We caught up with Nancy Powell, creator of Herd Bags to hear her story and what an inspiring one it is...
The idea of working for myself and setting up my own business was something that had simmered for years, decades even, but if I was being honest with myself it was far more likely that I would stay solidly within the PAYE world of assured salary and performance reviews. For me being a business owner and building a brand was something that really did epitomise ‘success’. My impression of people who did this was of people with strongly generalist skills, great vision and most importantly people with rock solid confidence in themselves.
In 2010 I became a mother and I returned to work. I had my second child in 2012, had eight weeks off and returned to work. Both of these children were born in Singapore and I was really lucky to have access to a lot of help and in an island state the size of the Isle of Wight my commute was a mere 20 minute drive to a car park outside the office. I also benefitted from an amazing female boss. We then moved back to the UK.
Just to rewind a second. My professional experience is in Corporate Sustainability. I worked for Sainsbury’s and Nestle in-house and then was a consultant to a range of businesses and sectors whilst in Asia. We had our daughter, my third child, soon after our return to the UK and not long after that I picked up a yearlong contract to dip my toe back in the UK market. I lucked out again with a really great female boss (see the theme here) and the full time role was made four days and I was able to start early and finish early to help my husband and I share the childcare pick up and drop. On the conclusion of this role and looking for another contract I was told that for the flexibility I wanted I would need to drop my salary expectations. I was pretty taken aback. If my experience was continually growing why shouldn’t the reward be? And if not growing at least remaining static?! And had my husband, who also had flexibility at the start of his day in order to do a school drop, ever been told that? No. Added to that the roles that were being offered to me in this ‘flexible’ lower salary band were roles that I would have been suitable for 10 years earlier. I felt solidly ‘mummy tracked’. And so an idea that had percolated since the days of working on bags for life at Sainsbury’s, coincided with having time available to commit to research, a lot of coffee’s with former colleagues and mentors and many long discussions with my very supportive husband and….Herdbags.com was born.
I ended up taking the plunge, not because I was such a huge success professionally that building my own empire was the next obvious step….I came to it because as a professional who has expertise, ideas and ambition I knew the only person who would give me the opportunity to fulfil that ambition and to fulfil my potential would be me. It was not going to come from elsewhere. And since launching my business I have met many brilliant women who have felt equally stuck professionally, placed on the fringes of the work force. I make it a point to work with those women. My designer, photographer, accountant, bookkeeper are all women working for themselves around other commitments or caring responsibilities. I was drawn immediately to collaborating with Oh Mumma for these very same reasons.
It really amazes me that as a society we haven’t worked harder to keep women on board. The stories you hear on the school gate really boggle your mind…. of a high street accountancy business turning down a woman who had ten years accounting at Deutsche Bank under her belt because she needed to leave 20 minutes before others to do the school pick up. She was told that kind of flexibility for some would create a ‘two tier’ workforce. I would also say that my route out of the siding that I found myself in was possible because I have a great deal of privilege. Not least the privilege of being able to invest my own money in myself (just as well because only 3% of VC investment goes to female led businesses).
Women who can’t be their own financial backers are considerably less able to define their own career path in an entrepreneurial world. So we have a talent drain problem and the UK, I would argue, has it worse than many. Having the most expensive childcare in the world is just one reason of many reasons women are held back. BUT, things are changing and possibly changing very fast. Lots of people I follow on social media, listen to on podcasts and read are considerably younger than me and don’t have children and they are asking for professional lives quite different to what has gone. They want flexibility, not for caring responsibilities, but for multi-hyphen professional lives. They want to have time to invest in themselves and in other professional or private ventures. But we may not have to wait for those generations to take control of the workplace because what Covid-19 has shown us is that flexible working is not the insurmountable obstacle we were told it was. We hear that flexibility is something many companies will reach for to whether the economic bump we are going to have coming out of this period, four days weeks, staggered hours these are all on the table. And do you know what? Lots of really talented women already knew all this and were already doing it. We have a head start on the direction of travel and I for one feel very excited.
Learn more about Nancy's brand at herdbags.com