Griselda Togobo - founder of Foward Ladies
PUBLISHED: 00:00 02 March 2016
Can spending more time at home lead to a more successful work life? Jo Haywood asks Leeds business leader Griselda Togobo
With a baby on the way, a new office to sort out and a flourishing business that’s just celebrated a landmark year of exponential growth, taking it from a regional success to a national name in just 12 short months, you might expect Griselda Togobo to be spending every waking moment at her desk.
But you’d be wrong. She believes balance is key to business success and that means six focussed, highly productive hours at her desk, bookended by the school run and dinner with her five-year-old son and, if his shift as a doctor allows, her husband.
‘I’m disciplined when I’m at the office, but I’m not here every hour of the day,’ she said, taking a break from sorting out her new desk at Carrwood Park in Leeds. ‘When I’m in the office, I’m super-focussed. I’m also not afraid to say no a lot. Yes, it can be difficult to get a meeting with me, but that’s not because I’m so very important, but because I have to justify every meeting and the impact it’ll have on my priorities.’
Griselda spends her working life encouraging and supporting enterprising and career-minded women through her business Forward Ladies, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that her original inspiration is a particularly canny business woman – her mum.
Born and raised in Ghana, her mum had little schooling, giving up her own education so she could look after her younger brother. She then went on to have seven children from three marriages. But this didn’t stop her building up a string of successful construction and textile businesses.
She couldn’t read or write, but she had so much self-belief there was nothing that could stop her achieving her goals.
Griselda has that same self-belief but, unlike her mum, has been able to back it up with a quality education, studying at Cambridge, qualifying as an engineer and then being headhunted by money experts Deloitte, where she qualified as an accountant.
She got married, got pregnant and moved to Yorkshire, where she began a new chapter in her career speaking to and mentoring other women.
Griselda took over the helm of Forward Ladies, the UK’s largest membership-based organisation for enterprising and career-minded women, from founder Etta Cohen in May 2014. Since then, it’s trajectory has been ever skyward.
‘The business was exciting when I bought it, but I wanted it to make even more of an impact,’ she explained. ‘All its activities had been offline and Yorkshire-based before. But in the last year, we’ve taken everything online and national.
‘We now run awards in Newcastle, Nottingham, Manchester and London, with the national finals here in Leeds. It gives us a chance to show Yorkshire off and, I can tell you, it never fails to impress.’
She’s hoping to consolidate that success this year by installing new streamlined systems of working, building on the success of last year’s awards and improving nominations across the board.
She’s got a top team of women alongside her to make sure Forward Ladies continues moving forward apace. So, does her belief in the importance of a healthy work-life balance apply further down the chain of command?
‘Most of the women who work with me appreciate being able to work from home and to flex their working hours,’ she said. ‘I make a point of not micro-managing my staff. They are all very capable and I trust them to deliver.
‘This means, of course, that the recruitment process is key because I need self-motivators. I want to be able to tell people their goal, budget and deadline, and then leave them to it.’
It’s International Women’s Day on March 8th, and Forward Ladies is celebrating early with a special conference on March 3rd (see panel). But are we getting any nearer the point when true equality is achieved, making such awareness-raising, empowering days irrelevant?
‘People are talking very positively about women in business but they are still concentrating too hard on women making it to board level,’ said Griselda. ‘It’s a growing number but it’s still very small when compared with all the women still struggling below board level.
‘Women generally want to be remunerated well for the hours they work and have a good chance of making progress. Fair pay and equal opportunity for promotion – surely that’s not too much to ask?
‘International Women’s Day is still, sadly, very much needed. When you’re comfortable, it’s easy to forget that there are a lot of women fighting to be heard. It’s a simple fact that women still need the support of other strong women.’
She also believes women need to press hard to restructure the working day, making it possible to fit in the school run and work-free weekends without it automatically slamming the brakes on their career or leading to covert financial punishment.
‘The structure we have now was set up by men for men so, obviously, they’re pretty happy with it,’ said Griselda. ‘But we can restructure the system to work for both men and women, so we can all spend more time with our families while still investing in ourselves and our future.’
For more information about Forward Ladies, visit forwardladies.com
Talking the talk
Multi award-winning businesswoman Laura Tenison MBE, founder of Jojo Maman Bebe, is the keynote speaker for Forward Ladies’ International Women’s Day lunchtime event at The Leeds Club on March 3rd.
Previous high-profile speakers include Germaine Greer, Cherie Blair, Shami Chakrabarti, Nicola Horlick, Theresa May and Yvette Cooper.
Laura started her company in 1993. It’s now the UK’s leading mother and baby boutique multi-channel brand.
From start-up capital of just £50K and two part-time staff, she now employs more than 700 people and has grown her company to a forecasted gross turnover of £50M.
Outside of the office, Laura has also set up The Nema Foundation, a charity which builds schools in Mozambique.