To celebrate International Women’s Day this year, we’ve sat down (virtually) with an incredible range of inspiring, powerful women across the retail and eCommerce industry. We wanted to know what it takes to get to the top, how to overcome challenges and the top tips for future female leaders.
Today we sat down with Dimple Patel, Chief Operating Officer at Trouva.
Where did you start your career, did you always know what you wanted to do?
I’d known for a while that I wanted to work in Business or Finance but had no idea exactly which area within that. So I followed many of the other Economics graduates at my university into Investment Banking. I spent 3 years trading bonds at Goldman Sachs during the 2008 recession. It was an incredibly high pressure environment at quite a chaotic time, and I learned a huge amount.
What are the greatest challenges or frustrations you face as a woman at the top?
Having worked across various male-dominated environments, and having faced the challenges of being a female entrepreneur (I started my own coffee shop business when I was 23), it’s been quite the journey. One of the greatest challenges I believe all women face is having their voice heard. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to ‘earn’ a place at the table. Women have to work harder to make sure that their message is clear and compelling to get there. As an introvert, I’ve found this especially challenging at times, but I also believe you have to advocate for yourself and your team. I’d love to say I’ve cracked this but it’s definitely still a work in progress. Secondly, I think it’s important to acknowledge and continue to talk about the challenge of balancing a career and being a parent. At Trouva, I’m fortunate to work in a culture focused on outcomes over face time, meaning I can step out of the working day to prioritize my children when I need to and aren’t made to feel guilty about it. Our team is incredibly supportive of one another, and we recognise that great work doesn’t happen in a vacuum but it’s still a constant balancing act to ensure I’m not making compromises I might regret later, and that’s exhausting at times.
Who is a woman who inspires you?
Every woman faces adversity in some form. However, the level of adversity faced by Malala Yousafzai, and the courage she has shown is incredible. She faced almost insurmountable barriers and championed the right to education which has been such a crucial foundation for women’s progression, all against a political backdrop that was just terrifying. Her ongoing work to highlight the lack of access to education for women across the world even today, is inspiring. She has given a voice to women who otherwise wouldn’t have had one.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
I grew up in an immigrant Indian family in a council estate in the North of England. My parents never finished school, and the expectations of me as a young girl were dictated by conservative village traditions; learn to cook, never raise your voice and find a good husband. I had little direction on what I wanted to do or be, but I knew it wasn’t that. Since then every moment of pride and accomplishment has come from pushing these boundaries. Back then, I never would have imagined that I would have the opportunity to study at Cambridge, start my own business or hold a leadership position in the tech industry. It all felt so inaccessible. And whilst I’ve spent (spend!) a lot of time outside my comfort zone, that’s also when I’ve achieved the most, both professionally and personally. Now as a mother to two young daughters, my proudest moments come from watching them develop into their own people and challenge convention.
What’s the riskiest move you’ve taken in business?
Definitely taking the first step; leaving my Investment Banking job to start my own business. It was 2009, in the middle of a recession and I was 23 years old. I had no experience and had no financial safety net to fall back on if this failed. However, I knew it was the best way to learn and in the right situation, I’d figure out the way. It was my first lesson in managing risk and dealing with uncertainty. It gave me the resolve and determination to do whatever it took, and if it still didn’t work, I’d use the experience and start again. I made many mistakes in my first business, and learned many lessons the hard way. But weathering the storm is a huge part of leading successfully. It’s something I still have to remind myself of now when things get tough.
What 3 traits do you think are most important when running a successful business?
- Resilience; coping with challenging situations and being able to maintain a clear head when making decisions. This becomes especially important when you have a team who depend on you.
- Appreciating the importance of your people; a successful business is built by good people. Being able to elevate your team, listen to their thoughts and opinions, and empower them is an integral part of leadership.
- Structure; this is often under-rated, and so important. Running a business is fast-paced and complex. Without structure it can feel downright chaotic, and it’s so critical that you take the time to build the foundation and have a clear path or set of steps to achieve your vision from the outset.
What’s the best business advice you have ever received?
Get comfortable making decisions without perfect or complete information. Working in business means facing a series of micro-decisions everyday peppered with larger game changing ones. Great leaders can synthesize the available information, assess the risks and take the decision, then evaluate the outcome and change direction if the situation requires. Maintaining a medium to long term mindset whilst making those decisions may mean a more bumpy short term outcome, but ultimately will provide a better long term path for the business.
Any advice to future female leaders?
Find your voice, and then use it fearlessly. Some people won’t listen, others may judge you, but if you don’t say anything, nobody can hear you, and if they can’t hear, they can’t listen or learn