interesting experience and also a great learning opportunity for me to work with women entrepreneurs.
Amanda: Of course direct selling is absolutely huge today isn’t it?
Sue: It is. It is. I like to think that Osborne maintained a culture of not direct pressure selling, but offering the customer the opportunity to see a hugely, high quality product and making a reasoned choice if this is the product for them to buy, but with it also being … we talked about before about the 11-plus and going to the grammar school. Whilst I was working with Osborne, Peter Osborne always said, “If you don’t know it, learn it. We’re not going to bring in outside experts. Go away and learn it.” A lot of the training and development fell to me so I put myself through my IPD, Institute of Personal Development, to do the official qualifications and then built on that to get my masters in human resource management and in fact the dissertation was on women returners and how do they go back into the workplace, but built really around that experience of working with Osborne so thank you to Osborne for the opportunity.
Amanda: Wow. 2 things I want to ask you. Where shall I go first? I wanted to ask you, you said that led into your introduction into women in entrepreneurship and you also mentioned your MA and having done your MA with a subject of women returners. What were the key … Let’s go to the MA first. What were the key findings of your research for your MAs with helping women return to work?
Sue: Well, it was interesting. Obviously a lot of it was around the fact that women felt that they had lost their skills when returning into the workplace, but 1 of the most interesting things that I found is that I did some in-depth interviews with line managers or business owners who were bringing these women in to work for them and the ones who were the toughest against the women were actual the females because they would say, “Come half past 3, I know that this women is not concentrating on her work because she is worrying if her children are okay.” Whereas the men were very, very open to giving those women opportunities. I like to think that this has changed since then and everybody’s got an equal opportunity because that’s what we’ve been working for, but in the 1990s there was an element of women not being as supportive as they could of been.
Amanda: Do you know what, I’m afraid that it looks as if things haven’t changed as much as we might of hoped. I was reading an article the other day with some research showing that there’s still that perception that women would rather work for another man than for another woman and there was also a study done about how some women will undermine and sabotage other women because they feel that there’s … it was talking about a culture of scarcity rather than abundance. If I’ve made it then I need to keep this to myself.
Sue: Yes, but did they also do the other study that men would prefer to work for a woman or for a man?
Amanda: Ah, that’s interesting.
Sue: If you could ask the question. It would be interesting to know wouldn’t it if it’s actually women wanting to work for women or nobody wanting to work for women or men would actually prefer to work for a woman because the culture is different.
Amanda: Yeah. That study needs to be done.
Sue: I think so. There’s one for you, a challenge for you.
Amanda: Thank you. Thank you. Have you heard the Madeleine Albright quote, “There’s a special place in Hell for women who don’t support other women.”
Sue: Yeah, but my favorite quote is a Laurel Thatcher Ulrich one that says, “Well behaved women seldom make history.”
Amanda: I think my mom’s got something like that with “Women with tidy houses seldom make history” or something similar.
Okay. When leaving Osborne after working for Osborne for 15 years, that was your kind of next step into working with women entrepreneurs. What happened then?
Sue: I chose to leave Osborne because my boys were 15 and 17. [inaudible 00:14:41] was doing a lot of international travel with his job and neither of us were at home and I felt even more importantly when they were very small that 1 of us needed to be there through that GCSC A level trauma and so I decided to take a little time out and think about what else I would want to do so I took 6 months off, but very … I did stay at home with the children, well young men as they were, but the opportunity came to go and work with Women Returners Courses in the [Hoffature 00:15:21] area where I live so running courses for women wanting to come back into the workplace, running some courses for women wanting to return into management position having taken time out, but also to do some adult guidance work in the local communities.
You have young people who can go to the youth programs to look at what do I want to be when I leave school, but these programs were geared up for women and for men who wanted to think about having made the wrong career choices and how could they change where they wanted to be and move into a different direction. A whole mixture of career counseling, women returning, management building, that whole thing, but very much in my introduction to being self-employed and doing what I wanted to do.
