Whether you’re a £300m, £30m or £3m company, female CEOs face the same challenge

Jan 25, 2018 / Ambition Nation Events

As a company grows, the summits to overcome get higher, but the challenges female founders encounter can seem remarkably similar. Our Ambition Nation: Female Leaders Series event will discuss the growth journeys of female-led companies that have hiked beyond the £30 million milestone.

The World Economic Forum in Davos is, for the first time in its 48-year history, being chaired entirely by women this week.

Also this week, the Oscar nominations saw Mudbound director of photography Rachel Morrison become the first woman in the Academy Awards’ 90-year history up for Best Cinematography.

This is the year that putting the most successful, talented and prominent female leaders front and centre is top of the global agenda.

In March, we hold our Ambition Nation: Female Leaders Series event – ‘Think Big, Be Bigger’ – during which we will hear the experiences and stories of women CEOs from companies of every size. That includes those at what some might perceive as the peak of success, as much as those starting out or scaling up.

What will be striking is that the challenges faced by women CEOs turning over £30 million, £100 million or greater, tend to be shared by all female founders.

“The number of investments going to female-led businesses is small and hasn’t grown for some time; we think there’s something that needs to be done,” said Sam Smith, finnCap CEO. “I don’t think it matters what stage of the journey you’re on, the challenges remain largely similar. It’s all about getting the confidence to reach the next stage and hearing the experiences of people that have been there.”

Said in confidence

At every level, confidence is so frequently key issue. This was no better demonstrated to the finnCap team than when we welcomed the Inspiring Women workshop to finnCap last week. Catherine Spencer, former England Rugby Captain and founder of the Inspiring Women organisation, and Jo Wimble-Groves, entrepreneur, writer, speaker and author of the hugely popular Guilty Mother blog shared the insights of their personal growth journeys. Inspiring Women has led motivational workshops based on the passion that exudes when elite athletes, coaches and business women share their lessons so that others can benefit from them, a principle that drives Ambition Nation.

The next Ambition Nation: Female Leaders Series event is subtitled Think Big, Be Bigger because we want to support and push our ambitious female leaders to keep thinking to the next stage of growth, and the next, and the next, no matter how big you get. Catherine’s story up through the ranks of rugby’s elite certainly resonated with this way of thinking.

Catherine’s blind summits

“I see my rugby career as a series of ‘blind summits’,” said Catherine. “It’s when you’re climbing a mountain and you see what you think is the top. When you reach it you realise that it’s not the top, that there’s another, further summit, but you think to yourself ‘I can get there’.

“When I first started playing rugby I didn’t even know that an England women’s team existed.”

Her club team in Folkestone was very supportive in her early years when she trained with the boys, with the club soon establishing a women’s team.

“My next blind summit was when my coach rang me one day and said he wanted me to go to Kent, to county trials,” Catherine continued. “That felt like the peak of Everest.”

But there was much, much more to come. Soon she successfully trialled to play for her regional team, then her university team, and finally she had the confidence to attend a trial day with England. She grabbed it and soon found herself standing just a metre away from the then England Captain. That inspiration gave her the confidence to push over the next blind summit as she rose through the ranks of playing for England’s reserve teams, and finally England’s senior squad.

“I was called up and I was terrified. I thought ‘I shouldn’t even be here, I’m just little Catherine from Folkestone,’” she said. On the subs bench not thinking she’d get on the pitch, suddenly her name was called. “As I ran on, it felt like slow motion. I thought about the years playing mini-rugby, for Folkestone, regional, the university, and now here I was on the pitch for England.”

Watch the full interview with Catherine and Jo below:

At the top of the game

Catherine’s story shows so clearly how that need to be confident to reach and surpass your next stage of growth – every new blind summit – does not diminish the bigger or higher up the rankings you get. When Catherine came to become England Captain, she said that again it was her confidence at that level that led her to stick her hand up and ask to be considered for the lead role.

Pushing oneself from university to the England team trials requires a different level of confidence perhaps than from pushing from your local team to the county, but the weight of what lies ahead is the same. Pushing a company that is turning over tens or hundreds of millions up to the next blind summit of growth requires a different level of thinking, but ultimately it’s the same mindset.

Hearing from people like Catherine, and those that will be attendance at Ambition Nation: Female Leaders – Think Big, Be Bigger, who have faced incremental summits as they head to the upper echelons of success, reminds us that these challenges are not exclusive to starting out. Blind summits occur at every stage of growth, be that personal or professional, sport or business.

2018 is the year that more of our most successful women will reach the top of their game. We’re giving them the confidence to keep climbing.


Join us for Ambition Nation: Female Leaders in March to hear from the very people that will do that. Register your place here.

And in the meantime, download our free guide for pitching your investment story to the right investors: Delivering a great pitch.