Vice chairman of West Ham and Alan Sugar's right-hand woman speaks to Marie Claire about getting ahead in business and women in the boardroom
Famous for being a fearless businesswoman and strong role model, Karren Brady has had over 20 years experience at the top, working as a sporting executive and more recently as a broadcaster and mentor on The Apprentice. We spoke to her about her tips for success and the difficulties women still face in the boardroom.
Do you think women still have to overcome a glass ceiling to get ahead?
‘I think we’re making good progress – but it’s still not good enough! Women are underpaid for doing the same jobs as men and some of the boards of the biggest companies in this country don’t have women sitting on them. I think there’s lots of things they can do, companies should be more flexible about the hours they allow women to work so they can manage a family and a career.’
What do you think about government quotas for getting more women onto the boards of top companies?
‘I don’t believe in quotas for quotas sake, but I think companies without any women on their boards should write to their shareholders and explain why – explain how many women they’ve interviewed, why they haven’t taken anybody on.’
What about Louise Mensch, who gave up a high-level position for her family?
‘It’s an individual choice. Most women who work and have a career and a family sympathise with one another because they know just how difficult it is to try and manage it all and sometimes if the pressure’s too great and you can’t manage something has to give and it’s either your career or your family. Louise has chosen to give up her career to concentrate on her family and that’s her personal choice. For me, I may have titles like CEO, director or vice chairman but the best title for me is ‘working mother’. My children and my work are my most important things and I don’t want to give up either – I make it work.’
How do you juggle your business commitments with your family?
‘I accept I can’t be in two places at once and I do my best. I’m fortunate that my kids are great – well-balanced and doing well at school. But if I’m in London working then I can’t be in the Midlands with them. Sometimes work is really important and you have to be at work, but sometimes home’s really important and you have to juggle the two and I’m one of the fortunate women who is able to do that. When I want to go home, I go home.’
How about for other women who can’t do that?
‘Well, I employ a lot of women, 75 per cent of my senior management team when I sold Birmingham City Football Club were women. When I went to West Ham there were no senior women on the team and now 50 per cent are women. Those women have families and I accept that responsible employees will make up the hours if they’re at home because their child is ill or they have to go and pick their child up from school, and that creates a very loyal, strong and motivated workforce.’
What do you think about Marissa Meyer taking on her role at Google despite being six months pregnant?
‘She’s having a baby not her brain removed! There’s nothing wrong with it at all. I managed to have two pregnancies and managed my business. Women nowadays manage both very well.’
Who are your role models?
‘I think as you grow up you have different role models at different times, so at times it’s your parents, it’s your friends or people you see on TV, sometimes it’s people you aspire to and those change as you grow. I admire lots of women, everybody from Annie Lennox who has managed a fantastic recording career as well as championing women. She’s a great feminist – our views are very similar in a lot of areas. Another is Hilary Clinton. For women having great role models who aren’t people who are in the newspapers falling out of nightclubs – women who are achieving, striving, managing and succeeding in business- is very important.’
How have you dealt with sexism in the workplace?
‘In my experience the best way to deal with sexism is head on, addressing the situation directly. I think if you lower your tone to meet other people you’re always going to be on slippery ground yet if you allow people to raise their tone to meet yours it’s far better. Speak up about sexual harassment – nobody can do anything about it unless you tell somebody.’
Is there anything you wish you’d known when you were starting out?
‘I wish I’d known a career lasts a lifetime – sometimes you forget that. You’re still in it 20-odd years later so it’s important to remember to take holidays and enjoy yourself while still focusing on your career.’
Finally, what are your top five tips for women who are starting their own business?
- Have a plan, take an idea and work it through
- Be clear about what you want to achieve
- Consider all the risks very carefully
- Think about marketing. How does your business fit into the overall market and what’s different about it?
- Remember: a problem really is only a problem if it stops you doing what you want
Karren Brady is working to raise awareness of the pot orchid in the UK and has recently revealed a new breed named the ‘Karren Brady Orchid’ to mark the International ‘Day of the Orchid’ on Thursday 6th September 2012. An initiative of Art of Life, a collection of 40 Dutch growers of pot orchids, the ‘Day of the Orchid’ aims to celebrate the strength and elegance of women. For more information on the many different varieties of Orchid and how to care for them, visit www.orchidsinfo.eu