Ariane Daguise, founder of Columbia Executive Coaching

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What motivates you?
What has always motivated me in my long career in capital markets and
even more so since I embarked on my journey as an executive coach, was
meeting and exchanging with people who are prepared to go out of their
comfort zone to seek improvement; people who stick their necks out to
promote their better selves, and the causes and projects they believe
in.

What has been the biggest learning curve in your career?
Realising that what got me to be a successful woman in business was
not going to keep me there, unless I remembered who I was and who I
wanted to be as a human being.

What matters more, ambition or talent?
I would say that if your ambition allows you to reveal your innate
talents and work on acquiring new ones, then ambition. Ambition is
often mistaken with ruthless greed, however if ambition is, as its
main definition states “a strong desire to do or achieve something,”
it might well be what is needed to unearth all your talents – known
and hidden.

What advice would you give to your 30 year old self?
Believe in yourself, and more importantly believe that every new
endeavour you take on will be a success – either directly or via the
learning you will have from its challenges.

Who do you admire?
If I had to name but one, Aung San Suu Kyi. Though generally I am more
into admiring actions than individuals – might be an occupational
hazard? Basically anyone who overcomes their fear of failure, and
remains positive and motivated in the challenges they face to achieve
what they have set out to do.

In what place are you happiest?
It is not so much a place but the people I am with. I am happiest with
my children and/or husband, talking, playing games or just being… It
does not hurt if we are in a lovely place in Italy, Asia or Africa…

What’s your biggest extravagance?
Apart from my four children, which was a fairly extravagant decision…I
love ‘travelling in style’ with all of the ones mentioned above…

How would you change government policy to help women in the workplace?
There needs to be subsidies and simple/efficient access to
childminding, as well as more flexibility in the way women can manage
their working hours in and out of the work place. However, above all
else, for a more balanced future there needs to be a general shift in
society’s perception of both women and men’s necessary roles in
organising and dealing with raising our children. The ingrained belief
in most countries that by definition it is the women who should take
on most of that responsibility, and relinquish their professional
aspiration for that purpose, also needs to change.

Do you believe in quotas?
It is not that I believe in quotas as such, but I am afraid that they
are often necessary. I believe in the power of determined people,
however quotas are likely to shorten the road determination will have
built.

Describe yourself in 3 words?
Perceptive, direct and caring

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Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice at London Business School, and co-author of The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity

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What motivates you?

I am very inquisitive about the world and about people. So I explore the world by travelling quite a lot, and I’m always interested in people and their ideas. I’m a great reader of books and that’s really one of the  major ways that I connect to people.

What has been the biggest learning curve in your career?

Every time I’ve changed direction it’s been a big learning curve. So I had to really learn how to focus when I studied for my doctorate, and then once I worked for a large company I had to learn how power networks work, and when I joined London Business School I needed to learn how to teach a class of MBA students. Since then I’ve had to learn how to write a book, and that’s something that I constantly try to do better.

What matters more, ambition or talent?

I think it’s really both. Certainly focus and hard work is really important, and talent really helps, but as we all know, you become more talented, the more times you try something.

What advice would you give to your 30 year old self?

Just trust the world, try and become the person that you are, continue to work hard.
Who do you admire?

I’m really interested in creative people, painters, potters, writers. I think the creative process is extraordinary and I admire anyone who has the willpower and talent to do it.
In what place are you happiest?

I’m happy a great deal of the time. Sometimes that’s related to a place, for example my house here in London or our house in Spain. Other times it’s just the pleasure of being in the moment.
What’s your biggest extravagance?

Without a doubt, travel. We are trying to see all the places that we won’t see as we get older. So North Korea, Iran, Ethiopian, the Rwanda are all places that we have visited in the last couple of years and next up Argentina and the Congo. Another extravagance is collecting African tribal art – and also tickets to the Royal Opera House – and tickets to Arsenal…
How would you change government policy to help women in the workplace?

Encourage flexibility, and encourage fathers to take paternity leave. I think that the more family responsibilities are seen as a man and a woman’s responsibility, then work will be seen much more integrated with the whole of life.
Do you believe in quotas?

Yes I do.
Describe yourself in 3 words?

Kind, creative, energetic.

Cecile Reinaud, founder of Seraphine, a maternity clothing designer

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What motivates you?

I have a naturally entrepreneurial spirit and I love being creative and thinking outside the box. Before Seraphine, the maternity fashion industry was in a pretty sorry state, and the focus was on covering up and hiding the bump. My objective with Seraphine has been to revolutionise the way we see pregnancy by offering fashionable maternity clothes that celebrate the pregnant curves. Each new collection is a new challenge and I love having that blank canvas moment where we can let our creativity flow and come up with the collection direction. I like to solve problems: when people tell me it can’t be done, it motivates me to find a solution that no one thought of.

What has been the biggest learning curve in your career?