Amanda: How long did you do that for?
Sue: I did that for a couple of years and then we moved to America and we moved to California, but I didn’t have a green card so it meant that I couldn’t officially legally work so I took 2 jobs. 1 I worked in the local coffee shop because that way I got to know everybody and they paid me in Blue Matching Coffee and sushi and the other one, my great love, is to go and be a good theater audience. I don’t want to be on the stage. I’m very happy to be in the audience so I took a job as an intern in the local professional theater selling the Shakespeare courses to all the schools and we sold them all out in 2 weeks because I had an English accent. It made selling Shakespeare very easy in California.
Amanda: That’s brilliant. It’s really interesting listening to your career because it’s not a traditional career. You’ve gone from being in a senior position for Osborne Books and setting up a business that has grown hugely to doing work, self-employed with people in career transitions, to working at a coffee shop for coffee and sushi and intern.
Sue: It gets better. When we came back 18 months later I was of course unemployed and I was again thinking what can I do and I thought I need some thinking time. Where was this safe place to go and think so I went and sold frocks in John Lewis for 6 months. It was a wonderful job. It was a great time for me to stand back and think what do I want to do next?
I did that for 6 months and then I took on a job with a local [bureau 00:18:01] council who were doing an outreach program for hard to reach communities, that being women, ethnicity, youth and social enterprise to give them business development advice so that they could start to grow their business and these were the people who would of been red-lined by a bank, who would not go into a business in coffees because it’s such an alien space for them and so to build up that program and that went extremely well. It went so well in fact that we spun it out of the [bureau 00:18:33] council and created a charity called [Incredit 00:18:35] so we offered micro credits for businesses to be able to start-up their business and this was before micro-credit was really becoming the in thing to do.
We would go into women’s prisons and do enterprise training for the women serving the prison sentences because if you’ve been in prison, nobody’s going to give you a job. We’d also go into schools and get the young people to set up social enterprises that made a profit that returned into the school to teach them business skills and also to give them some social responsibility and we worked with ethnic minority groups. Many of the women would not be comfortable to come out of their social environment, but that didn’t mean that they couldn’t create a business within their community so we did that as well and that was a very entertaining, challenging and rewarding time of my life.
Amanda: It sounds incredibly rewarding and it sounds like it must have been a real grounding to you moving into the work that you do now, particularly with the High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment?
Sue: Absolutely. It gave me a very good insight into the challenges, but I did that for awhile and then I thought there must be something harder. There must be a more difficult way for women leading their lives so I handed the charity on to a very worthy successor and moved to Belize in Central America. I chose Belize. It was the only English speaking country in Central America and I speak no Spanish so I went for 4 months and in voluntary role and mentored the CEO of the Women’s Issues Network of Belize so lived in Belize City in a very interesting house. We had cold water and rats, but that was fine and some highly entertaining experiences, but I learned a lot and I owe a lot to the women of Belize for helping me learn the challenges that they were facing that humbled me and served well in the years since then.
Amanda: Could you tell us a little bit about some of the challenges that you found and what you learned from them?
Sue: Well, I think some of them were … first of all my perceptions of how safe was I going to be in this country that has a reputation for violence. It can be quite violent. Our offices were at the side street and there was a gang house next door and 1 day they tried to burn down the gang house. Not successfully, but when we called the fire brigade it was lunch time and the fire brigade were out at lunch and another day they did a drive by shooting but fortunately we had all just left the office so there are stories like that, but there are also stories … I was on the bus the first day.
There are no bus stops in Belize. You just stick out your arm and hope that the bus will stop and the buses are old American school buses, the yellow ones or with cut seats and big reggae music rocking out and I’m on the bus for the first time and I’m the only white person on the bus and there’s a man next to me with long rasta hair, no shoes on and a big knife and he looked at me and I thought well everybody told me I would be dead in the first week and they are going to be absolutely right and he looked at me and he said, “There’s a seat here. Would you like it?” I thought, “Oh, shame on me. Never judge anybody.” I never did again and got on extremely well with all my friends in Belize, local ones particularly so lots to learn. Never make a first impression judgement. See what’s really the situation.
