I founded my first formal business in 1980 and have been running that business through three recessions, two children and a lot of changes in the HR and legal industry as well as the business world. I was often the only woman in the room who wasn’t a secretary
When I started in employee relations I was often the only woman in the room who wasn’t a secretary. Now I am regularly at meetings which are all women! HR has become a very female dominated profession.
Working with entrepreneurs too has changed. In 1980 I went to the bank to ask for a loan to start my business and they told me:
- “You are too young…
- inexperienced and…
So we aren’t going to do it.”
I have remedied two of those conditions now.
Now women are starting businesses all over the place
– though it is still really hard for any business to get funding. The employment and legal environment has changed repeatedly. There are so many structures and ways that businesses ‘buy’ time from people – from using volunteers, to freelancers, to family members, to employment to partners.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the difficulty we all have in getting people to do what we pay them for. It is so hard to be clear and direct and structure profitable ways of working with other people.
Go too far and we are accused of being bossy or prima donnas or being a diva. Be too subtle or gentle and you run the risk of people ignoring you or taking advantage of you.
The issues have moved on from:
Should women be in business or on the board?
How do we behave and plan so that we get there and succeed?
Modern technology has given us the opportunity to re-explore work/ life balance and find new ways to collaborate and manage performance. The endless challenge of making it work in the workplace is exhausting but exciting at the same time and I love finding the wiggle room in employment law and HR that helps us all get what we want.
The UK economy has moved on and I suspect there are going to be many more freelancers and entrepreneurs in the future. The worry is that they will not make much money and exist on the margins.
We are going to have our work cut out
…to help those that are able make the transition from solopreneur to robust business that makes a profit and pays other people. I hope that some of the things I have learned in the last 30 odd years will be useful to other women in business going forwards – so I have recently become a mentor for the Bright Ideas Trust. Working with women in London to help fast track their business growth.
There were no start up support schemes or mentoring schemes when I got started. We just went out and did it, fell flat on our face, then did it again. It is wonderful to be able to contribute to avoiding at least some of those moments!
I have also become a public speaker helping other business women to make their people plans and get into profitable relationships rather than frustrating ones!
There is still so much to learn and to share I hope I am blessed with another 30 years in business – though if I do the maths I am going to have to be active for longer than most – but in these days of moving pension goals it is just as well I enjoy what I do so much.
Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon, pioneers in helping businesses (and their employees) make employment law work in the real world