As an entrepreneur I’m constantly learning. But I’d say the first few steps are always the hardest. I fell pregnant with my eldest in the first year of starting Seraphine, so I was trying to grow my budding business while combatting morning sickness, and then as a first-time mum with a newborn baby. It was the most challenging time of my life and certainly taught me resilience and how to operate sleep deprived! But of course it was all worth it, as I got to meet my wonderful son Lorenz and also got a real insight into what is important to women when looking for maternity clothes.

What matters more, ambition or talent?

I’d say that a healthy mix of the two is a recipe for success. But the most important factor is the hard work and dedication that you’re willing to put in to turn your dreams into a reality.

What advice would you give to your 30 year old self? 

I’d tell 30 year old me to stop beating herself up so much about not being the perfect text book woman; women are too perfectionist by nature!  I spent my early thirties feeling guilty for being a hard-working mum and not being a perfect mum!

Who do you admire?

Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, is one of my idols. I had the pleasure to meet her last year on her book tour and was utterly inspired by her and her book. And of course there are plenty of strong female role models in the fashion industry who I look up to – Tamara Mellon and Nathalie Massenet have certainly paved the way in the past decade.

In what place are you happiest?

I’m originally from the South of France, and I take my two boys to visit my parents there every summer. They still live in my old family home – It’s a beautiful château in Provence, surrounded by Cyprus trees and olive groves. I have so many happy memories there, the weather is always amazing and my kids can’t get enough of the pool.

What’s your biggest extravagance?

Stilettos! I can’t resist Jimmy Choo when it comes to shoes and I do spend the lion’s share of my wardrobe budget on them.

How would you change government policy to help women in the workplace? 

I’d love to see more flexible and affordable childcare options available for working mums. Women shouldn’t have to feel like they need to choose between having a career or a family.

Do you believe in quotas?

In an ideal world, there’d be no need for quotas. I’ve never used them for hiring at Seraphine, and over 80% of my employees are women! I’m a strong believer in hiring the best person for the job, and as a result, I have a fabulously diverse workforce of all ages, races, and backgrounds – we have representatives from over 15 nationalities at head office alone.

Describe yourself in 3 words?

Creative, driven, caring

Anita Nassar – Founder of Teach For Lebanon UK and former managing director of hedge fund Citadel.

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What motivates you?

What motivates me is my generosity and commitment to philanthropy.

What has been the biggest learning curve in your career?

Being flexible and mobile without losing my objective. Building a successful career in finance depends on finding the right fit. I personally was not fit to be an investment banker, which meant that I needed to find a culture that worked for me. Citadel’s values and culture helped achieve my objective. Citadel closed its funds to new money in January 2015. I resigned in March 2015 to focus on philanthropy and prepare for the last challenge in my career path. I am always ready to move on.

What matters more, ambition or talent?

They both matter. Talent without ambition will prevent you from achieving your objective while ambition without talent is a recipe for failure.

What advice would you give to your 30 year old self?

Be more diplomatic and political.

Who do you admire?

Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi, for having achieved success in her career and family life.

In what place are you happiest?

At home with my family.

What’s your biggest extravagance?

Luxurious holidays with the family.

How would you change government policy to help women in the workplace?

I would impose on employers to provide career coaching for women. What holds most of us women back is ourselves as we lack self belief and lose sight of our objective and the ability to move on. In finance we are competing with men who never fail to take credit for their performance. Women in general wait to be recognised rather than being proactive. This needs to change in order to encourage more women to have a career in finance. Success is about believing in your career so completely that there is no other possible outcome.

Do you believe in quotas?

Yes, boardrooms are a men’s private club.

Describe yourself in 3 words?

Hard-working, ambitious and organised.

Victoria Roper-Curzon – Co-Founder of Children’s clothing brand Elfie London

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What motivates you?

Time. The more quality work i get through, the more guilt-free fun i can have with my children, husband and friends.

What has been the biggest learning curve in your career?
That you can’t do it all. We started our business trying to and nearly burnt out. Now we’ve sort of worked out a balance of what we are prepared to do and what we will let go in order to keep loving life!

What matters more, ambition or talent?
You need both. A little bit of ignorance helps along the way too… if we knew what starting a business really entailed….

What advice would you give to your 30 year old self?
Well last year i would say to myself:  brush my hair more… i looked a mess!

Who do you admire?
Mothers… we have to keep calm and carry on, on a daily basis.

In what place are you happiest?

In my cottage in the new forest, sitting in our garden doing nothing on a sunny day…

What’s your biggest extravagance?
My children. I have four, which is quite greedy.

How would you change government policy to help women in the workplace?
Local drop off crèches for babies and toddlers when childcare unexpectedly falls through.

Do you believe in quotas?
No, i believe in people who work hard and are the best candidate for the job, regardless of their gender.

Describe yourself in 3 words?
Beautiful, gracious and kind… and extremely clever 😉

Harriet Minter – Editor of the Guardian’s Women in Leadership section

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What motivates you?

