During the 90s, Michelle Dow was making a name for herself working for British Gas. Frequently the only woman in a team of men, Michelle often faced prejudice in her role. In one startling retelling, Michelle details turning up to a house call and would find people looking behind her for the man to turn up. In some instances, she was even turned away from a job simply because she was a woman. Even more frustrating, it was almost always women who refused to let her carry the work out. It’s fair to say Michelle is no stranger to people making assumptions about her and what she’s capable of.
As Michelle’s career developed during her time at British Gas she moved into more senior roles working as a teacher, trainer and managing marketing campaigns. During the 00s, Michelle transformed the way British Gas targeted women during recruitment drives. It was Michelle and her team that suggested they advertise apprenticeships and jobs in magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Sugar and that they exhibit at places like The Clothes Show. When they exhibited at these events, they gave away lip gloss instead of pens. Whilst these tactics may seem simplistic in their approach now, at the time Michelle’s ideas were stand out. It even inspired imitations from competitors.
With such a formidable career behind her, what did Michelle do next? She founded the inspiring All About STEM. All about STEM is considered the ‘hidden wiring in the system’. Michelle’s organisation acts as a connector between schools, professionals and organisations to get young people excited about STEM subjects. They’re also the brains and the power behind Big Bang NW, an annual careers fair which engages young people with careers in STEM.
I spoke to Michelle about how All About STEM came about.
1. Why did you start your business? What spurred you on?
Leaving my career at British Gas was a big moment for me, I’d worked for them for years and had achieved great things in my time there. But after taking time off to focus on raising my children I quickly found myself wanting a new challenge. Originally, I was servicing a contract as an independent contractor. Through this contract, I frequently found myself having conversations with schools who wanted support with careers events or curriculum-focused activities. I came to realise my skill set and drive was the perfect fit for the need in the market. I thought to myself “There’s a chance to do something here.”
2. What are the unique challenges that you have faced as a female founder?
I’ve found as a female founder, I often need to play the part of a chameleon. I’m now very good at transforming myself to fit the situation I’m in. I can camouflage myself to my environment to ensure we get the best outcome.
3. What were the 3 steepest learning curves from your last year in business?
- When we first started, we took on a contract because I didn’t want anyone else to have it. It resulted in the team having a lot of pressure on them. That’s a strain I wouldn’t seek out now.
- In July this year, we put on our biggest event yet. I was so proud of what we all achieved, but I often find it’s easy to forget to celebrate success. I’m naturally critical of what we create so I now actively put effort into celebrating our successes. I want my team to know the impact they’re having on children’s lives and the economy.
- This year has been particularly tough for personal circumstances in our team. I try to be as flexible as I can to give people a chance to recover or work flexibly.
4. What is your favourite thing about founding your own company?
I love being the boss! I love being able to set the agenda and the ethos of our company. I’m responsible for the team staying on task and us achieving our end goal. I love that’s my job.
5. What is the best business advice you have been given by someone else?
It was these three questions:
- What’s your reason for doing things?
- Is it to make you happy?
- Is it what your team needs?
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6. Do you ever suffer from Imposter Syndrome? If so, how do you tackle it and move forward?
No because why wouldn’t the way I’m making it up not be better than everyone else’s?
7. Tell us about another brilliant businesswoman that you think our readers should know about.
All of the women in my team! They make me look great every day. Also, Yvonne Baker Chief Exec of STEM Learning.
8. What advice would you give to yourself if you were starting your business now?
- Be kinder to yourself and take a break when it’s needed.
- Take a sick day when it’s needed.
9. If you had a spare £1,000 what would you spend it on?
We’ve just revamped our office, so I’d spend it on adding finishing touches to the office.