In conversation with Julie Perkins, Founder of Wyseminds (purpose-led growth for female entrepreneurs).
“An entrepreneur I supported went to venture capitalists and they asked her if she wanted her dad to accompany her on the next visit.” The words of Julie Perkins, Founder of Wyseminds – that supports female entrepreneurs. As part of our Power of Women series, Julie talks about being a senior leader in optometry, the gender lens and why the focus now needs to be on balancing masculine and feminine traits within us all.
Q. How does Wyseminds support women entrepreneurs in growing their business?
Julie: In the world of small businesses, we can get ourselves into a situation where it just doesn’t feel right. It’s not moving forward and growth is inhibited. So, I look at what the blocks are that can be smashed down, to release women with SMEs into their next part of their growth journey. It only takes about three months and it’s hugely liberating and enjoyable.
Q. Why are no men allowed?
Julie: To be clear, there are men in the Wyseminds’ expert mix! But, let’s be real: there are still some big barriers for women entrepreneurs. When it comes to raising investment, for example. An entrepreneur I’ve supported was finalising an investment agreement with a venture capitalist group and they asked her if she wanted her dad to accompany her next time for the details! Of course, this story – although frighteningly real – is hopefully not the norm. And yet, it is a reminder to me that we must seek change in the whole process. Not having access to investment is a problem, but the cause is shared. That’s where I position Wyseminds – to uplift and ensure that entrepreneurs can see themselves and their ideas beyond the bootstrapping stage. This opens up confidence and potential – in an ongoing, sustainable way.
If we continue to encourage and support successful entrepreneurship and good ideas only with the intention to seek and celebrate unicorns, the feeder pot will be too small. If we want to make change, perhaps the incubators and accelerators that say they are not getting enough female entrepreneurs through their doors should ask different questions (rather than assuming they don’t exist). Why aren’t they knocking on our door? What barriers do we have in our process that only serve the past. And how can we be more attractive in the future? As for the need for the dad to attend? I suppose in a way he did – he’s a taxi driver, so he dropped her off!
Q. Are gender lenses perpetuating a culture of differentiation?
Julie: There’s a huge gap for female entrepreneurs and we can’t shy away from that. I often hear from women that they didn’t get the funding they needed. Or from the incubators and accelerators that there aren’t many women even going into that environment. We encourage women to grow on their own terms, but also be confident to take leaps. There are masculine and feminine traits within us all – which have nothing to do with being a woman or a man. Wyseminds’ celebrates more ‘feminine’ traits – like broader viewpoints and intuition – and supports them with more ‘masculine’ tools – to structure the business processes to make sure the broader view is channelled and supported effectively. Success is often about balance. When masculine and feminine traits dance together, this is the ideal. And it’s when boardrooms or operations teams perform at their best. Mutual appreciation and respect; masculine and feminine. And when we understand that picture, maybe we can understand each other a bit more – and create a culture with less gender differentiation.
Q. Before Wyseminds, you opened up and ran Specsavers in the Netherlands…
Julie: The Netherlands was the first jurisdiction outside the mothership of the UK. Every day was an adventure because it was all new, working with great people and learning so much of what not to do, as much as what to do. And that forms the basis of Wyseminds. If I could have shortened that learning curve of what it was like to have that start up and grow a brand in a very competitive environment, it would have brought me greater joy and freedom. That’s what I am now passing on to other female entrepreneurs. I’m still involved in Specsavers, but my internal voice was definitely telling me it was time to turn on an additional new channel.
Q. What was it like being in charge of a start-up?
Optometry was historically a very male profession. My mother was one of two women in the whole of her optometry course at university in 1966. That’s not that long ago! And yet now, optometry is brilliant for women and it’s a very mixed environment. At Specsavers Netherlands, we had a very female orientated board (60/40). But if I’m honest, as a woman leading a partnership of 1,000 people, if I look back, I think there were definitely times when I didn’t have the confidence to speak with my true voice. I had believed that it meant sounding like how others wanted me to. Or saying what I thought I needed to say through the prism of other perspectives. And that’s when a misalignment with values can happen. I’ve been lucky to have people around me in my career that have supported me in finding my true voice.
Q. How can we #BreakTheBias (the theme of International Women’s Day this year)?
Julie:The challenge is vast. However, we have to take steps where we have the power to influence. If everybody is responsible for taking a step, no matter how small, and changing the bit that they can influence, change will follow. Will you ever be without gender bias? Unlikely. But, in terms of welfare, rights and equality, we all need to be striving for better. It’s like my work with female entrepreneurs. I put 12 entrepreneurs back out in the world stronger last year – is that going to make the world more equal? Not really. But, if many people take similar small steps, that’s when you feel the ripple effects. And I’d rather be a part of the formula that’s trying to make a difference, every day – because only then, change can happen and the bias truly be broken.