Entrepreneurship is evolving, and the diverse talents of the workforce are shaking things up in the world of business. While SMEs, companies, and stakeholders, including Innovate UK, are focusing on Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (ED&I) strategy, there may still remain a lack of clarity on what these values can mean in practice for social entrepreneurs as they develop solutions to social, cultural, or environmental issues.
On 22nd June 2021, IDEA hosted a panel dedicated to ‘How Talking About Diversity is Making Entrepreneurship More Inclusive’ with speakers from the Oxfordshire entrepreneurial community: Dr Mira Kassouf, Nathania (Tanya) Aritao, and Nicole Beach. This panel drew upon their own professional experiences to highlight different career paths for women leaders and discuss key principles for thinking about how women entrepreneurs can champion diversity and inclusion while using their talents for successful entrepreneurship. Each speaker discussed how ED&I, as a strategic priority which aims for sustainable and positive change, requires a mindset that celebrates the uniqueness of individual life-stories.
Mira Kassouf described her personal journey, from childhood in her home village in Lebanon, to her formative educational experiences at the American University in Beirut and postgraduate opportunities in the UK, including a DPhil in Molecular Biology at Oxford, and to her current position as a Senior Postdoctoral Researcher at the MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Biology and co-lead of Innovation Forum Oxford.
Tanya Aritao recalled moving from the Philippines at the age of 17, to study at the United World College Costa Rica, where her understanding and experience of diversity and inclusion was deeply shaped. She then pursued her BA at Wheaton College, MA. before returning to the Philippines for six years to work on a social enterprise for women survivors of sex trafficking and forced prostitution. This led Tanya to Oxford University and the Saïd Business School MBA program, after which she launched her London-based start-up TAYO International which aims to support the financial wellbeing of migrant workers. Tanya also runs her own coaching practice to help leaders navigate and overcome obstacles with clarity and confidence.
Nicole Beach summarised her successful career in retail and merchandising, with companies including UNIQLO, before her current role as a Director in the Oxford Seed Fund. Her career took her to international boardrooms in the US, the UK, across Europe and Japan, and her experiences taught her how to represent a company in a senior role whilst also championing her own values. Speaking about their professional and personal journeys, three key themes emerged across talks that focused on the importance of diversity for entrepreneurship.
- Diversity comes from acknowledging and embracing the unique journey of every individual. It is difficult to embrace diversity if you do not understand or nurture your own individuality. Mira Kassouf described diversity as a phenomenon which can be understood through a ‘multi-resolutional’ perspective, with different layers ranging from individual representation to collective and shared experiences. Whilst supporting an ecosystem to become more diverse, it is also important to support individuals as they discover the interests and beliefs they have inherited, whether from family or community, and the values that they have developed through their own individual aspirations. This self-discovery and acceptance nurture the individual courage we all need to step in and claim our space with confidence.
- Don’t sacrifice a value that is important to you – even if it is for a position or opportunity that feels like the natural next step in your career. Professional development requires representing a company whilst valuing your own values. Nicole Beach spoke about often being the woman and the only person of colour in a senior board room. In these situations, it is important to hold onto your own voice and to sustain your own professional priorities – all whilst engaging with wider issues relating to business, entrepreneurship and cultural contexts.
- Sharing your journey, whether through mentorship or through co-developing your projects with people who can benefit from them. Social entrepreneurship is a way to include and serve people who may be unseen, underserved, or vulnerable – with products or services that address their specific needs and opportunities. For Tanya Aritao, TAYO International aims to provide a network of support and community for migrant domestic workers, with a current focus on Filipino domestic workers in the UK and Europe. She shared information about her ongoing collaboration with migrant domestic workers in London, and how inviting and including them in TAYO’s journey is shaping and innovating their work. As well as seeking input from those who are more experienced, work with a range of people to ensure projects are informed by diverse, and often neglected, voices and perspectives.
Each speaker recommended resources and programmes that were helpful for aspiring entrepreneurs, including:
- The StEP Ignite Programme for student entrepreneurs.
- The Oxford Character Project dedicated to cultivating character and responsible leadership.
- Investing in Women Code resources and commitment to improving female entrepreneurs’ access to tools, resources and finance.
- WE ACE dedicated to women entrepreneurs in health and life sciences, with a focus on leadership and negotiation.