Entrepreneur Friday – Michelle Gyimah
Welcome to this week’s Entrepreneur Friday with Michelle Gyimah. She is the Director of Equality Pays, an HR Consultancy dedicated to helping employers better improve their gender equality policies and practices. Grab a cuppa and enjoy this interview.
Tell us a bit about your business?
I run a Tech Gender Equality Consultant who helps small and medium size tech firms attract and retain more women. Women are under-represented in the tech industry and there are huge challenges around the low numbers of women entering and large numbers leaving the industry. There is lots of data around the reasons why this is and my role is to work with small and medium sized tech firms to figure what the solution to redress the balance is for them.
What inspired you to start it?
I wanted to have ultimate freedom in the way that my talents are used and working for myself is the perfect fit. I worked in this field as an employee and took voluntary redundancy during the last months of my maternity leave. I just felt ready to strike out on my own and use my skills and talents in more hands on way.
What is your career background?
I worked at the Equality and Human Rights Commission for 7 years as a gender policy manager, so I was responsible for delivering training, providing advice and writing guidance for employers on gender policy and employment law. I specialised in equal pay and pregnancy and maternity discrimination so no two days were ever the same!
What is your vision for your business?
My vision is to be a business that tech firms feel that they can trust to come and talk honestly about the struggles they are facing, without being judged. There is a lot of ownership that tech firms need to acknowledge around some of the issues in the industry and it can be easy to be over judgmental. I want the best for women in tech, so I want my business to be known as one that works with tech firms to achieve this, not one that just casts judgements.
You’ve balanced being a successful business woman with raising a family. Any advice for other women?
Don’t strive for balance, it doesn’t exist. I think you need to accept the peaks and flows of your business and home life so it’s about finding what works best for you in the moment.
How do you maintain a good work/life balance?
I think balance doesn’t really exist. I’ve learnt that my business is a part of my life, it’s not just work. So for me it’s about being honest with myself about what my boundaries are and also what I need in order to get things done. For me the biggest challenge is about being honest about what time I need, whether that is time in my business, with my family, with friends and or time away from everyone! It’s ok (and best) to say what you need and then figure out how you can best achieve it. It requires good negotiation skills with others as well as flexibility on your part.
What was your lightbulb moment? When did you realise that you wanted to be an entrepreneur/business owner?
When I was on maternity leave! I was approaching the end of my leave and was searching for a ‘legitimate’ reason not to go back to work. Not because I didn’t want to work, but because I wanted the autonomy in how I worked. I started to join lots of female entrepreneur Facebook groups and I was amazed at the sheer numbers of women doing what I wanted to do. I was hooked from that moment, as I realised that it was possible for me too.
What lessons have you learnt along the way?
Confidence is everything. I spent so long worrying about what people would think of me and my services that I didn’t really promote myself or network with confidence and I think that really showed. If you don’t believe in yourself, you can’t expect others to and that is the sole purpose of running a business. Inspiring confidence in others so that they will become your clients based on what you can do for them. If they don’t believe you can do something for them, they won’t come to you.
What has surprised you about owning your own business?
It is the biggest personal development lesson ever! And it doesn’t stop! There is so much to learn and adapt to and even though it’s primarily about business, I’ve found that it seeps into my personal life too. You have to learn about money, price setting, networking, building relationships, decision making, working with others, time management, managing expectations…the list goes on. But all of those things apply to day-to-day life as well as business. If you want to know more about your character, start a business!
Who and what inspires you?
Other business owners, especially those with 9-5 jobs and a family. Running a business requires commitment and there is always that feeling that there are not enough hours in the day. Add to that the pressures of a job and family and it’s much harder. But clearly not impossible as thousands of people do this every day. It always makes me feel that if they can do it, then so can I.
Do you have a daily routine or rituals you do?
Yes, I get up very early, usually around 5.30/6am. I need the quiet time before everyone else gets up and we all start the usual morning work/nursery rush! I spend about 15-20 minutes, writing my monthly business goals, listening to a morning meditation by Abraham Hicks and visualizing whatever good things I want for my business. I’ve found that having that time helps me to focus on my goals and generally I meet them! After that 20 minutes, I get down to starting some work before the family get up.
What obstacles have you had along the way?
Honestly? Money! It’s so different being a business owner compared to being an employee as you are suddenly responsible for generating income consistently. I really struggled with this for a long time and eventually went back to work part-time to give myself the breathing space I needed to figure out how to my make my business work. At the time I felt like I had failed and my confidence in myself was at rock bottom. But, I realise now that was the best thing for me as it relieved a lot of money anxiety and helped me to step back and re-define my business in a way that speaks to my ideal clients better. Now my business is much more focused and clients are connecting with me, so it means that I’m doing something right!
What is one thing you wish you’d known when you first started?
I first started out as a general HR consultant because I thought it was a ‘safer’ option that niching down to what I do now. I hated it. I now realise that you should only ever start a business in something that you are passionate about and good at. There is no point swapping one job that makes you miserable or is the sensible option for another but in a self-employed capacity. Focus on what you love.
Thank you Michelle for contributing!
Michelle Gyimah is the Director of Equality Pays, an HR Consultancy dedicated to helping employers better improve their gender equality policies and practices. Michelle has over 8 years’ experience of working at the Equality and Human Rights Commission and holds a Masters in Human Rights from The University of Manchester.
Tech companies are a tipping point where they are looking for ways to improve their gender diversity. As more and more women are looking to develop and build their careers in tech, it’s up to companies to develop new and innovative working practices to support women.
Michelle is dedicated to helping tech companies develop bespoke packages and inclusive business culture whilst maintain steady business growth. Employers can sign up to her newsletter to get cutting edge advice and tips on how to attract and keep talented women in tech. If you are a woman in tech and want advice on how to navigate your career in tech join her LinkedIn group to meet other like-minded women.