Talk to any teenage mum about her experience and she might share the verbal abuse from random strangers and the stigma she has faced.
Expectations of teenage mums are low. And few expect a 15 year old mum and her child to buck the stereotypes and make a great success of their lives.
My Page 1 Woman has proven that stereotypes are nothing more than that.
And they will narrow your prospects and that of your children, only if you allow them to.
My Page 1 Woman has gone on to raise a family of 4 daughters, providing positive role modelling which has helped them all become successful in their own right. And not only that, she’s a co-author of the best-selling ‘New Rules of Success’, she has 3 degrees and she’s a successful multiple award-winning entrepreneur running several companies.
With undiagnosed dyslexia that left her isolated and disruptive at school my Page 1 Woman knew what she wanted from early on and being another failed black child statistic definitely wasn’t one of them.
‘I didn’t want to be another young child having a child and amounting to nothing. I wanted to be a wonderful mother first and foremost but also show my children, “This is how you lead……this is how you push yourself to be a better version of yourself irrespective of your past”’.
My Page 1 Woman is Sapphire Gray. She’s turned the negatives in her life into positives. Her knack for providing solutions to stubborn business problems has earned her the reputation, ‘the Olivia Pope of business’. And she’s passionate about helping others achieve success. ‘I want to be party to everyday so that I can enjoy the people around me and help people that need help’. She said. ‘I want to know that I helped a generation of people’.
She’s an inspirational leader who’s full of energy, motivation, courage, determination and bags of staying power. Here she is in her own words.
Describe your work and what you do.
Sapphire Gray: I'm an entrepreneur, business consultant and trainer and CEO of SG Business Consultancy & Training Ltd. We help small and medium size businesses become more successful. And we specialize in finance, HR, marketing, branding, digital and leadership and management. I lead a strong team with representatives in each of these areas.
My business life started over 30 years ago. Now I run several businesses. They include an apps building business, clothing and ladies jewellery retailer; a social enterprise that helps families, a web development company, ‘Accelerated Wealth,’ which helps people to plan for their pensions and an e-company too.
What steps did you take to get to where you are today?
Sapphire Gray: I grew up in Hackney and started my adult life trying to understand business. I wanted to grow and have sufficient funding and a different lifestyle for my children. So I got educated. A saying I heard many years ago was "If you want to keep it from a black person put it in a book." I found that offensive so I started to read.
I also learned to network and be more insightful so I have no issues with people correcting my journey. I managed all of this through good time management and working my plan.
What was the most significant thing you did as a woman that got you into your current position?
Sapphire Gray: Learning to deal with my dyslexia and working around it. I found out about my dyslexia, aged 26, whilst doing my Psychology degree. I broke the university’s record for the highest mark on a particular paper but got the lowest mark in the exams. One lecturer suggested I get tested for dyslexia. So I got help, retook the exam and aced it.
Also being able to work with people no matter who they are. I felt that I had the ability, passion and drive to help people achieve what they wanted. I didn’t get the help that I now give to others. So I promised to help people to achieve their dreams using my knowledge. That's what got me to where I am today.
What was the greatest challenge that you faced on your journey?
Sapphire Gray: Getting over my dyslexia diagnosis, accepting it as a disability and learning how to deal with it. A big challenge has been trying to get people to recognize people's disabilities, accept them for who they are and help them through their journey.
What was your most revelatory moment?
Sapphire Gray: Learning how I could help people. I had an ‘aha’ moment when I recognized my unique skill of solving a problem no matter what the industry. If someone came to me with a problem and I didn't know the industry, I was still able to find a solution.
I was called ‘a walking encyclopaedia’ at one point. Sometimes I’m embarrassed because I don't want people to think I'm a know-it-all. But I know a lot and I don't know whether that comes from me putting more effort into learning or just that I understand business in a different way.
I was always a curious kid who loved to solve puzzles and I take that approach in my businesses. If someone came to me for help, I'd delve down and find the solution. And if someone came with a problem on the spot, I could instantly say, “This is what's happening; this is where it’s going; this is what we need to do.”
I remember receiving an award 5 years ago and I revealed that I had children and grandchildren. The speakers that followed said, "I want to work with her because she knows exactly how business is.” It was amazing that top people wanted to be part of what I was doing. But I still had doubts, even after a success. But yet my businesses have grown solely on the basis of referrals. And I’ve had my name follow me without me knowing. At a networking event I introduced myself to a young lady. She said, “Oh, Sapphire Gray. You don't know me but I know who you are." And she told me everything that she knew about me, and said, “I want you to help my business.”
What was the one key resource that’s been crucial to your success?
Sapphire Gray: Knowledge of my industry. I work in six key areas. And I keep abreast of what is current and new, what people are doing and thinking. We offer a wide range of services but we’re up-to-date with the latest technology or marketing techniques, leadership & management. And I always keep abreast of what my competitors are doing too.
Then there’s networking with like-minded people. They give you drive, determination and passion and help you develop. It keeps you focused too because once people around you do moves within their business, you feel that you can't be left behind. You get inspired to act too. And I like to be an influence. When I talk to them, I want them to feel, "I'm going to do that."
What do you understand by leadership?
Sapphire Gray: Leadership is about leading from the front; having vision, direction, a fantastic team around you helping to drive the business forward. Designing and planning your business and then implementation are essential to being a good leader.
How has your view of leadership informed your role as a woman leader?
Sapphire Gray: I’m a leader in several businesses with a fantastic team. And when you’ve got management structures in place and you’re working on your business rather than in your business, (i.e. doing everything yourself), you’re able to look at each area and develop things.
Most of my consultants are male, and there’s mutual respect. And as a female leader, I respect both men and women in the team. I lead and still get on the same level as my male counterparts. And I have proven that time and again with my finance company. It's male dominated. But I'm an industry leader because I do things differently. And that gives me the edge.
I’ve experienced no sexism. I'm not frail and I can intimidate without being intimidating. I’ve a voice and I use it. If you’re a softly spoken woman without a voice, they won't take you seriously. I get taken seriously because I speak up. I'm a no-nonsense person. I’ll tell you if something's good or not. I'm a fixer with a twist — I don't coddle people. To have passion for someone else's business, you've got to be brutally honest with them.
A lot happened to me when I was younger. I could wallow in self-pity and bury my head but I decided to turn negatives into positives. I encourage everyone to do that because life is full of adversities. If it doesn't happen to you personally, it will happen to people you love. So you've got to be positive for them and for yourself.
What are your top tips for women who want to be leaders in their field?
Sapphire Gray: Know what you want to lead in whether you’re an entrepreneur or employed. And have a plan for it.
Choose wisely what you’re going to do. People tend to choose what gives them an easy life. There's nothing wrong with that. But if you want to become the best version of yourself and lead from the front, you need to be passionate about what you do or you’ll be bored. Leaders are not bored; they get out of bed to lead. It's very lonely at the top and it's passion that will get you through.
And stand firm in your decision-making. You’ll be stronger and more powerful.
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