Amanda: Absolutely. What were the sort of problems that women in Belize had and how did they have any resemblance to the sort of problems that we have as women in the western world?
Sue: Well the problems that I felt were the most difficult ones were for the school girls and in Belize at that time, I can’t speak for the situation now, this is 2006 and AIDS was absolutely rampant and young girls if they wished to stay in school if they came form poor families would take on a sugar daddy. That sugar daddy would pay for their schooling, but in return would expect unprotected sex and then if the girl got AIDS then she would be passed down the food chain as it were. That’s no way to start your school life. You’ve got ambitions for yourself. You want to stay in school, but the only way you can stay in school is to sell your body. It has improved in Belize since then because obviously the economy in Central America has improved.
When I was in Uganda earlier this year looking at women’s economic environment and worked from the slum areas right through to high end business. In the slum areas, the position is no different. It’s the same in many, many countries still where women can not get forward because they have no economic environment. They have no control over their money. Any money given for education is preferably given to a boy if there is a boy and a girl in a family and the girls have no way forward and when they try, there’s many obstacles in their way. It’s still a man’s world I’m afraid in many countries.
Amanda: It is a man’s world. Could you tell us more about what you are doing to try to improve the situation. Particularly if you could tell us about your work with the UN and High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment?
Sue: Well, the High Level Panel was set up by Ban Ki-moon because he felt that as he came towards the end of his time as the Secretary General he had not done enough for women’s economic empowerment although I have to say on his defense, he had done a lot already, but he wanted to leave a legacy of action that would change women’s lives so he created a high level panel made up of experts from all different aspects of women’s lives from all around the world. It’s co-chaired by the President of Costa Rica and by the CEO of IKEA of Switzerland, so very diverse and it’s got representation, Christine Lagarde is on it, Jim Yong Kim from the World Bank, Elizabeth Vazquez from WEConnect International, Mozilla’s represented on it, but then UN women, Oxfam so the whole representation of women’s lives and they’re coming together to put together action plans that will make a difference that could be put into any economic environment to change the economic development for women.
They’ve had the first 12 months and a report has just been published and the first report is really a review of what is going on around the world. What’s the situation for women’s economic environment and that was handed over to Ban Ki-moon in September at the UN General Assembly Meeting in New York, but we’re now going into the more important phase which is what actions are going on around the world that we could share that will make a difference to women anywhere.
An example of a practical thing, in Costa Rica when they are laying all the sewer pipes, they’re all the cables laid for IT connectivity so that women in rural areas can start to connect to the world and hopefully build business and economic opportunity for themselves. It doesn’t lie there yet. It’s growing, but they’ve got the vision to do that. It sounds a very simple thing, but if that were done in all countries around the world because women have far less connectivity to the global internet than men do, then economic growth for women must come from that so very simple solutions that you would think well, that’s a no brainer, but it’s not happening around the world and if you go across women in agriculture, women in finance, women in developed societies, women in emerging economies, there’s lots of good examples that we’ve not put together and used and that’s the challenge for the panel and their second report which will be the action recommendations will come out in June of next year.
Amanda: Connected to that, how important do you think or from your work with the panel is the digital economy to women’s empowerment throughout the world?
Sue: Oh, hugely because if you look at banking in Africa. Let’s use the [impassive 00:28:11] phone as an example, in the UK or in developed economies we use traditional banking methods but in emerging economies they skipped a whole process by going straight on to telephone banking so it’s changed lives whereas many people have got a mobile phone now. As those mobile phones became technically enabled, it opens up the world of business. If you say to a women business owner or any business owner anywhere, “Have you got a global business?” And they say, “No, no. I’ve just got a little local business.” “Have you got a website?” And many of them have. Then what does www. stand for?
