Can you tell me more about yourself, your work background, and your new business?
My name is My Simpson and my background is in marketing and media, but I’m first and foremost a mum. I worked for a bespoke marketing agency for thirteen years, but at the end of 2019, I decided I wanted to make the jump from working in a very demanding role at a very demanding agency to working for myself in my own business. I just wanted to be more family-focused and working at an agency just wasn’t working anymore. I was working all hours across different time zones, different countries, different clients, and my focus was always 110% on work, which meant not much was left for my family and personal life. I do volunteer for charities as well and I wanted to focus more on that too.
My initial idea was that I wanted to use my skill set to work for a charity, particularly one that supported children, and then I found out when I interviewed for charities, I actually didn’t want to work for them because essentially they still operated as a business, and that took away from what I wanted to do which was to give back to the community. So, then the idea became to leave work, as I thought this would give me more time to focus on my family and dedicate some time to volunteering and being hands-on, not knowing that the pandemic would hit, and then all my plans went out the window. I couldn’t do any of those things I wanted to do, I couldn’t volunteer in the schools, or in the children’s centres, I couldn’t do any of that. So, then I decided to set-up my own business as I’ve always wanted to be a strong influence for my daughter, and my son as well, so I thought I do need to go back into work so they can see that women can do everything.
Is setting up your own business something you’ve always wanted to do?
Actually no. What I wanted was to find an organisation or business that resonated with me and the values that are important to me, but I couldn’t find that. I find a lot of companies and organisations say that they champion diversity, that they champion women in the workplace, they say a lot, and there’s a lot of noise about it, but that’s all it is. I think a lot still needs to be done for that to actually happen. I also found it hard to find an organisation that could support me in balancing my work and my family. I just found there was never the right balance. There are some great companies out there, I just haven’t found them for myself, although working for myself I have found some great clients. One is The Administration Hub; they are strong advocates of women in the workplace and was set up so working mums could have a better work-life balance. They are a team of strong working women supporting each other whilst building their own careers.
What do you think is the best part about having your own business?
I think at the end of the day it’s the idea of knowing that it’s something I’ve built and worked hard for. I have full control of everything, and I can do things on my terms. It’s also something my family, friends and myself can be proud of.
Working as a freelancer for one of my client’s, The Administration Hub, who are essentially a VA business had actually opened opportunities for me, giving me that flexibility to fit work in with my personal life. It’s given me a lot of freedom to build my brand and work on some very interesting projects! From there I’ve managed to grow my skills and pitch for new clients and I’m on my way to curate a flexible marketing career on my terms.
What do you think is the best way to encourage more women to set-up their own business?
I think being able to have a better work-life balance is one of the biggest draws. For example, I have seen a huge surge in VAs purely because the environment lends itself to that flexibility. But I do not think they necessarily have to set up their own business to be able to say they’re strong because there are some really great companies out there that champion women in leadership roles.
I think the organisation Work180 is a good example of an organisation fighting for women in leadership roles. They are essentially a recruitment agency but how they differ is in their approach to who they represent. They are very transparent about who they take on. They champion companies that are exclusive to women to help place more women in leadership roles. I came across them because I initially wanted to work for them as their ethos resonated well with me. They do so much to help women on that journey, and it’s just all about education. I think the more inclusive we are, the more educated companies and business are about the importance of having women in leadership roles, and the more opportunities that are created for women will definitely help.
It is definitely more encouraging when you hear of other women’s success stories, and campaigns such as this are perfect for championing the successes of strong women.
You’re very passionate about enhancing women’s role in the workplace and encouraging women into more leadership roles, why do you think this is so important?
When I was growing up both of my parents worked really hard. They both shared the childcaring equally, and they both went to work, and that showed me that men and women can be equal, so from a very early age that’s what I’ve been taught, and I think that’s what’s engrained in me. My parents are traditional Chinese, very traditional, so you would expect them to have the mindset of men go out to work and women stay at home, so I think it’s tremendous that they have raised me to think that it’s all equal, and I think everyone should do this. In an ideal world, we are all equal, but we’ve got so much to do before that happens. I don’t even know if I see that in my lifetime, but I certainly do want to try and encourage that.