Praise and a need to improve things. For a long-time I felt a bit ashamed of admitting to the first but I’ve had to get over that, it matters to me and that’s ok. On the second, I’m terrible for sticking my nose into other people’s business. If I see something I can help with, then I want to help. Sometimes that’s appreciated and sometimes it isn’t, I’ve had to learn to let the latter go.

What has been the biggest learning curve
 in your career?

Realising that just because I believe in something doesn’t mean everyone else will, and sometimes you just have to trust your gut and go for it. It might not make sense to everyone around you but if it feels right to you, do it. Setting up Women in Leadership took my career down a completely different path, if I’d done the practical thing it would never have existed and it certainly wouldn’t have lasted two years but I just had a feeling it was going to lead somewhere. Best decision I ever made.

What matters more, ambition or talent?

Ambition. I sometimes think natural talent actually makes us lazy, there’s nothing like a bit of grit and determination to make things happen.

What advice would you give to your 30 year old self?

Take the help. We think we have to do everything alone but that’s really not success. Do you think Oprah does everything herself?! Know what you’re good at and do that. Then delegate everything else.

Who do you admire?

So many people, I become a fan girl of pretty much everyone I meet. Some quick answers: Oprah (see above), Amy Schumer, Caitlin Moran, Sam Baker (founder and editor of The Pool).

In what place are you happiest?

By the Thames, in Cornwall, anywhere by the sea.

What’s your biggest extravagance?

A pair of Miu Miu Mary-Janes that I bought ten years ago with my first bonus cheque. I think I’ve worn them about ten times. At 33 they’re still the most expensive thing I own, which I think might not be what my parents hoped for me.

How would you change government policy to help women in the workplace?

Quotas! I know lots of people hate them but the whole “where are the women in the workplace” debate isn’t a new thing, it’s been going on for nearly 40 years and nothing has changed. Even the recent push around women on boards hasn’t helped that much. Yes we’ve shifted the number of women at board level but they’re all non-execs, it hasn’t really done anything to move forward the career progression of women in those companies.

Other stuff I’d do: provide more childcare support for younger age children, currently it only kicks in at 3 – any woman who’s been out of the workplace that long will tell you how difficult it is to get back in. I’d also put in place a much bigger penalty for companies that fail to be transparent about their gender pay gap. The biggest change for women has to be around working culture but for that to change we need a big government shove in the right direction.

Do you believe in quotas?

See above.

Describe yourself in three words.

Funny. Pragmatic. Ginger.

Funny. Pragmatic. Ginger.

Jenny Dawson – Founder of Rubies in the Rubble, a social impact business

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Rubies in the Rubble is a social impact business which turns surplus fresh fruit and vegetables into delicious, handmade chutneys and jams. The company recruits its workforce from people who are struggling to get back into work.

What motivates you?

I think you need to always keep the big picture view in the back of your mind to keep you motivated in the day to day, knowing that all the little steps are what creates change. I am motivated in believing world hunger can be eradicated within our lifetime. Currently we waste a third of the food produced globally, whilst almost one billion people go to bed hungry. We have the resources and it’s within our reach but we need to act: utilize, inform and manage the food system better. Of course, there will always be some waste within the system but there is so much more we can do to improve the current situation. It’s obviously a huge and complex system with so much needing done on different levels but no one can do everything. Knowing that I am part of that change keeps me going.

What has been the biggest learning curve
in your career?

Managing people. We had a kitchen for the first two and a half years of Rubies in the Rubble where we employed women from Crisis homeless centre. Managing people, supporting them through hard times and feeling responsible for them – making sure the business was a success
 to provide their wages – was a huge learning curve. That experience taught me a lot.

What matters more, ambition or talent?

I think you need both to succeed and it probably depends on what you are doing but you definitely need talent. If someone said I was to be an opera singer, no matter how ambitious I was, I’d never get anywhere!

What advice would you give to your 30 year old self?

Love what you are doing. Follow your passion as that’s what you will strive in. Also, life is too short to spend it doing something you hate.

Who do you admire?

Etharin Cousin (executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme). Amazing lady.

In what place are you happiest?

Home – in Galloway, Scotland. I love it. I feel so free and creative. Also, everyone has time for each other. London is full of people thinking they are too busy for each other.

What’s your biggest extravagance?

Holidays. I love exploring and going to new places. But on a day to day basis – a lovely long bath. I pretty much have one everyday before bed, no matter how late!

How would you change government policy to help women in the workplace?

I’m not sure. I think women being encouraged by other women to strive and be ambitious is probably the best way to make change.

Do you believe in quotas?

Putting quotas in becomes tricky I think. I would hate to feel I had been given a position just to reach a set number or because they needed a women.

Describe yourself in three words.

Oh I don’t like this one. Impulsive, light-hearted and active?