Sue: The world wide web and that means worldwide opportunities so if we can work with the women to get them to think about business growth, to understand the opportunities that having simple things like a website so that the rest of the world knows that they are there, how they can grow their business. It’s happening in developed economies already, but there’s still so much more to do in the emerging economies and there’s so much opportunity there. If the world needs growth as the economists said, “Forget India, China and the internet. Economic growth will be driven by women.”
Amanda: Yes. Do you have the statistics behind that? Sorry if I’m putting you on the spot, but I find it a really interesting statement.
Sue: They do exist and I suppose if I had half a day I could root them out for you.
Amanda: Yeah. That is it I guess for the nay sayers who say every time International Women’s Day comes about in March they say, “Why do we need Int-” Why do we need International Women’s Day? Actually that’s a good question to ask Sue Lautern MB, global expert on women in enterprise.
Sue: Well, I think it depends where you live. I’m a great believer in equality and I think equality is equal balance. We talk about feminism, but we don’t talk about masculinism, but I do think that the time is right for developed economies to work collaboratively together to make an equal society so that’s 1 thing. In developing economies it’s much, much more of an imbalance and if International Women’s Day is international, we’re not only talking about the women in developed economies who have made the first steps on the journey to equality. Some of the women in the developing economies haven’t even started the journey yet.
Amanda: Yes. There’s so many women in developing economies who have so few rights. As you say, it’s not even the first rung of the ladder is it?
Sue: They have no land rights, they have no banking rights, they have nothing.
Amanda: Are you hopeful for the UN panel to actual make a difference across the world? It seems like such a huge call to action.
Sue: It does seem like a huge call to action, but if you don’t take the first step on the journey, you’re never going to make the journey are you? I am very supportive of what they are doing because this is not just a report, not just another wonderful launch of a document that’s going to sit in a cupboard and gather dust. This is actually a whole set of actions and they’re going to be measurable actions so that’s having been called to the challenge, the countries can be called to account. Have you succeed and if not, why not? And that is the power of the UN.
Amanda: What do you think we should be doing in the UK to support that?
Sue: Well, there’s lots of things going around the High Level Panel. There is a website which I will give you to put up when you put this recording on so that you can see the web link for it, but there’s also lots of things going around Women’s Economic Empowerment within the UK. There are groups that you can join. It depends what floats your boat. Do you want to get involved with local women’s groups or do you want to get involved in the whole global picture for women’s development? It really depends where you are coming from. I think for women’s economic empowerment globally, there are things like UN Women who are very active in the UK. For business development there’s BPW, Business for Professional Women. There’s quite a lot of these groups out there. You just have to look for them or ask me.
Amanda: We will. I will get some resources from you if that’s okay so that would be really good.
1 of the things that is in the call to action from the report is about women and housework. I looked at it here. The failure to recognize reduce and redispute unpaid household work and care. What do you think can be done about that because that’s very much an attitude and very much related to tradition and gender roles isn’t it?
Sue: Well, it also depends again which country you are living in. If you are living in Africa for example and you have to walk 2 hours to get the water everyday, then that’s your responsibility because it’s not the man’s job to go and get the water. If you are spending 4 hours a day just going backwards and forwards, collecting water, then what can be done about that? Bring water to the village and the woman gets 2 hours, 4 hours a day extra in which to develop her business.
I think in developed economies it’s all about the negotiation isn’t it? There’s lots of programs around. In Australia, there’s this thing called Male Champions for Change, which is the male business leaders saying, “We’re supporting women and we think this should be an even balance thing.” There’s He For She, but it’s also down to women to negotiate what is acceptable for them personally and I think traditionally women have had that majority care responsibility and some women prefer it that way.
