Can you tell us about your background and career to date?
I graduated from Duke University with two bachelors’ (Economics and English), then I completed a Masters in Finance and Development at SOAS. My career was predominantly in finance (Private Equity fundraising) with a short stint in Management Consulting. Three years ago, I decided to start my own company in a completely different industry. I started a lingerie company called Nubian Skin. I was recently awarded an MBE for Services to Fashion.
What would you say are the main personality traits you have that helped you progress?
Optimism and tenacity.
In your career, what has been the most difficult challenge and how did you overcome that?
Now that I run my own business, I would say it’s dealing with the stress of actually running a business, most people think working for yourself is an ideal, but it means that all the good and the bad is on you to figure out, and that’s a level of stress I didn’t anticipate. I’m still learning how to deal with it, but I have learned it’s very important to ask for and accept help.
What is the single, greatest instance of trade-off you have had to make in reaching the role you currently hold and, in hindsight, would you change it if you could?
At the moment being three years in, the trade-off has been financial. I boot-strapped the company and gave up a lucrative career in finance. I really liked having a high disposable income, and that was a huge trade-off for me. Becoming an entrepreneur in my case has meant foregoing an income and hoping that in the future it pays off.
What are the top 3 things you would advise people to do to manage their career growth?
Don’t burn bridges. When you move on to a new team or new company or new career, leave on the best possible terms.
Have a goal in mind and work towards it, but also realise that it’s okay if your goal changes.
Build meaningful relationships, both with your peers and more senior people.
How can one ensure that they are a top performer in this competitive and ever changing environment?
Figure out what you’re good at and excel at it. There’s no point trying to be the best at everything, but if you find your niche make sure to really become an expert and signal to your team and / or boss that you’d like to really delve into the area.
What does diversity mean to you?
Diversity is making sure that people who don’t look like you, or speak like you, or have the same background as you have a seat at the table. It’s all well and good to have a white person, a black person and an Asian person on the team, but did they all go to Eton? Because if they did, that’s not exactly an exercise in true diversity.
What observations have you made about the progress of diversity and inclusion in organizations that you’ve worked in?
I’ve always worked in teams that are predominantly white and male, but all the organisations do make an effort on diversity. I’ve kept up with the teams that I used to work for, and I know that they definitely have hired people from many different backgrounds, and they make a big effort with regards to maternity leave, which is essential for keeping female talent particularly at the senior leadership end.
What do you think is the key to unlocking the talent pipeline in women of colour that could open the door from middle management to senior management?
I think it’s two-sided. Firstly women of colour need to feel comfortable in their environment and feel that they have the same access to mentoring and opportunities as their peers. Secondly, women of colour also need to be willing to be the first and reach for those positions because at the moment there might not be a mentor who looks like you, and that’s okay, but you need to get to that position so you can be that for someone coming up.
Have you experienced any kind of discrimination in the workplace (consciously or unconsciously)? And how have you tackled it?
I have had an experience which I don’t think I would have had to deal with if I wasn’t female, but it wasn’t due to the organisation that I was working in, it was due to a particular individual I was working with. I generally tend to try to deal with problems that I encounter with people directly (sometimes issues with colleagues aren’t discriminatory, it’s just personality clash). In this particular instance when this didn’t work, I spoke to someone more senior and it was dealt with.
What role do you think mentoring plays in career progression?
I don’t necessarily think it can break a career, but it can definitely make it. You can find mentors who are incredibly helpful in navigating your path, and every so often, that mentor could open a lot of doors for you, if they believe in you.
What advice would you give to someone beginning their career in any industry?
Work hard and learn. You may not love every part of your job, but if you don’t learn something, whether it is a skill or about yourself or your desires, then it’s really an opportunity wasted.