I’ll start with three interesting facts about myself – I’ve never been to university, I’ve never had a boss and I spent 3 years living in a portacabin.
Now to a brief career history. It’s not been an obvious career path but has involved me pursuing the next thing I felt drawn to create, while drawing on the skills I had developed up to that point.
I started as an intern at Thresholds - which is why I didn’t go to uni, I was having far too much fun - and over the course of 6 years became Programmes Director and helped to design the Crossing Thresholds programme.
Phase 2 was as an international development consultant – working with different organisations to take their technical training and turn them into something genuinely participatory.
Phase 3 was co-founding Quirky Campers with my husband. Quirky Campers is a platform enabling you to rent, buy, commission or build a handmade campervan
Along the way, have been lucky enough to work all around the world, start 2 festivals, have 3 children (in 2.5 years), and build a house.
I’ve enjoyed pondering what ‘choose to challenge’ means to me and I have boiled it down to a few key things…
Choose to challenge by being your own brilliant, unique and authentic self
As I’ve gone through my life and career I have stumbled into various different labels and my own perception of what those mean. How can I be a consultant when I’m so young? How can I be a marketing director if I don’t have an MBA and spend most of my day drowning in babies? How can I be a CEO if I’m human and have feelings?
At every stage I’ve been tripped up by this, I’ve felt like an imposter, I’ve tried to be what I thought I was supposed to be and finally, I’ve made the decision to keep being myself. I remember the first talk I gave on marketing – I decided the only way to get past my imposter syndrome was to own it. I started my presentation with two images side-by-side; one was an 80s businesswoman with a perm and shoulder pads (what I imagine a marketing director to look like) and one was me, tandem feeding my twins while posting to our social media channels on my phone – my lived reality.
Ongoingly this might mean opening a team meeting by announcing that I’m feeling premenstrual, or my husband and I openly talking to stakeholders about arranging meetings around childcare. I’m opening the way for my staff to talk to me about what’s going on for them in a way that allows me to be a better manager.
Now I recognise that my ability to do this has much to do with my privilege (which I’ll come to next). I know that it is by no means always safe for you to do so. However, my invitation to you is to bring that extra piece of yourself to work, knowing that it will allow others to do the same.
Choose to challenge your privilege and power
A journey I imagine that many of us have been on for the past few years is recognising that alongside our identity as women and the potential marginalisation and oppression that comes with that, we may also have a whole array of privileged identities. Recognising my many strands of privilege has been very important. And while I still have so much learning, unlearning and work to do, I try to bring that recognition to every decision I make, the way I behave and the things I choose to talk about.
Alongside this recognition of privilege is also a recognition of power. As an employer, and as a CEO, I’m increasingly coming into spaces with a degree of positional power. Whilst I might have a sense of equality, it’s naïve to imagine it doesn’t exist. I need to work to actively undermine my power in order to ensure that my team feel able to freely share their views and challenge me.
Plus as a brand with a mailing list and social following of hundreds of thousands – that also comes with its own power and responsibility, which we commit to using for good.
And so my invitation to you is to recognise those situations where you have privilege or power and actively work to dismantle it. To think about your language and your behaviour and ensure that you uplift others’ voices and achievements
Choose to challenge how things are done
The reason we started quirky campers was because we couldn’t find any other companies that would allow us to rent our campervan through them – an old builders van we had converted that was full of carved wood and featured a woodburning stove. Friends and family thought we were a bit mad and couldn’t imagine who would hire something like that. 10 years on and the vanlife trend has exploded across the world featuring vans just like the ones we initially put up for hire.
When we first started hiring 5 years ago we decided to take people on remotely. We didn’t want to restrict our pool of talent and didn’t want to restrict ourselves to one place – a few years ago we spent a couple of months in Thailand and we plan many more long-term adventures in our camper. These days despite not being able to offer the best salaries, we attract incredible talent because not only can people fulfil their career ambitions but their life and travel ambitions too. We have members of staff who live and work full time in their vans, or who can travel while working.
We’ve chosen ethics and kindness over-ambition and profit, but this has allowed us to build a strong business that we can enjoy running.
So my final invitation to you is to define your own way of doing things; your work, your career, your life. Just because no one’s doing it, doesn’t make it a bad idea!