I like to show others that anything they can see, they can achieve
Yvonne started the first black owned PR company, ASAP Communications, ran the first in-depth analysis of black community lifestyle in the UK, and set up the UK’s first Black Women Business Network. She was awarded a CBE (Commander Of The British Empire) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2003 for “her services to women, small business and minorities.” Yvonne serves on many boards, chairs committees and is recognized worldwide.
What led you to quitting your job and starting your own business in PR?
Lack of the opportunity to progress led me to starting my own PR company. I knew I was good, I knew I was able to stand in for the head of the department when they were not there, but when it came to giving me the opportunity to prove myself it just never happened. I thought the only way for me to move up is to move out. If I can do it for them I can do it for me. I handed in my notice, had a good cry…then left the company 3 weeks later.
You’ve started the first black-owned PR company, the UK’s first Black Music Radio station, and the UK’s first Black Women Business Network, among other things. How have your experiences as a black woman inspired you to achieve all these milestones?
30 years ago there were still a lot of opportunities to be had. There was no legal radio station for black music. The opportunity came up and I grasped it. I could see the niche that had not been filled in the PR market and I grabbed that opportunity. There was no women’s network for black women to support each other – I saw that gap and filled it as well. I’m not afraid to grab them.
What does it mean to you that no one else has started these things before?
These opportunities were not taken before either because no one spotted them, or no one thought it would work, or they thought the world was just not ready back then. But I did, and I made it work.
What kind of impact do these have on the black community in Britain?
The impact a legal black radio station has on the Black Britain is that we never had the opportunity to listen to black music at any time of the day. Before – it was at a certain time on a certain day and if you missed it – then you would have to wait until the following week. The black radio station also gave the black community the opportunity to profile their business, products and themselves at a reasonable cost. Previously and on some stations even now – it is way too expensive for small, women’s and minority businesses to advertise on radio. Black radio has changed not just black culture but youth culture, fashion, music, food and many other things. The Women’s Business Network has supported over 5,000 small businesses in the UK and Europe to profile, and promote their businesses nationally and internationally; network with many other women business owners, and let us know that we are not alone. It is a great support to black women business owners, giving them access to finance, contracts, education, advocacy and many other business related support.
What do you hope to achieve as a role model for other people of colour and women?
I don’t consider myself a role model. I do what I do and I trust that I do it well, give others inspiration, support and guidance to help them get where they want to be. I like to show others that anything they can see, they can achieve.
What are your thoughts on the importance of representation of minorities in the media?
This is incredibly important – not only in the media – but in every sphere of public life. Business, media, jobs. We contribute, and therefore should be represented on the same basis through all industries.
What do you as the most important women’s issue right now, and what can be done to address it?
For me it is a business case. Being half if not more than the population, why are we not represented thus in business and in the boardrooms? Why are we still receiving between 23% and 38% of what our male counterparts are receiving for the same work? Why are there still more men called John than there are women on FTSE 100 boards. The same can be said about minorities on Boards. What can be done is to educate companies as to the benefit to diversity on boards, both minorities and gender diversity. You don’t have to imagine how much profits could be increased by being more diverse. If boards are all male, pale and sale, then it is all group think. Group think means no one new, nothing new, no new possibilities.
What obstacles hinder more women from filling leadership positions and how can those obstacles be overcome?
There are many but one of the biggest is the Imposter Syndrome. Even when women get to the top there is still not the confidence of her male counterpart. First of all knowing that you are as good as the man that got that job, and not being afraid to go for the same job, before ticking every box. It is a well-known fact that men will go for and get jobs when they are only 60% qualified for, when women will not even apply when they are over qualified because they don’t have the confidence to go for it. So building up confidence is a big part of a learning process women still have to go through.
Men will go for and get jobs when they are only 60% qualified for, when women will not even apply when they are over qualified because they don’t have the confidence to go for it.
You’ve already achieved so much, so what’s next? What other objectives do you have for yourself?
Yes I’ve achieved to much, but as I get older, time seems shorter, things go by much more quickly than they used to, and with that in mind I feel I still have a lot more to do and a shorter time to do it in. I’d love to travel a lot. There are many countries I still want to visit. I’d like to share the knowledge I have gathered through a more focused process, encourage more women to be what they are truly put on this earth to be, without being afraid to go there. I want to see my grandchildren reach adulthood, and of course there are many more books to write.
With all the committees and businesses you’re involved in, what advice can you give for women who are stretched too thin in all the hectic aspects of their lives?
Be selective about what you can do and do it best. It’s better to be known for one or two great things than a selection of mediocre things. Only take on what you know you can truly contribute to if it does not take to a discipline which divides what you can offer.
Dr Yvonne Thompson CBE Author:
7 Traits Of Highly Successful Women On Boards.