Would you say that steps towards equality for men and women are moving too slowly?
I think it’s moving too slowly. I also overhear conversations where people say: “we’re now inclusive, we’re now all equal, so why are we still discussing it?” But I don’t think that’s the case. It’s still evident that there are more men in senior positions than women, so there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.
I think that the perception that women can do it all is blurred because although I believe we can do it all, we still need help to do that. I feel like I struggled to try to do it all, and I felt that burnout because I was working a demanding job where I had to prove to my managers that I could do the job, but to do that I had to do more than my share. And as a working mum, I would then come home to look after my family, and essentially it felt like I was doing two roles, and the burnout from that ultimately pushed me out of the industry.
One example of an industry being far from inclusive is the fashion industry. From my experience, there is an unmentioned rule of being too old after a certain age. When girls started approaching 30, you could hear conversations about how they were getting old, and that they should hand over the reins to the younger group. It’s good to hear that they influence a team of younger women as that’s always a positive, but it’s also understandable as I remember being a similar age, having the same thoughts, thinking I could do it all, and it just seems so easy. Then when you approach a certain age and time in your life, you think I actually don’t want to do it all anymore, I just want to focus on family, and there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s your choice.
When I was at university I always wanted to focus on my career, I never thought I wanted a family but that all changed, and it might not do for some people and that’s fine, but it’s just about giving women the choice. I think men have had it all for so long without question that women just get asked what do you want to do, why do you want to do that, and I think it’s just about giving women that choice and that platform to voice their opinion.
What has the experience of lockdown highlighted about the role of women in society? Do you think anything has changed for the better because of it?
I want to say I see a change, but I don’t think there has been. I think the pandemic has maybe set us back a while, particularly in terms of equal pay. Generally, women earn less. We all know that the disparity between pay and genders is real. I have a female friend in quite a senior position in finance. She worked her way up, and is really good at what she does, but she also knows there’s a big disparity between what she earns and what her male colleagues in the same position earn. When she went on maternity, she knew the person she had to train that was going to cover for her was going to be paid more than her, and she knew this because she worked in payroll so had all the insights, and she genuinely did see that women got paid less doing the same type and amount of work. I was shocked because my manager at my previous job was really good at championing women, and employing women, and so I was always surrounded by strong working women and I didn’t know this happened, but apparently, it does at the top level in top companies.
What’s the biggest hope you have for your children and their generation?
I don’t want them to face what I had to face, and obviously being from an ethnic background as well there’s an added pressure there, and I always say to my daughter you’re going to have to prove yourself because not only are you a woman, you’re Chinese, so you’ll need to prove yourself, and people are always going to ask you to prove yourself.
Frustratingly I still hear people complaining that we’re still talking about inclusivity and diversity in the workplace, asking why are we still talking about it. I mean yes, we’ve had conversations around the topic, but has anything really changed? I don’t think it has, at least not enough, and we do need to make those changes. I think some people have that privilege where they don’t have to fight for equality, but it means those of us who do have to fight for equality have to shout even louder.
I think a lot of companies are trying, but they’re not doing it right, they’re just moving through the motions without actually creating those changes. My husband works in the construction industry where predominantly white men are in senior positions. They do talk about change, but I don’t see any change there, and my husband hasn’t seen any change either. We all know in the background what those conversations really are; ultimately you say these things just to tick a box and say that its been addressed but in reality, it hasn’t been.
You’ve set up your own business during a pandemic which is amazing, what’s your next big goal?
I want to open an art café where children can go to learn, paint and relax, to be a hub within the community, so that’s always been one of my dreams.
My parents had a restaurant, and they worked really hard, so I don’t think it’s something they would want me to go into because its such hard work, but I like the idea of having a coffee shop that could benefit my local community.
Above all I want to teach my children the importance of change and being inclusive, to work hard and be true to themselves.