From the tech industry to restaurateurs, Victoria Attwood speaks to four successful Manchester-made women ahead of International Women's Day 2017
MANCHESTER is in the midst of a business boom; the city’s skyline is on the up whilst entrepreneurialism continues to revolutionise our high street. It's a profitable time.
And it’s not just start-ups that are benefitting from the business boom. Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (Nov 2016) show that the number of women in employment in the North West is near record numbers. Great news for go-getting girls.
So how exactly do you make it in Manchester?
Ahead of International Women's Day (8 March 2017), we caught up with four Manchester-made women to find out about the triumphs, the challenges and the city that helped make them great.
Angela Spindler, CEO of N Brown Group PLC – “Only the paranoid survive.”
Whether you follow the pulse of fashion or take a more practical approach to clothing, chances are you’ve encountered one of N Brown’s power brands. From a revamped Jacamo with a stylish yet down-to-earth feel, to body positive sister store, Simply Be, which champions curve clothing, N Brown is taking the fashion industry by storm. And the woman responsible for shaking up this former catalogue company’s empire? Angela Spindler.
The Chester-born business woman has strong ties to Manchester.
“The Manchester vibe in the early 80s was truly inspirational. Both the city and the people in it have helped to shape me in terms of values and beliefs to be grounded, inclusive and innovative… and to not take myself too seriously. That foundation has served me well throughout my career.”
Since joining N Brown in 2013, Angela has transformed the catalogue company with 140 years of mail order history into a modern and relevant digital retailer – a task not for the faint-hearted.
“Retailing is always challenging, the minute you relax you fail. I love the expression ‘only the paranoid survive’. It's fast-paced, competitive and driven by a consumer whose approach to shopping is changing constantly, and being fuelled by technology.”
But it’s a challenge that Angela is more than up to, with the group now boasting two-thirds of revenue coming via online sales.
She puts her success down to her approach in challenging times. “I am resilient, so I can stay positive and energised through the hard yards of transformational change. If I find a problem I am excited about finding the solution - that’s what makes work interesting and rewarding for me.”
Rebecca Taylor, Co-Founder of CLOS Consultancy – “Never, never, never give up.”
Finalist in the Women in IT Awards and co-founder of CLOS consultancy, Rebecca Taylor knows a thing or two about making it in the male-dominated tech industry.
But despite the challenges posed by an industry where women reportedly only make up 17% of the workforce*, Rebecca has found her career path in Manchester nurturing.
“Manchester has a great community network. A network that is not only supportive in various stages of your career development, whether that’s working for a corporate or a start-up, but also has a large presence in the community where people want to give back.”
However, as the former Global Head of HR for ResponseTap, Rebecca had her own hurdles to overcome during her route to success.
“The biggest challenge I have had to face in my career was when to start a family. I am extremely driven and passionate about my work and I was worried and scared that I would lose this if I had a family, not to mention the financial implications. However, I had my little boy Ethan and he has made me more focused on what I wanted to achieve, as he became “my why”.”
It’s such career challenges that Rebecca aims to address through her work with Women in Technology (WIT) North, a meet-up group that Rebecca co-founded to support women in this difficult job market. By sharing experiences and coaching women through their own career challenges, Rebecca hopes to give back to the community that helped formed her own career – something that she is passionate about.
Her determination has clearly been key to her achievements. “My success is aligned to the Winston Churchill quote ‘never, never, never give up.’ I have had a number of setbacks throughout my career, but I live by this.”
source: ‘Codefirst: Girls’
Jenny Fisher, Brand Head Of Business Development for New World Trading Company - “It’s important to listen to those above you.”
For those a little too familiar with the Botanist’s beautifully crafted cocktails, Jenny Fisher may appear to have the dream job. But keeping the bar and the group's portfolio of brands, including The Oast House in Spinningfields, at the forefront of the competitive food and drink industry is not just a matter of sipping cocktails.
“I’ve been really privileged to be part of a company which has seen such success, but keeping up with the rapid growth across the UK has been a welcome challenge.” Indeed 2016 proved to be a stellar year for NWTC, with four new Botanist sites launching in Birmingham, Marlow, Farnham and Knutsford and The Club House in Liverpool.
“Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to work with some inspiring people who have helped and supported me during work challenges. I have worked with Chris Hill, CEO of New World Trading Company, from my first day in the city and have learnt so much about problem solving, industry know-how and how to inspire a team. It’s important to listen to those above you, you will absorb so much without realising.”
Though the Botanist’s flourishing menu is inspired by exotic flowers, Jenny thinks there’s a dash of Manchester in there too.
“Manchester is home to some incredible talent and innovators who are leading the UK’s food and drink scene. The city definitely has a great buzz which you can’t help but be inspired by.”
Whilst the quirky concepts of the bars bring the punters back for more, Jenny explains that it is the people that have made her career so great.
“I think it’s important to always make time for your team and supporting staff to become tomorrow’s leaders. New World Trading is all about the people, which is what I base my career on. Good people are the success of a business.”
Danielle Ayres, Senior Associate in Employment Law, Gorvins Solicitors – “I overcame the post-maternity setback by differentiating myself.”
As the youngest Senior Associate of Gorvins Solicitors in recent history and a regular commentator for the BBC and ITV’s This Morning, Danielle Ayres is well-respected in matters of employment law.
But despite her strong academic background and experience, it was the biggest challenge to her career that made her.
“Before falling pregnant with my first child I was determined to be successful at work (I had a five-year plan to make it to Partner level). However, after coming back from maternity leave I found myself on the back-foot. My peers had naturally 'taken over' me, in terms of salary, progression and experience and I found that hard.”
However, Danielle spotted an opportunity.
“When I was on maternity leave, I constantly overheard discussions at baby groups about how women were being underpaid, passed over for promotion, or experiencing other problems with their employers.”
For many new mums, this is a familiar story, with shocking figures revealing that as many as 54,000 new mothers are losing their jobs across Britain every year (source: Equality and Human Rights Commission 2016).
Anticipating the gravity of the problem, Danielle established the Keeping Mum Campaign, a series of free advice clinics offering confidential legal support to new mums.
It was through identifying this niche in her field that Danielle accelerated her career, leading her to become one of the UK’s go-to lawyers for maternity discrimination. She now works closely with several specialist organisations, including ‘Pregnant Then Screwed’ and ‘Working Mums’, who help women challenge unfair treatment as a result of their pregnancy and/or maternity leave.
“I have always been very career-driven from a young age, however, since having my children, I have strived to do better at my job. I think it is important for children to see that mums can bring home the bacon, just as much as dads. It is sheer determination to succeed at being a part-time working mum. A good mum with a successful career.”
Gaining a distinction in her LPC from Manchester Met and securing a training contract in a busy city centre firm, Manchester has no doubt offered a firm foundation for Danielle’s career.
“I believe that it is a fantastic place to be, in terms of culture, business, sport, education, I truly believe Manchester can rival any city in the UK.
As a life-long Mancunian, I’m proud to see Manchester become the northern powerhouse it is today.”