That’s a very personal choice, but I do think that perhaps as mothers I like to think that I brought my boys up to think that it’s their responsibility just as much as their partners responsibility to care for their home, their children. As their wives go out to work of course it’s an equal split and so should it be so I think it’s about societal attitude and talking about it and having an expectation that if it’s not being fair shared equally that is not acceptable. I assume that’s going to be peer pressure isn’t it. I’m a great believer in getting male champions to help us fight the fight for equality. I’m going back to this thing that it is equality. It’s not necessarily feminism. It’s about an equal balance society and balanced both ways.
Amanda: Yeah. I agree with you Sue and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we need to help men to understand just coming closer to home. Sort of focusing on the UK for a moment, how we need to get men to understand why gender equality will help all of us. I think there’s still a misconception. If you ask the man on the street about gender equality, the answer you would get is, “Oh, it’s all about those bra burning feminist. We’ve got gender equality. It’s my wife who rules the roost at home.”
Sue: Which shows that we still got work to do. We’ve not [inaudible 00:36:29].
Amanda: But it’s true isn’t it?
Sue: It is true. I do know what you’re saying, but it isn’t correct is it? If you speak to the women, that’s not the message that I’m hearing and it is about perhaps about equal choice so that if a women chooses to build a career, that she is supported in that and that society supports the childcare needs, but it’s also the male partner’s responsibility to have childcare support, to take some of those days off when his wife or partner needs to work and it works vice versa. It’s what you do for your best friend isn’t it?
Amanda: Yes and I think we’ve shared parental leave. There is certainly a shift there, but we still need to give men permission to take it.
Sue: Absolutely because if you look … I think it’s Japan, but correct me if I’m wrong, where the parental leave on paper is very generous, but society shames the men who take a paternity leave so on paper it’s great. In practice it doesn’t work.
Amanda: Okay. It’s like, “Yes, you have this many days leave, but nobody in this company takes their full allocation of leave?”
Sue: Absolutely. It’s 1 thing doing the paper exercise, but the cultural exercise may be different.
Amanda: Yeah. Absolutely. Talking about culture, just going again sort of reducing the focus to individual companies, there is so much focus on talent attraction and talent retention and companies are increasingly employing talent directors to support gender equality, equal numbers of men and women on board, etc., etc., however, what I’m noticing is often a lot of talk and very little walk. Has that been your perception as well or have I just been looking at the wrong places?
Sue: Well, your probably in a better position to comment than I am because I tend to look at what happens at the glass door rather than the glass ceiling so I’ve been working in the women entrepreneurs access to procurement contracts and if you look around the world women are 1% of the global supply chain. Now they’re more than 1% of the business so there’s an imbalance going on here, but if you look at the UK and we don’t measure how many women business owners there are. We don’t actually accurately know.
There’s no question on the business tax return that says are you a male owned business or are you a female owned business so when we [inaudible 00:39:39] the data. In the USA they do have that data and as a result of that they measure the number of contacts, of federal contracts and of corporate contracts that go to women owned businesses and try to readdress the balance. It could be that that women owned business is not a big enough business or the best business is male owned, but at least they’ve been given the opportunity to bid. That’s not happening around the rest of the world particularly in the UK which is of my interest so there’s a glass door as well as a glass ceiling.
I think within corporate I do see a lot of diversity discretion and a lot of women’s groups within large corporation and what appear to be very flexible working practices so perhaps you’re better to comment on how successful those are being. What I’m not seeing is the opportunity for women entrepreneurs to be as successful as male owned businesses to bid for those contracts mainly because half the time they don’t know when those contracts are coming up because it’s a closed shop.
Amanda: Well, speaking personally Sue, I certainly wouldn’t know how to bid for a contract and I have been involved in a couple of proposals with other women over the years of my business and I say, “Just a couple.” The experience was so traumatic and the information acquired, it was just beyond the size of our business. The questions on the proposals are like well what’s that about? I don’t have this or whatever it was or various questions that presuppose that you’re already a business of a certain size.
Sue: The insurances, they are totally unnecessary.
