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Learn from Women in Business: Block Celebrates Women in Business Event Recap

In March 2023 we hosted a panel discussion with Lenore Johnson, Grace Haskins and Bee Kwan in celebration of International Women’s Day. Before Women's History Month concludes, we want to share some of what we learned from our fantastic panelists during this event. We hope this will be helpful to everyone!

 

 

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What We Learnt: Doing it My Way

 

Panelists Bee, Grace and Lenore shared a common goal of creating something unique and individualistic when embarking on their entrepreneurial journeys. However, the distinct inspiration behind their business venture set each business owner apart. 

 

Working in an investment bank for 14 years as an ethnic minority working mother, there’s always a glass ceiling for me in my career. I always wanted to do something for myself and I always believed well-being — before it was trendy — was one of the things I wanted to do. To look after myself first. To create an oasis where I can just switch off and have the best 30 or 60 minutes to myself. In the concrete jungle in London, this is the real luxury. But it shouldn’t be a luxury, it should be the norm. Create a working environment where I can be the change for the people that I work with, create opportunities to help them to unlock the best version of themselves. Bee Kwan, Lavender on the Hill

 

The person who inspired me was my dad. My dad always encouraged me to have something for myself. Similar to Bee’s story, my dad is an immigrant to Canada and there’s a limit to what he can achieve. Working in the hospitality industry, it’s a tough industry and it can be incredibly hard on women. Trying to break through the barrier in the kitchen, I too want to create a space where it is absolutely fine to be a woman. Create a space where anyone is welcome and feel like they are thriving, and not being told they are not enough. Lenore Johnson, LenJo Bakes

 

I fell into floristry after being diagnosed with underactive thyroid. I found this book called Flower Shops and Friends and fell in love with it. I thought, I want that. It seems like the ideal life. And coming from a school where you are expected to go to Oxbridge, it’s a very different path. I’ve only been a florist for 2 years before I decided I wanted my own shop. I had a horrible experience and I decided doing it my way was the best way to go. Grace Haskins, Bramble & Wild

 

Growing and Changing

 

When it comes to growing and changing their businesses, technology and the COVID-19 pandemic have had an impact for all. 

 

For Grace, having a shop in 2023 is a very different experience compared to when she first started Bramble & Wild nearly 13 years ago. The biggest changes she has noticed is the increase in information that “comes at you” every day and the introduction of social media. Grace claims that platforms like Instagram, that are viewed as standard business tools, were brand new and uncertain when she first opened her show.  

 

Technology has significantly impacted Lavender on the Hill for Bee. From opening the doors to clients, to managing bookings and taking payments, everything that Bee accomplishes at her business, she does it with technology. The pandemic also had an impact, as she began to expand her business in a clinical direction in order for it to operate in all conditions. In fact, she’ll be opening a fifth location this year. 

 

Lenore’s story is also shaped by the Covid pandemic. Her bakery, LenJo Bakes, is relatively new, having only started in February 2020. The original intention for her business was for it to be a wedding cake studio, but that was not going to be sustainable in 2020. Lenore had to shift what she was doing and stepped a little bit outside of the brand to survive. All of LenjoBakes’ systems are built on Square and that has helped Lenore to advance her business. She’s excited for 2023 — she now has a staff of 7 who are more than capable of handling the retail side and she’ll get to go back to the original focus — wedding cakes — which is what really lights her up and gets her excited. 

 

Leaning into Strengths and Facing Challenges

 

Being a woman leader and business owner has its own unique challenges but also allows Grace, Bee and Lenore to tap into their strengths. Our panelists shared what they believe are the strengths of being a woman leader and the challenges they have faced:

 

The strength of women in business is that we have empathy and the ability to multitask. Being a mom alone is enough. We have become very resourceful and work hard, mentally and emotionally. Managing expectations and enabling the people around you to do their best, finding solutions in the most empathetic approach. It’s still very gender biased in this world we’re living in. For example, getting a lease for our brick & mortar is not easy. As soon as I walked into one of these places I wanted to negotiate, the landlord would look straight into me and eye me up and down. Maybe because I look young, I didn’t get taken seriously even though I’m the one with the card and the signature, so you get boxed into certain places. Bee Kwan, Lavender on the Hill

 

Women are often encouraged to be emotional and men are encouraged to hide or bury their emotions, and that’s where a block most male leaders can experience. Whereas a man might see someone acting a certain way and say that’s just the way they are, a woman might see the same person and say that’s a symptom, not the problem and take the time to discern what it is that’s going on and have a frank conversation. But being an empathetic and emotional leader doesn’t mean anything goes. It means I can see potential in someone and not be afraid to have a messy conversation with someone to pull the best out of them.

It can depend on the industry you are in but the greatest challenge is the inherent overlooking of women in certain situations because we couldn’t possibly know about that topic. People don’t look at you as someone who might know any of the answers or have experiences in the sphere. That’s a challenge but I’m very outspoken about it and I’m not someone to be passed by. Lenore Johnson, LenJo Bakes

 

Women are fiercely protective over their brands, their ideas and what they want to do. We all do something with passion but because we have to try a bit harder, there’s a little bit more fight in us to get our ideas out there. Alongside that we can juggle everything and multitask our businesses.
I started my business when I was 21 and I used to have an age problem, where people would look to my mum for answers. Grace Haskins, Bramble & Wild

 

Looking Ahead

 

As we wrapped up the event, we asked our panelists to share what they are looking forward to in the new year:

 

I’d like to continue to support therapists from very challenging and vulnerable backgrounds. We want to try to help upskill women professionally but also support them personally. Continue moving the business forward in a very difficult financial climate. We’re doing everything we can to maintain high quality services, pay people above the usual market’s rates but without passing on the cost to our clients. That in itself is the most challenging piece in the last five years. The key word for the next six months will be to persevere. Bee Kwan, Lavender on the Hill

 

For us, we are building out a second location. It’ll be a cafe space which is what our customers have been asking us for. It’s only 15 minutes away from our current shop. I’m really excited to have that open! As well, the neighbor beside us went out of business so we will be expanding our production into that side. And then that’s it! I’m getting married in three months so I'm trying to slow down a little bit so I can spend some time with my partner. Lenore Johnson, LenJo Bakes

 

We are growing into the side of our shop. We have retail and we have to survive on Dutch imports as there are not enough local growers, so we will be doing it ourselves! We run a very eco-friendly business, I like to think, and having our own access to locally grown flowers, that’s the big thing. It's a little bit like going back to square one because I’ll be on my own with my mom, growing flowers. Grace Haskins, Bramble & Wild

 

Questions from the Seller Community, Answered

 

We received many questions from folks within the Seller Community and on the live chat during the event from advice for those who are struggling with their business, how to find the confidence to know when to expand, and tips for scaling businesses and growing teams. 

 


Did you know that the Seller Community has an online group specifically for women in business? Join togetHER today.

 

 

This material has been prepared for informational purposes only and should not be deemed to be or used as legal, employment, or health & safety advice. For guidance or advice specific to your business, consult with a qualified professional.

 

Please note that all panelists, Bee, Grace, and Lenore were compensated for their time by Square.

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