In 2017 Sarah walked away as one of two winners in a historic £500,000 'double hiring'. In celebration of International Leadership Week, the businesswoman talks Lord Sugar, mum guilt and maternity leave stigma
Two years ago Sarah Lynn’s life changed forever when Lord Sugar said the words ‘you’re hired’ in The Apprentice boardroom. In a first for the BBC One show, Lord Sugar hired both Sarah and James White to be his next business partners. Since then, 38-year-old Sarah’s business, Sweets in the City, has grown from strength to strength, supplying beautifully-packaged gifts to sweet lovers all over the UK…
What leadership skills have you learned from being a female boss?
You have to master tenacity to be a good leader. You can’t let things go, and must be really persistent. Patience and empathy is also important. The best leaders are those who understand that every one of their employees is different and don’t just have one way of working. Finally, practicing what you preach is really important. If you’re expecting someone to stack boxes for three hours you should be ready to do it yourself.
Is the world comfortable with female world leaders and CEOs?
My experience has been positive. Being female has never stopped me winning a contract, I wouldn’t allow it to. But obviously there is a long way to go. I have friends in the legal profession and if they take time out to have a baby, they say it’s tough for them to get back in and be seen as a leader again.
How do you balance being a mum and working full-time?
I strive for integration. I might work really long hours in some people’s eyes but I’ll make a gap between 5 and 7pm and put the boys to bed, and then after I might put the laptop back on. I’m still there and present. The key is to not see work as separate from life. That’s how I manage it and I think a lot of leaders do the same.
Is mum guilt real?
Sadly, yes. I’ve got two sons, a five-year-old called Edward and a five-month-old baby called Oliver. With my eldest the mum guilt was just awful, but with my second I’ve learned from the first experience and dropped the guilt quite early. I know I’m a good mum. Everything I do is for the boys. I want them to have a good life because I work hard.
How involved is your husband when it comes to childcare?
We are 50 50 partners in everything we do. He works in construction and sometimes he has a bit more flexibility than I do. But we do have help as well. We have a nanny for the boys now we have two. Plus my mum is a registered child-minder and helps out too. Sharing the boys out has made them confident, independent and adaptable – and I take pride in that.
Did you take maternity leave?
I gave birth at the end of May and we were launching a new product in the first week of July, so I didn’t take leave then. I was on emails the next day and breastfeeding at work in the coming weeks. But when we had some downtime I took the month of August off.
Is there stigma for working women wishing to take maternity leave?
For me, it was my business and my choice to be at work. It was a pressure I put on myself, but my friends have said to me they had to do ‘all or nothing’. Take a year off or take no time off at all. I don’t think this is the healthiest balance, it would be great in the future if flexitime could exist better.
Could improvements be made regarding office childcare and working mums?
Yes, I find it amazing that more isn’t done. Women are so integral to the work force and to lose somebody good because the hours don’t quite work is madness. You lose the best talent. Where businesses can be flexible they should be. They will more than get the return from that.
How did going on The Apprentice help your business, Sweets in the City, become a success?
I feel lucky to have Lord Sugar as a mentor. He is incredibly fair, direct and helpful.
What did you learn about yourself from taking part in the show?
So much! I found the business tasks quite straightforward and relatively simple, but the process was ruthless and, at times, overwhelming. I learnt to speak up more, toughen up and not to criticise a plan if I didn’t have a better alternative.
What is your advice for future female candidates?
Don’t get caught up in catty behaviour. It gives women a bad name because we fight stereotypes around this daily. It’s embarrassing.
What empowering female figures do you look up to?
My mum as a starting point. In terms of famous faces, Karen Brady and Michelle Obama.
What are your hopes for the future when it comes to the gender pay gap?
I find it incredibly strange that we are still talking about it. I wish equality was the norm, and not a subject needing to be discussed. Businesses need to just employ the best people for the job, and pay them equally. I’m desperate for us to get to that place.
To shop Sarah’s sweets, see sweetsinthecity.co.uk