Amanda: Yeah. It is and then I guess and I’m sure that you must know about this, we were successful in getting interviews and presentations in both instances and “Wow. Yes, really impressed with you. Great fresh ideas,” and then after all that and after us having spent a significant amount of our non-existent budget on traveling to these meetings, etc., etc. “Oh, we’ve decided to stay with the incumbent.”
Sue: Yes. It’s difficult isn’t it, but this is where organizations like WeConnect International are there to help you because you as 1 business being upset about the processes are not going to be heard, but if you have many voices together then you have the opportunity to make a difference and it’s about bringing those voices together. If you look at the work of WIPP, which is Women Impacting Public Policy in the USA, they really tackle the problems around access to contracts, particularly from the federal procurement perspective and they will do things like on the same day at the same time they will lobby every senator of every state on the same subject. Now that’s powerful.
Amanda: Wow. That is.
Sue: We need to get organized Amanda. Somebody needs to take control of this.
Sue: I think it’s to where the Women’s Equality Party will come in. Who knows.
Amanda: You know, I was going to ask you about the Women’s Equality Party. Have you joined?
Sue: I’m sort of hanging around the edges because my interest is enterprise and they’re only just forming their enterprise policy so I have spoken to them very recently so I have a lot of hope for the development of their enterprise programs. The thing that impressed me most was that their desire to work collaboratively with other parliamentary parties to make change for women rather than working as a competitor.
Sue: That’s the bit that I think needs to be put over even more strongly. I didn’t understand that bit until I actually sat down and spoke with them a couple of weeks ago and now I think I’m a convert.
Amanda: They’re a political party who aren’t political.
Sue: Absolutely. They’re an influencing, lobbying and if the other political parties aren’t going to do it, then they’re going to have to do it themselves type of party.
Amanda: It will be interesting to see what influence they do have on women in business moving forward.
Sue: They’ve got their first conference taking place in Manchester at the end of November and I’m hoping that enterprise will be part of the policy discussion so watch [inaudible 00:44:36] really and you were saying, “How can women get involved?” Well, if you are interested in enterprise developments, go and lobby the Women’s Enterprise Party and build up a movement within that already converted, like-minded space.
Amanda: Yes. Absolutely. Yes. Very good idea. Thank you very much. Sue, there was a question I wanted to ask you before and we’re bringing it right back from women’s enterprise and lobbying and politics and it’s a personal question and it’s about the qualities that you have developed or used to create this fascinating career with so many different, unexpected paths.
I’ve noticed that … I mean you talk about determination. We talked about determination at the beginning with the 11-plus and moving away from the secondary modern school, but you’ve told me all these different, exciting, twisty, turney bits to your career and I noticed you said things like, “Oh, and an opportunity came up to do this and then somebody asked me to do this” and I’m kind of putting myself in the shoes of the listeners of a women who might be in middle management. She feels like she’s on this treadmill. She’s not very happy with her current career where she is. People say you stay where you are because you’re on to a nice, easy number because they’ve given you flexible working. Just keep your head down even though you don’t like it. You don’t get on with your boss and she doesn’t have time and she’s thinking how on Earth do opportunities like this come up? What would you say to that woman?
Sue: I would say that she needs to go out there and create them. She needs to go and build her network of who does she know who is working in another organization and when are their jobs coming up? It’s about deciding what you want, but being flexible about that. Say she’s decided she wants change, but she doesn’t know what change looks like so the way to develop that is to go out and meet perhaps with other women and men who are working in other organizations, perhaps in the same sector if that’s what you want to stay within, but building your network of connections and listening and looking and then looking for that opportunity and then voicing the desire to be somewhere else. “Is there a job going at your place? I’m very happy where I am, but if an opportunity came up I would be very interested to talk to you.”
Amanda: Okay. Networking is key there?
Sue: Yeah. Believe in yourself. Sell yourself a little bit and remain flexible at all times.
