I recently attended a course on ‘Women in Leadership’ and was asked to talk about my female role models. Whilst many others recalled names of famous female actresses, authors, sports stars and Nobel prize winners, I took along a picture of my wonderful Grandma who lived to the wise old age of 98 and has always been one of the most inspirational women in my life. My Grandma Nellie taught me one of the most important lessons in life, to ‘believe in yourself’. She always said not to worry too much about what you can’t change or what others think, to make yourself heard, to grab the opportunities, to exude confidence even if you don’t feel it inside and that anything is possible when you put your mind to it.
As I turn 40 this year on International Women’s Day I certainly didn’t think that I would be celebrating becoming a Professor of Circular Innovation and have the role of Co-Director of the CE-Hub, one of the largest Circular Economy focused projects in the UK, an honour that I am incredibly proud of. Last year we also launched Circular Revolution, the first business-led hub in the UK focussed on helping SME’s to adopt circular thinking. With a background in Design, I have worked in the emergent area of the Circular Economy for the last 12 years. It is a topic that I am hugely passionate about as it provides an innovation framework for transformational change that all sectors, functions, disciplines and people can relate to. In the past sustainability has taught us to do. less, use less and change our behaviour whereas the circular economy encourages to do more with the resources we have, to re-think the way we use, share and re-use our products and to re-invent business as usual. I am lucky enough to work with inspirational organisations every day such as Riversimple, BAM Clothing, John Lewis Partnership and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation who are using circular economy principles to fundamentally change the future.
Another part of my role that I love is working with early career professionals to educate them about the circular economy and to support them to pursue careers in design, innovation, technology and business. Unfortunately, there are still not enough women working in these fields, particularly in senior positions. In my experience this is certainly not down to a scarcity of expertise, ability or ambition but often due to a lack of confidence, an absence of institutional and societal support and the challenges of juggling a career and a family. Frequently I have found myself justifying (most commonly to strangers) my decisions to work full time, to pursue a career in a senior position and to occasionally leave my two young children at home (with their very capable dad!) whilst I travel for work. My advice to women considering a career in design, innovation and the circular economy is exactly the same as the advice my grandma gave to me:
Don’t spend time worrying about what you can’t change,
Make yourself heard,
Put yourself forward and grab every opportunity,
Exude confidence even if you don’t feel it inside,
Anything is possible when you put your mind to it.
And most importantly ‘believe in yourself!’