Former racing driver turned entrepreneur, Susie Wolff, is team principal and shareholder of the Monaco-based Formula E team, ROKiT Venturi Racing. She made history at the 2014 British Grand Prix by becoming the first woman to take part in a Formula 1 race weekend in 22 years.
Here, she shares her ultimate advice for breaking through in a male-dominated profession.
Ignore the assumptions about working mums
"After the birth of my son, I was off work for a year and actively looking for a new role after six months. But there were a lot of people who assumed I wouldn’t work again. They’d say, ‘You have a great life, stay with your son, you don’t need work.’ When I took on the role of team principal, I had every second person asking me who was looking after my son while I was at work. I knew a man wouldn’t be asked that, but I was also incredibly sure of my own decision-making. I know that I’m a better version of myself when I’m challenged and pushing myself to achieve and no parent should ever feel bad for saying that."
Be clear but flexible in how you work
"We have American owners in New York and our update calls will often be in the evening, so I try to arrange these for times that don’t clash with my son’s bedtime. Equally, if I am on a call and his bedtime is approaching, I have no hesitation in ending it – and I’ll explain why. If you allow others to be oblivious to the fact that there are huge challenges trying to combine work and parenting, then you are part of the problem that slows down an acceptance of that fact. But equally, I can’t alter the race schedule to suit my family needs. When my son’s birthday clashed with a race date, we simply marked it three days later. He was four, so it made very little difference to him."
"If my job had involved being in the office 9-5pm, I wouldn’t have taken it. It’s crucial to be honest about your needs in advance. Mine were that I needed to do the job my way - I couldn’t be micro-managed - and they needed to trust that it would work and not be nervous because they couldn’t see me in the office every day. Within six months, they saw it was working."
Know your financial worth
"I always have to say to female employees, tell me what you want, what are your expectations? You’ve got to enter those meetings with a clear objective in mind and be prepared to negotiate hard for it. You should never shy away from discussing the financials because in my experience, men don’t."
Demonstrate how much you want success
"When my son was very small, I took him to work with me in Monaco. I’d be up with him from 6am to 8.30am, then in the office by 9am, home at 5pm, I’d put him to bed at 8pm then go to bed myself at 9pm. They were long days, but we do what needs to be done in the moment. Just before the pandemic hit, I would put him to bed, get the last flight from London to Nice at 10pm, I’d be at the hotel by 1am, in the office the following day from 6am to 8pm, then get the last flight back to London. I will never shy away from hiring mothers; we are the most efficient people, we make every minute count. If a mother has a sick child, I tell her to work from home and not to stress about it. I know how that feels. Having empathy as a leader is essential for getting the best out of your team."
Be a champion of other women
"I set up Dare To Be Different to increase the talent pool of women working in motorsport, on and off the track. During the pandemic, we had 6,000 women dialling into our online workshops and talks and that gave me a huge sense of pride. For these young women, seeing is believing. My job is to help them understand that, as much as this looks like a male-dominated world, there are a lot of possibilities for them. I feel like the snow plough clearing the path behind me, to make it easier for the next generation. Now we have more opportunities for women than we have women to fill them. Progress has definitely been made and mindsets are shifting."
Change the way you hire talent
"I don’t believe in quotas, but I do believe in positive discrimination. Sometimes a cycle needs to change for a whole system to change. Cast your recruitment net wider and see who comes forward. It’s always easier to look within your own network, but people from different backgrounds bring different opinions that can be very valuable. Always ask, 'Am I employing this person for the right reason?'"
Don’t be afraid to show your weakness
"Sometimes in meetings we will go very deep on the intricate software side of the business and I have to stop it and bring my technical director on the call. When I do that, others will admit they don’t understand either. Don’t feel pressured to give an opinion on something you don’t understand if it’s not your area of expertise."
Know that ego will get you nowhere
"You won’t always have the answer to everything, and it takes great confidence to show that. Lose the idea that you always need to demonstrate the upper hand. I’m thankful I don’t have as big an ego as a lot of the men I see in similar positions. They’re the ones who talk 80 per cent of the time - they love the sound of their own voice. In any meeting room, you’ll see who is playing that role. When you speak, make sure you are adding something to the conversation, otherwise listen, absorb and learn from others.
"A lot of people don’t like confrontation. I’m OK with it. Better to get it out and done, rather than skirt the issue which can take 10 times longer. And expect to fail, to fall and to learn from it. Failure is frustrating and it hurts but it’s a very important part of the process."
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