Amanda: Okay. I like that. Okay. I’m going to play devil’s advocate here because I’ve known so many women who are just completely stuck in a rut and their response to this would be, “I don’t have time to go networking. My boss will not let me out to go networking.” What would you say to them?
Sue: They don’t 24/7. It depends how determined they are to get out there. I mean some of these networks are professional networks that exist outside of the working day. Well, if you’re too tired when you finish business, then you’re not going to do anything are you? Change is as good as a rest. Get out there. Talk to people. Find out what’s going on on the other side of the fence. Who knows, you might decide it’s actually quite nice on your side of the fence when you have a good look, but at least go out there and take a look and ask and talk and listen.
Amanda: Okay. It’s just about you need to get out there. You’ve got to look at what’s important. If it’s really this important then create the time. Get creative about it to start looking for those opportunities.
Sue: Absolutely. Do something about it. Don’t just moan.
Amanda: Yeah. I agree. Actually 1 of the things that I always say, “You don’t necessarily have to start networking your person.” We have such an incredible resource in social media and enabling us to network wherever we are.
Sue: Yeah. A lot of people say, “Oh, I don’t like networking. It’s not what I do.” Then don’t network. Just go and have a chat.
Sue: You don’t have to call it networking.
Amanda: I agree.
Sue: Just talk to people. They’re quite nice really.
Amanda: Yeah. Networking is 1 of those words that fills people with dread. I run Forward Ladies meetings once a month in Manchester. I’m the regional director for the northwest and I always say to new people because I see them coming in and think oh gosh, they’ve got that “Oh, do I have to do here?” And I always reassure them, we’re friendly. This is just about connecting. It’s about supporting other women and that’s where the magic happens. You don’t have to come and be able to sell yourself. It’s just about having a chat.
Sue: Absolutely. It doesn’t have to be aggressive. It can be a very nice experience.
Amanda: Lovely. Just to finish off Sue, what is the 1 piece of advice you would give to your younger self?
Sue: That’s a difficult one. What piece of advice would I give to my younger self? Have more confidence. If I’d known … everybody always thought I was very confident and it appeared as though I was very confident as a young person doing these many different things, but I think if I’d of had … I’m back to the 11-plus, I blame that for everything, but it takes your self-belief away and if I’d of had that younger, how much more would I have done sooner? Who knows?
Amanda: Well, I think you’ve done quite a bit quite soon.
Sue: I could of done more.
Amanda: How would you coach that young 11 year old girl to have more confidence?
Sue: Well, I think I would of worked with her on understanding that 1 small obstacle doesn’t end your life. That it is just a moment in time, 1 day, 3 hours, a judgement doesn’t end your life and that actually you’ve got lots more to offer.
Amanda: Oh, yes. I love that. We have such a habit as human beings of thinking that our present circumstances isn’t the way it’s always going to be and judging our future by where we are now and things can change at the skip of a heart beat, can’t they?
Sue: Well, it’s funny. When I got my MBE, we trotted off to Buckingham Palace and it was Prince William did the ceremony which I was absolutely delighted about. He’s a charming young man and we were walking through the gates to Buckingham Palace and I had my 6 year old granddaughter with me and I said to my husband, “I think I’ve finally got over failing my 11-plus,” and [inaudible 00:51:36] thank God for that. That’s ridiculous isn’t it? It sounds as though it’s ruined my life. It hasn’t. It hasn’t. It’s just 1 of those things, but it’s interesting. I think it’s at the top of my mind at the moment because of all the publicity in the papers at the moment about bringing grammar schools back in.
Amanda: Yeah, but you know on the flip side Sue, I think it might of made your life because it was that determination to be more than that 11-plus wasn’t it that drove you on.
Sue: That’s an interesting thought. You could well be right.
Amanda: We will leave it at that. Sue Lautern, thank you very much for being here today.
Sue: Thank you for inviting me Amanda. It’s been a pleasure.