It’s a man’s world. At least that’s how it can feel sometimes if you work in the hospitality industry, writes Michelle Williams. But at last week’s Women’s Entrepreneur Conference hosted by Propel, some of the most successful businesswomen in hospitality vigorously challenged the stereotype.
I think it’s fair to say most industry events I go to have what feels like an 80-90% male attendance, but that stat was turned on its head at this conference, and instead of the usual sea of business suits, this was the domain of the women.
Some of the stand-out successful women in our industry, including Thomasina Myers, co-founder of Wahaca; Nisha Katona of Mowgli and Sophie Bathgate of Sophie’s Steakhouse, spoke of how they shunned the non-believers, overcame their fears and refused to let their gender be a barrier.
Making passion profitable
The theme of the event was around starting a business – how do you turn a passion into a business, how do you take that first leap, and how do you make it profitable?
Thomasina tackled the issue of knowing whether your business idea is genius or madness. In her case, she knew she wanted to bring ‘real’ Mexican food to the UK, at a time when nobody else was doing that. Her passion for the cuisine, which began during a trip to the country at a young age, turned into an obsession, and when she met her business partner, they decided to take the plunge, despite being ‘young and completely out of their depth’. Passion, she says, is essential, but it’s not enough. It needs to be a unique idea and something that other people will love too. And perhaps most importantly, it needs to make money.
She spoke of feeling ‘doom and terror’ in the pit of her stomach during the moments when things weren’t going well, and the many people who told her she was mad. They didn’t get everything right the first time, but they learnt fast and they were driven by a strong belief that other people would love authentic Mexican food. Turns out they were right.
Nisha questioned why more women aren’t leading the way in business. She admitted business can be daunting for some women, herself included, partly because ambition can be considered an unattractive female trait, while some are plagued by guilt for being an ‘absent mother’. But she risked everything she had to set up a restaurant because she just couldn’t sleep wondering if her passion for food was her true calling in life. She has since and left behind her stable career as a barrister and built a business and brand that her daughters can be truly proud of.
Next up was Sophie Bathgate and I’m sure many women in the room could relate to her experience of self-doubt which played a part in her journey. But this was a hurdle she fervently overcame and furthermore, she learnt to use her emotions to her benefit. She encouraged celebrating the wins and taking time out of the day-to-day to look at the big picture and work out what feels right.
Other speakers included Mary McLaughlin who shared her journey in creating some of the best-loved pubs in the UK through Cheshire Cat Pubs, and Alison Frith from Artizian who spoke about becoming an expert marketeer on the job.
It truly was an inspirational day.
I’m not going to pretend I could ever do what these women have done – don’t worry I’m not ready to hang up the PR heels just yet – but it was inspiring to watch and learn from these people who most certainly felt the fear – and yet did it anyway.