Community: A transformational tool for female business leaders

Hear from female business leaders in our network on how they’ve tapped into their community to help them reach their goals.

14 December 2023

Hannah Waters, an investor in BGF’s South West & Wales team, recently sat down with three female business leaders in her network. Her key takeaway? Regardless of sector, growth stage or business model, many entrepreneurs and management teams have had common experiences and are facing very similar challenges. This, in turn, provides an excellent opportunity for knowledge sharing and collaboration.

Read on to hear from female leaders at three (very different) growing businesses on how they’ve tapped into their community to help them reach their goals.

Who did we speak to?

Laura Mallows, Founder & CEO of Mallows Beauty: Laura started Mallows Beauty in 2020, and the business has since gone viral on TikTok. The self-love inspired beauty brand revolves around an ethos of skin positivity, body positivity, and mental health.

“I always toyed with the idea of starting a business, but there was never anything I felt passionately enough about—until Mallows. For me, Mallows has been a journey of self-love. I didn’t want young women to grow up in the world that I did, to have the body image issues or the fixation on being perfect that I had. So, instead, I decided to create a business that would flip the beauty industry on its head.”

Claire Fraser, Managing Director at Xpos: Claire is the MD at Xpos, a software company for golf retailers. The Engineering graduate (one of four women in her 70-person course at university) had an exciting and varied career before joining Xpos, previously working at the Ministry of Defence, at a strategy consulting firm, and later for Orange and Vodafone.

“I think it’s important to know what drives us in life, and to do our best to nurture it. I’ve always loved numbers, but I’m also very creative. So, for me, working in tech is the perfect combination. I know I need to be building something, and as part of a team, to have a sense of purpose.”

Victoria Head, Commercial & Performance Director at Archus: Victoria describes her role as similar to that of a Chief Operating Officer. She joined BGF-backed Archus in 2021, to drive financial and people performance across the healthcare infrastructure business.

“You don’t need to have a management degree to be a good leader. While I was never formally taught how to run a business, I’d say my management style is focused on being a good listener. I take my time to digest information and I’m good at staying calm under pressure.”

What are some key challenges you’ve faced as business leaders?

For Laura Mallows, becoming a first-time entrepreneur and CEO was a perfect recipe for imposter syndrome: “I know I’m great at social marketing and brand building, seeing a gap in the market and going for it. But even today, I do find myself wondering if I’m good enough to be a CEO, if I’m making the right decisions.”

Laura’s certainly not alone in this respect, but it’s rare for founders to speak so openly about self-doubt. She goes on to explain the pressures that come along with being an entrepreneur: “I feel like the company’s failures are all on me. It can be very overwhelming, and quite lonely, at times. I don’t feel like I can share that burden with my team. But at the same time, it’s very rewarding when I look back at everything I’ve achieved.”

Many founders are facing these same pressures. But female leaders often face additional challenges, compared to their male counterparts, whether that’s the disappointingly large funding gap or biases in recruitment and promotion. According to Archus Director Victoria Head, “for the most part, I’ve had a very good experience as a female business leader, despite what you might expect. But there have certainly been occasions where I’ve been measured differently to men—marked on style rather than performance.”

“I’ve been challenged before on not being assertive enough. In reality, I just assert myself in a different way.” She believes this comes down to a difference in leadership style, and that more awareness is needed of how individuals operate: “Personality tests have more value than people think, even if it’s just to start the conversation around ways of working and communication styles. You don’t need to change yourself to fit a box.”

Claire Fraser, MD at Xpos, has had similar experiences and is also a big proponent of personality profiling and awareness training, which she believes have taught her a great deal about getting the best of out of her team. “I’m quite softly spoken, and naturally tend to listen more than dominate the conversation, which has been tricky at times when I’m in a boardroom full of strong personalities. But you need that mix of personalities for a business to really thrive.”

Another challenge Claire highlights is that of being a working parent: “Having a family and running a business is hard. We need more women in the workplace who have gone through it all already, who can tell you what to expect, and who can help break this culture of shame around being there for your children.” Claire feels this has helped shaped her leaderships style at Xpos, as “one of the advantages of running a small business is that you can really set the tone and be sensitive to the demands on working parents.”

How has collaboration helped you in your roles?

Imposter syndrome, gender biases, competing priorities, and the pressure to succeed—these aren’t easy obstacles to overcome. But a problem shared is a problem halved, and all three of the individuals we spoke to felt that collaboration was key to tackling these challenges.

Laura emphasised the value that her employees, board and investors bring to Mallows every day: “I couldn’t be more grateful for my team; they work so hard to make sure we get the job done, like it’s their own business. They all have that same drive and passion for Mallows that I have. If anything, I probably don’t utilise them as much as I could when it comes to relieving some of the pressure I feel as a CEO.”

Meanwhile, Claire says that, “as business leaders, we need to get comfortable talking about the challenges we’re facing, as well as our successes, so that others can learn from our mistakes.”

Alongside your team, it’s important to lean on your wider network too and ask for help when you need it. Claire believes this is especially important for women: “female-focused networking events are great because they give women the platform and confidence to share their experiences—whether it’s a lesson in managing difficult shareholder relationships and chairing a management meeting, or a discussion around the barriers stopping underrepresented founders from seeking investment.”

Laura added: “Meeting with BGF’s network of other founders and execs has been amazing. I’ve been introduced to entrepreneurs operating in completely different sectors, who are going through the exact same experiences as me. Even the shortest of conversations can be so powerful in sparking new ideas or opening your eyes to things you wouldn’t otherwise consider.”

Victoria agrees that having a strong, diverse network is critical to business success: “You don’t necessarily realise it at the start of your career, but the contacts you make are super important. Even just a quick call with someone to test out a new idea can be an invaluable exchange. And the sooner you start to build your network, and the more diverse you make it, the better.”

“For me, visibility of representation is key. Being able to form connections with other female leaders has been crucial to my success. And that’s why events like BGF’s female leader series are so useful.”

Joining a community of likeminded entrepreneurs and leaders

BGF is proud to have been named the UK’s most active institutional investor in female-founded scaleups for four years running. As part of our commitment to supporting women-led businesses, we host a regular event series, across our regional office network in the UK and Ireland. And these events aren’t just for our portfolio, but for female founders, leaders and advisers across our local business communities.

If you’d like to join our network and take part in future events, please get in touch.

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