Passion, diversity and the importance of personal branding

Fiona Tatton, founder of Womanthology, speaks to Your Ready Business about finding your passion, diversity in the workplace and why it is important for both men and women to build a strong personal brand.

Tell us more about yourself and your background

I’ve always had a passion for business and commerce. When I was 15 and I was at school I used to make earrings and necklaces and sell them to friends and family – I loved doing that. I studied Business at University, touching on all the different disciplines (HR, Law, Marketing, Accountancy etc.) and was fascinated to see how all the different elements of business fit together to become something that is greater than the sum of its parts.

It wasn’t until more recently that I got excited about what organisations were doing in the fields of equality and diversity – how we can harness that to increase business performance, but also to give everyone, no matter who they are and what their background or level of seniority, a way to develop themselves and their careers.

What led you to create Womanthology?

I started Womanthology earlier this year to help people, and in particular other women like myself, by tapping into my business background to help transform their careers. I was interested in creating something really positive, a resource that would inspire women and encourage them to be confident in their own abilities, featuring female role models and challenging stereotypes. I wanted a magazine for women that was led by work related stories, rather than fashion and beauty. The broadsheets have excellent women’s sections with more material related to women at work, but I thought there was a gap or at least not enough content around these issues. I wanted to move the gender diversity narrative forward and read about the women I see every day that inspire me. I don’t just want to tell women they can do anything, I want to prove it.

The challenges faced by women are pretty common across the developed World: progressing in the workplace, getting to access to the resources they need, juggling childcare and family commitments, being more confident in themselves and their abilities. And when talking about diversity, getting men on board is crucial. Men are seeing Women’s Networks springing up, but it can be quite intimidating for them, so it is vital to involve both genders in the dialogue. Despite the name, with Womanthology I wanted a friendly space for both men and women. We all need to be working together to move things forward. All the articles are written from an individual’s perspective, so everything you see will have come from the contributors themselves. From university students right through to senior board members, executives and entrepreneurs; all sharing tips and wisdom.

You’ve written that the notion of “women having it all” is a myth. What do you mean by that and what do you think success means to women in business today?

A woman can be given a lot of different labels, whether she focuses on her career or stays at home and looks after a family. We give ourselves (and each other) labels, but I’m really interested to cast aside those labels and see what would happen.

For example, when Arianna Huffington talks about success metrics, she talks about power and money and more interestingly about the concept of balance. You can have a good job and a family and on paper be ‘successful’, but you may still not be satisfied in what you’re doing. If you haven’t got that balance, then really have you got it all? There’s no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way to live your life. Success isn’t about the job you have or whether or not you have a family.

A big part of what I’ve learned is that success is all really subjective. There’s no such thing as “having it all” as no-one can even agree what it means! It’s a complete myth that we need to cast aside.

For me success is about being an individual, about doing the best that you can and to always continue learning. It’s about trying to find your purpose, your passion and once you’ve found it, following that the best you can. We should celebrate everyone’s differences and enjoy that, rather than try to be someone else that we think others want us to be.

How do you feel about women having to take a step back from their careers when they want to start a family? And what can organisations and employers do to help make it easier to retain women in their companies?

I think there’s been incredible pressure and that’s partly why this gender gap exists at the moment. Opening up this dialogue allows organisations to re-evaluate and re-examine the way they work, and to look at how to retain women in the workplace. How can we change the way we work with organisations? How can we use tools like flexible working to reconfigure the way we work, keep the talent and maintain diversity in the workplace?

Interestingly, a lot of men want to join in this conversation because they would also like to have some sort of work-life balance – for example working fathers. This debate is brilliant because it opens up the question of improving work-life balance for everybody. Organisations are all about people at the end of the day. The most successful organisations understand the immense value of their staff and treat them accordingly.

Although organisations are already having these conversations, we’ve still got a long way to go. If people want to have a break and come back, that’s great. How can we make it easier for them, how can we use technology, telecommunications and flexible working and do things differently to increase productivity and retain talent?

How important is personal brand to success in the workplace as well as in personal life? How do you think personal brand help succeed in the workplace as well as personally?

Lots of organisations now are moving towards a more authentic leadership style where you are more able to be yourself at work and not having to maintain a work persona. Personal branding is inextricably linked with that. That allows organisations to tap into their employees’ real expertise.

There is still a long way to go. It depends on which organisation you’re in, some are further along in the process. But when one organisation embraces it, it encourages others to follow suit; there’s a positive ripple effect and I love that.

What are the main building blocks of what defines a personal brand?

The most important foundation is probably to know yourself, know what you can bring, that’s really key. And also finding your passion. We don’t always know what our passion is but once we find it, it’s really powerful because then you can communicate on that basis, learn, develop your skills and specialise your knowledge in a particular area.

When you have a passion and talk to other people it becomes compelling, gives you confidence and people can pick up on that. To paraphrase Simon Sinek, “People aren’t interested in what you do; they are interested why you do what you do.” They want to know what drives you. That’s what resonates with people.

What would be your top tips for someone who is starting out in the workforce or for someone trying to build their own brand?

If you’re building your brand, just start by being yourself. Being mentored is a really helpful way to have someone to bounce ideas off. Mentor somebody else, as you learn as much from mentoring as from being mentored.

Continuous learning is important as well, you’re not comparing yourself to anybody else, you’re just comparing yourself to yourself. Making mistakes is fine as long as you can learn from them.

Also, don’t be afraid to reach out. Ever since I started Womanthology, I’ve contacted chief executives, entrepreneurs and various people from all different fields and organisations from around the world. I’ve been totally blown away by how many people are prepared to help if they see how much you care about something important.

And definitely be bold. Know yourself and what you care about but also find people who care about the same things and who see how important it is and will help you.

Who are the people we can learn from? Are there any particular groups, industries, or any single person who stands out?

I’ve spoken to people in many different kinds of organisations, in different countries and also many different kinds of entrepreneurs. What is interesting is the process they are working towards, the enhancements done to harness diversity. Organisations that impress me are those that continue to develop and to improve themselves, have a dynamic vision and want to help others.

All the organisations that have taken part in Womanthology are acknowledging that diversity is important and are using it to move forward and to gain a competitive edge. To them it’s just common sense. Championing diversity becomes like a virtuous circle.

I have the greatest respect for leaders like Ian Filby at DFS. He came from Boots and has done amazing work building gender balanced teams there. Harriet Green at Thomas Cook is an excellent role model for women in leadership as she’s a fantastic communicator who isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo. Diversity and empowering staff comes from the top down and from the bottom up in organisations. I get a sense of that about Vodafone too. There is a real buzz about the place that you can’t fake. If the leadership understands this, there is nothing an organisation can’t achieve.