For a girl

Why I became a woman in business

I’m Jo Chapman one of the founders and directors of The Wandering Kitchen. To honour International Women’s Day, I wanted to tell you a little bit about why I decided to become a woman in business. I deliberated a little about writing this as in a ideal world it wouldn’t really matter if I was a man or a woman. But for many reasons it is important for me to honour today.

A tent of one’s own, Stoke-on-Trent, 1988

I started by first business, Fe-line: The Oxfordshire women’s hub in 2012, The Wandering Kitchen in 2013 and The Wandering Feast in 2015. By 2012 I knew running my own business was my destiny. I spent the years after university, searching, wandering, and looking for the right thing. But so much of what I did just didn’t seem to fit and I got very frustrated, as I had followed the code, done my A-levels, got my degree, got myself a good job in marketing. Why did I still have this itch?? Why couldn’t I just settle??

Well the real reason why I couldn’t settle was because I wasn’t following my inner voice, or my knowing as Glennon Doyle calls it (if you haven’t read ‘Untamed‘ I highly recommend it). I had known for a very long time, that I wasn’t made to do what others were. I wasn’t made to follow the code I was made to create my own code. How does this relate to being a woman in business? Well, because the things that make me a good in business and the over riding ‘real me’ weren’t often celebrated or complimented, they were actually pulled up and compared to my gender.

If I look back throughout my life I had heard the same sentence over and over again “you’re quite ….. for a girl.”
“You’re quite competitive for a girl”
“You’re quite funny for a girl”
“You’re quite boisterous for a girl”
“You’re quite bossy for a girl”
“You’re quite good at X for a girl”
And it took me a long time to realise that these weren’t negatives they were exactly the skills I needed to run my own business.

When I had my son I was worried about him starting school, because my son’s personality is very similar to mine. He is what you call ‘spirited’ and I was worried. I was worried that people would make him feel like he was too much. But it never happened, at school and nursery I only ever got compliments on his ‘go get em attitude’, and his ‘determination.’ I thought wow, this is great, we have come a long way! Until my friend who has a daughter very similar to my son told me she had been told by her nursery that her daughter was ‘very boisterous’ for a girl. And I realised it is still happening, we are still telling girls they are too much!

Luckily for myself I had excellent parents and grandparents who always gave me enough space to be myself (see image above). And I eventually had the courage to follow my own path, and it really was the best decision I have ever made. Not easy, but I would find it hard to go back to working for someone else. I am most definitely on the right path. Even through all of the difficulties of Coronavirus, I wouldn’t change it.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading this, I am writing this for anyone who has ever been called too bossy, too difficult and actually too anything!! You would probably make an excellent CEO and you should definitely think about starting your own business (I bet you already know exactly what it would look like). And to those that have spirited daughters, give them the space to be themselves and tell them they have strong leadership skills and would make an excellent CEO one day.

On a practical note there are some great resources and support networks out there for anyone wanting to start a business. It can be daunting and overwhelming on your own, so it is great to find support from others. I have used OXLEP, The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and for food businesses specifically NCASS. And my friend Sally at Saltoria Marketing is a big advocate of Enterprise Nation. All of these places offer advice, resources and online events for starting a business.

Happy International Women’s Day everyone!

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