Named as one of the 30 Most Inspirational Women in the City by Brummell Magazine, her interests are eclectic – which sometimes gets miss-spelt as eccentric or electric, and that probably says it all! She has the ambition and great attitude we all aspire to attain in our lives. Meet The Fold Woman, Gwen Rhys.An entrepreneur by nature, Gwen Rhys’s career has intertwined periods of working in both the public and private sectors with running her own businesses. She set up Networking Culture in 1996 and advises a range of organisations on how to build and nurture social capital. Her clients include global corporates, national charities, professional services organisations, universities and trade associations. In the mid-nineties, as Chief Executive of Westminster Enterprise Agency, she founded a network for female entrepreneurs. In 2003 she set up Women in the City in 2003, an organisation that promotes recognises and rewards female talent.
Gwen is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a Freeman of the City of London and a Court Assistant in the Worshipful Company of Glass Sellers of London.
Tell us about the Women in the City awards and where the idea came from?
I knew the benefits of women connecting with one another but as I built my consultancy business I quickly discovered that many of the women I met felt isolated – from women both within and beyond their own firms. My initial idea was to bring together like minded women to share experiences, hear an inspirational speaker, share good food and wine and have fun! 200 women attended the first Lunch and this year our 10th Anniversary Celebration Lunch will see 350+ men and women coming together for exactly the same reasons.
Who inspired you as you were building your career?
As a child I was inspired by my grandmother. Born in 1898 she was a businesswoman who owned two shops and from an early age I wanted to run my own business.
Many people have inspired and influenced me throughout my career. I once met an incredibly inspirational head teacher in an inner-City “sink estate” school. He’d raised the aspirations of his pupils dramatically. His work spurred me on to develop a programme called Stepping Out which enabled 7-11 year olds to gain an understanding of the world of work through a range of projects that linked pupils, teachers and employees from local businesses.
You started your own business at a young age, what were some key lessons you learned from that experience?
- Trust your instincts and intuition – ALWAYS!
- Ask for what you’re worth – this is usually about 2x what you think (or maybe twice and take away a little bit).
- Develop a strong network of relationships – it will support you through thick and thin.
- Take risks. I’m a great “have a go” person.
Just the other week I read that Peter Drucker (the management guru) said “On average people who take risks make 2 bad decisions a year. On average people who don’t take risks make 2 bad decisions a year.” Says it all really.
How important do you think developing a network and seeking out mentors is to building a successful career. Any advice on how to do this?
Having a strong network of relationships is hugely important but remember, it’s all about QUALITY not quantity. Research has shown that the “magic number” is around 150, so you don’t need to have 500+ social media “friends”.
As for mentors – seek out many. Someone who’s a great mentor at the start of your working life may not be the right mentor if you become an entrepreneur.
Your mentors are like your personal board of directors. Make sure you have great people around you. Select them for what they can bring to you – e.g. one for their honesty, or for their humour, another because they help you to see things from a male perspective, another because they have great contacts – etc. When you’re young, have some more mature mentors.
Some of the young people I have mentored are now mentoring me. They help me keep in touch with what younger people are thinking and doing. That’s so great!
There is a lot of press about Women under pressure to “do it all” – what advice would you give to women who are trying to juggle career, family, friends etc?
This is a difficult question for me to answer because I’ve never “juggled” anything in this sense although I tend to get myself involved in lots of ideas and projects and am sometimes, metaphorically speaking, juggling plates .
My partner and I have been together for nearly 30 years, but we’ve only shared a home for the last 10 (you don’t want to rush into something!) and I’ve never wanted children. Many of my friends also run their own businesses or have busy careers and we all understand that we can’t be in touch quite as much as we’d like to. I’ve also never distinguished with “life” and “work” so the concept of work-life balance is something of an anathema to me. It’s one life, and I live it the best way I can.
Speaking of doing it all, there is also pressure to look the part. Do you have any sartorial advice for women climbing the career ladder?
Look the part for your next step on the career ladder. In other words, dress upwards but don’t confuse this with dressing up!
Find a signature look (but make sure that you keep it contemporary) that complements your body shape and personal brand. Try not to have a look that’s too fussy, but you don’t need to dress like a man-in-a-skirt.
Men are “uncluttered” – they often walk into meetings with nothing in their hands. They have a pen and maybe a notepad in their inside pockets. They sit down, wait for the meeting. Women walk in with a briefcase AND bulging handbag (get rid of one of them!), sit down, fiddle with jewellery, muss up their hair, cross their legs, pull down their skirts – see we do all this “fiddling” and it makes us look unprepared for work.
Invest in good quality accessories that say “quality” and make sure you can walk with confidence in your shoes and that you can sit down in any skirt/dress.
Wear your clothes, don’t let them wear you. Find a shop or a brand or label that you know suits you and don’t waste time bothering to go elsewhere!
Final Question- What is your favourite dress by The Fold?
Gwen’s beautiful jewellery is from By Brilliant.