Sitara Warren has more than a decade’s experience working in the City of London. In August 2012, she set up her own health and wellness company specialising in premium skincare. She has subsequently established a social media channel to champion new City eateries in London. She is a regular speaker at women’s networking events in the capital, most recently at the ‘Web for Everyone’ Women in Tech event at Somerset House.
“…There are just as many women who have joined the start-up world, noticing that there is an unmet need somewhere that needs filling. It doesn’t matter who you are and what your background, anyone can have a go; you just have to take the first step…”
You have an idea or aspiration. You dream of big things to come. How do you turn that dream into a reality? I never imagined that I would work in the City. For some reason, I always assumed that I would own my own business.
I left university, still unsure of my place in the world and fell into a job in financial services. The rest, as they say, is history…Or is it?
Down, but not out…
I have worked at a number of corporate institutions, but in every single one I felt I have only ever had the opportunity to use about 10% of my capabilities. I was made redundant in 2010. A huge knock, but when I came back to the city after a short sabbatical, I decided that I wanted things to be different.
I wanted a job I loved, in a team where I was respected and I wanted to have time to enjoy my life. People around me told me I was deluded, dreaming and pining for something that just didn’t exist. But I refused to listen.
What you think, you become
Fast forward to 2012 – I was planning my wedding, doing a temp job, but I was mentally unchallenged at work.
Then, suddenly, out of nowhere I was offered a new position that represented everything I had been searching for, but it came at the worst possible time. Despite having my wedding to plan, I knew I had to take the job, so I jumped in with both feet. This was the opportunity I had been dreaming of for so long and I wasn’t about to let it pass me by.
For the first three months I was totally out of my comfort zone. I had never worked with such senior people. How would I cope? What if I wasn’t up to the job? I knew had all the tools and all the knowledge required, so I told myself I just had to keep my negative self-talk in check.
Out of my comfort zone for the first time in a long time
And you know what happened? I excelled because for the first time in a long time I was being challenged in a role and I felt passionate about my work.
All too often women do not welcome and embrace ambition – we get used to the narrow confines of doing our job. Changing the world is for other people. We may enjoy hearing Sheryl Sandberg speak on gender equality but what are we actually doing to support gender equality in our own lives?
Yes we listen to Woman’s Hour and support the Everyday Sexism Project, but being a game-changer in a field we feel passionate about is often left to others.
I would suggest that what we really need to do to live meaningful and fulfilling lives is go back to our ‘why’? At our very core, why do we do things? What is important to us? What are our values?
I want to see girls encouraged into leadership as well as boys. I want to see all corporations encouraging and championing gender equality, but most of all I want everyone to stick our heads above the parapet once in a while for causes they believe in and not just leave it to the brave few. Go on, step out of your comfort zone.
I started an online health and wellness business about a year and a half ago, with the attitude of ‘why not’? Clearly, I did not start out as a leader in my field. My first pitch to a new client was a disaster, but it was valuable as I was able to learn from it. I picked myself up and sorted out my attitude, started networking and marketing my business online.
My business is now taking off and I see every interaction as a new possibility, a new idea which could lead to something else. I also use my platform to help others, to champion new start-ups and encourage those with a great idea to get out of their comfort zone and have a go.
London: Entrepreneurial capital
In the last ten years, London has become one of the entrepreneurial capitals of the world. Got an idea that you want to turn into a business? Got a blog to showcase your creative talents? You are in the right place to make it happen. Every single day, I hear about a fantastic new business idea.
These are not coming from big corporates but individuals who want to challenge the status quo and make a change. And the best part is that it is a gender neutral field.
Why can’t it be me?
There are just as many women who have joined the start-up world, noticing that there is an unmet need somewhere that needs filling. It doesn’t matter who you are and what your background, anyone can have a go; you just have to take the first step. The next time you read one of those stories, ask yourself, why can’t it be me?
Don’t get me wrong, it is tough. Challenging the status quo can lead to all sorts of difficulty, but it can also lead to all manner of possibilities.
I went to hear Sheryl Sandberg speak recently and one of the questions came from a Chilean journalist who was tired of fighting every single day. How do you challenge the status quo every single day? How do you fight?
Show up and speak up
The way to fight is to do what you can with the tools you have. I work in financial services and I’m part of various women’s networks that champion gender equality in all areas of banking. I interact with people who make a genuine difference every day by showing up and speaking up.
The knock-on effect is that this inspires me to help others. This is not a marginal issue – this affects everyone and we can all get involved. In isolation we all struggle, but if we link arms via networks and social media platforms we can all support each other. Sheryl Sandberg doesn’t need to be the poster girl for gender equality in business. We all do.