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Rachel's Edit: How Being a Female Entrepreneur has Changed my Perspective on Inclusion

Ross and I run our business alongside each other, as equals, but people haven’t always viewed it that way. Though we would enter environments side by side, people often assumed our positions differed. I was often thought to be Ross’ assistant, and I would notice people only wanting to discuss ‘serious’ business with him. Though this certainly wasn’t the case for every client we worked with, it was happening a little too often for my liking.


I knew that if we were going to continue successfully running our business together, something had to change. I had to find a way to step into my power, and I truly believe I am making strides toward achieving this.


Here’s how.


Business owner, Rachel, sitting at her desk and smiling
How it Began: Finding Confidence in Myself

Change ultimately began with self-acceptance. In the first few years of running Ouma, I was soft-spoken, shy, and had a habit of keeping myself small. It’s extremely easy to blame the lack of inclusion I felt on sexism and, in some scenarios, this definitely was the case, but I began to realise that if I wanted to see change, I had to alter my approach.


I am naturally introverted and, truthfully, that’s never going to change – but that’s not a bad thing. I have learnt to find the strength in who I naturally am and it’s taken some trial and error, but I am now at a place where I have learnt to present myself in a way that makes others feel confident in my abilities.


I used to enter meetings already feeling small, but this directly caused people to see me this way. Now, I have developed the skills to navigate business conversations, speak confidently, and visibly demonstrate my expertise. I know that I can offer value, and I just needed to believe this about myself to make others believe the same. With this newfound confidence in myself, I noticed that I was feeling much more included in scenarios I used to shy away from.


Having a male and female perspective spearheading our business is something that I believe it truly benefits from, and I have learnt how a person of my demeanour can add value to spaces. Just because I’m a naturally quieter person, it doesn’t mean I have to be quiet in scenarios where I know my thoughts have worth, and this mindset has greatly helped my feeling of inclusion.  


Unfortunately, however confident I become, situations are always going to arise where I don’t feel completely at ease. Gender bias is an issue our society is still guilty of, and I can’t always control this. What I can control, however, is how I feel going into scenarios where I might not feel welcome.


How it's Going: Five Ways I Prepare Myself Ahead of Uncomfortable Scenarios

When I know in advance that I’m going to be entering a space where I won’t feel entirely comfortable, I carry out the following steps to find greater peace in myself and my emotions.

 

·       Regulating my Breath Through Exercises

This is such a simple way of physically reducing symptoms of stress or anxiety in a matter of minutes. Before big meetings, I always take a couple of minutes to take some deep breaths and encourage a calmer aura. This tiny practice completely changes how I feel in my body.

 

·       Creating Comfort Through The Senses

Textures, sounds, tastes and smells can invoke memories and feelings, so I have curated my ‘being’ around how I want to feel.

I instantly feel calmer when I turn my diffuser on and breathe in its aromatic scents, so I have created my own collection of roll-on essential oils to replicate this smell when I’m on the go. I also keep my favourite snacks, herbal teas and a personal playlist to hand which help me re-connect with myself.

By duplicating these home comforts in business environments, I’m essentially tricking my brain into believing I’m in a calm and positive space, which provides a feeling of ease ahead of situations that would otherwise cause anxiety.  

 

·       Boosting Endorphins and Dopamine

It can be all-to-easy to tense up as we hunch over in front of our notes before big meetings, but this only causes us to hold unnecessary stress within our bodies.

Carrying out some gentle exercise like yoga, a morning walk, or dancing to my favourite music helps boost my dopamine levels ahead of situations I find difficult, as well as getting my body moving and letting go of any stresses I’m holding physically.

As well as exercise, I like to make myself a tasty ‘soul bowl,’ a small dish of my favourite fruits and dark chocolates, to boost endorphins and energy levels.

 

·       Facial Lymphatic Drainage

This is a gentle massaging technique that helps drain the facial lymph nodes. It has a range of benefits, from stimulating blood circulation to encouraging tissue regeneration.

I carry out a simple morning routine while listening to calming music and it instantly feels like a weight is lifted off my shoulders. I feel less ‘bogged down,’ my sinuses feel clearer, and my mind is put at ease.

 

·       Grounding Myself

When we become nervous or apprehensive, we can enter a fight or flight response commonly referred to as the ‘lizard brain’ versus the ‘monkey brain’. The base of our brain is thought to be like a lizard’s, as it controls our most basic instincts. Our brain tissue is thought to be like that of a monkey, controlling our more complex tasks and emotions.

To prevent my basic ‘lizard’ instinct to flee or freeze in situations I don’t want to be in, I like to take a moment to ground myself and ‘get into my body’. This can be through movement, breathing exercises, drinking herbal tea, or simply listening to music.

When we release nervous energy, settle our heart rates, and calm our minds, we trigger our ‘monkey brain’ response which encourages our emotions to regulate and lowers our cortisol levels.

 

In the world of work, uncomfortable situations are unavoidable. When we are convinced that we’re not wanted in these spaces our natural instinct is to ‘get out’, but from my experience as a female business owner, finding ease through the things you can control only helps tackle these prejudices.


Social Media Manager, Emily, sitting at her desk and working on her mobile phone
How I’ve Applied my Learnings: Creating an Inclusive Workplace

During Ouma’s seven years in business, we have employed a range of different people with their own individual strengths and needs.


To encourage inclusivity within my workplace, I have ensured that our team carves out time every day for all voices to be heard. This is practiced through daily team meetings where we go around the room, whether in person or virtually, and have a chance to bring up anything we may want to talk through before heading into our days.


This is a simple practice with a massive impact. It ensures that nobody feels they are fading into the background, creating a safe and non-judgemental environment for our team to share any issues they may be facing. No topic is off limits. If help is needed, we’re here. If you need to take a slower day, we’ll encourage you to be gentle with yourself.


To further encourage this sense of inclusion, I am an open book. I share my experiences and talk transparently, as I find this encourages others to do the same. When our team feel empowered to speak up and express their needs, they too can build on their own self-confidence and implement their own practices.


Ouma’s fantastic essence is owed to our entire team. I am extremely proud to spearhead such a talented group of people that includes some extraordinary women alongside our fabulous male counterparts who equally champion female success.


There is a slow progression on the number of females in management roles, and by creating inclusive workplaces that encourage open and honest conversations, we can show how powerful we can be when we come together.

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