LABS 90 High Holborn
90 High Holborn, London, WC1V 6LJ
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8th March 2022 | 6 min read
For International Women’s Day we, at LABS, are shining the spotlight on some our brilliant female members.
Alice Benham is a business and marketing strategist on a mission to help entrepreneurs get clear on the big picture and, on their terms, take the action to get there. Whether it be streamlining the internals, up-levelling the marketing strategy or developing and launching new offerings, she loves nothing more than helping people build wildly successful businesses in a sustainable and value-driven way. Alice also hosts the chart-topping podcast Starting The Conversation and runs product-based shop, On Paper.
What have been the challenges of establishing and leading a business as a woman and what have been the opportunities?
In my early years of business I worked a lot with corporate companies which meant often being the only woman at the table. It was easy to feel intimidated by this (especially as I was only 17/18 at the time!) but I quickly saw it was to my advantage. I had a unique perspective to bring and just needed to work out how to communicate it. Since then I’ve built my own network of primarily female entrepreneurs and found their generosity, honesty and support to be invaluable in getting to where I am today.
Who inspires you and why?
Is it too cliche to say my mum?! Since as long as I can remember my parents have worked within charity roles and demonstrated the importance and power of not only doing purposeful work, but also bringing values and kindness into everything you do. As someone in a leadership role surrounded primarily by men, my mum constantly shows me that there is a seat at the table and you shouldn’t have to sacrifice on what makes you a woman to earn it.
How have you developed your leadership skills and confidence? What advice have you for other women looking to do so?
A whole lot of messy action and practice! Whilst I’m grateful to have grown up in an environment that championed these traits, it’s ultimately taken me flexing the muscles of leadership and confidence in order for them to grow. They felt awkward and hard to use at first but over time it’s gotten easier! My advice for others would be to just start and remind yourself that those you look up to had to do the same – you’ll never feel ‘ready’ and the sooner you take a step, the sooner you’ll grow.
As a leader, how do you stay mindful of who’s at the table and who’s missing?
It’s something I’m continually nudging myself to be more aware of and act on, but one way I do it is by asking the questions. Any time I’m asked to speak on a panel, host a workshop or be featured somewhere, I enquire as to whether my perspective, as an able-bodied white woman, is already represented and if so, whether I’m taking the seat of someone who could bring a more diverse perspective to mine. I hope this step not only advocates for those who wouldn’t otherwise be given the opportunity but also creates a more active and open dialogue around how we can contribute to a more representative business space.
What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
Lack of representation and transparency. Something that massively helps me believe that I can be a leader is seeing the women who have modelled what’s possible and hearing how they got there.
When we don’t see people whom we relate to in the roles we want to be in and the process to get there is unclear, it’s so much harder to believe it’s possible for us and take action.
It’s important to acknowledge that despite facing barriers as a female, I am still incredibly privileged and haven’t faced so many of the hardships which other women have and will continue to face, so I can only speak from my direct experience.
What are the benefits to having women in leadership roles?
When leaders represent the diversity of the communities they exist to serve, they make decisions which the whole communities experiences, perspectives and best interests at heart. And the same applies to women! Diverse leadership is better leadership.
How do you balance career, personal life and passions in a leadership role? Is there such a thing as balance and is it achievable?
With difficulty! Achieving balance feels impossible to me – I prefer to see it as a ‘blend’. It’s rarely equally weighted, but I try to regularly check in on where my work/life blend is at and how that feels to me. Sometimes I work full on and feel fine about the personal trade-offs it requires, sometimes all I want is time and space for ‘me’, like when I take a month off work each summer. It ebbs, flows and often feels like a dance!
How can women support other women in their organisations?
Something powerful happens when we have open and honest conversations. Whether it’s learning something new or realising you’re not alone by sharing a challenge or encouraging someone else to push further by celebrating a win, the more transparent we are with our experiences, the more support we can share around.
This year’s IWD theme is about breaking the bias. What strategies can work well to promote inclusion and equality in the workplace?
Not being afraid to ask the questions. When you’re at an event, in a meeting, hosting a call or looking at a candidate list, consider if those people are representative of the people your work exists to serve and start the conversation of what it looks like to do better.
What advice do you have for women looking to establish and/or grow their own business or within the company they work for?
Make sure you’ve got a clear and compelling why – this will be your inner compass and keep you going when it gets tough. And then, just start. Clarity comes from action so the sooner you take the messy and curious action, the sooner you’ll learn. Oh, and look for people who are proof it’s possible and lean on your support network – not everybody will ‘get it’ but those that do will be invaluable.
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