Ep 73 – How Do Female Entrepreneurs Define Success with Dr Hayley Lewis

Have you ever wondered how women in business define success?

As a woman who started my business in my 50s I don’t think I see success in terms of the traditional financial measures.  And it turns out I’m not alone!

My guest today is Dr Hayley Lewis, an organisation psychologist who has recently completed her doctoral thesis delving deep into the psychi of female entrepreneurs and what really makes them tick.

If you’re a woman in business, you’re going to resonate so much with what Hayley has to say, I’m sure.

And if you’re a woman in later life wishing you could do a degree, a masters or even a doctorate but wondering how on earth you’d fit it all in with a full time job, business, family and all the myriad things you’re already dealing with, then you’ll find it hard not to be inspired by Hayley.  She’s sharing her top tips for fitting it all in and loving every minute of the journey.

You can find out more about the fantastic work Hayley does by heading to her website Halo Psychology or follow her on LinkedIn and Instagram where you can get to learn her from her fabulous weekly sketchnotes.

Transcription:

Bev Thorogood:] Hello everyone. And welcome to another episode of generation exceptional. If I could get my teeth in right today and talk properly, my guest today is Dr. Hayley Lewis. And I say doctor with some emphasis because Hayley has just completed her doctorate. And that’s what we’ll be talking about today. I’m very excited to be having this conversation.

I believe Hayley, I was your first interviewee when you were doing your doctoral research, which makes me feel a little bit special.

Hayley Lewis: Yeah you were so the second study I carried out as part of my wider research was original research where I interviewed women such as yourself. And yes, you were the very first one.

Bev Thorogood: I didn’t know that until last week.

Hayley welcome to generation exceptional. I’m really pleased to have you here. Would you start us off just by giving us a little bit of a flavour of who you are and your academic journey to becoming Dr. Lewis?

Hayley Lewis: Yeah, so I’m Hayley you don’t need to call me Dr. Hayley. That makes me feel like Dr. Ruth or Dr. Phil!

So in terms of my day-to-day, I’m a qualified psychologist and I’ve been in the field for almost 25 years and had a very wiggly career and now I run my own business.  In terms of my academic journey it hasn’t always been that easy and it always makes me laugh when people call me an academic, because I don’t see myself that way.

It’s never come easy to me. You know, I’ve had lots of failures along the way including failing my dissertation for my masters the first time more than 20 years ago. And that was mainly because I didn’t put a lot of effort in, I was too busy partying, as I was in my mid twenties. But the route to to academia come to me later in life in terms of the appreciation for education and learning.

I think I took it for granted when I was younger. And I definitely don’t take it for granted now. I think we’re so privileged to have that, those of us who have access to education and learning. And so, yeah, it was really in my thirties that I started to kind of get in touch with my inner geek.

And I just found myself really enjoying reading research and using that to help in a work context. And then when I hit my forties I wanted to set myself a new challenge. And as I kind of headed further into my forties, I thought, you know what I want to give myself a bit of an edge in my field.

It’s a really very competitive field within occupational or business psychology, there’s a lot of us. And then within that, there’s a lot of people who are running their own businesses. And so actually what gives you the edge? I thought I’ll do my doctorate. I want to stretch myself.

I want to try and quell the remaining impostor feelings I have in the field. And learn something along the way and give something back all before I’m 50. So that was that was the kind of target I set myself.

Bev Thorogood: That’s fantastic so did you have a sort of a traditional route from leaving school to university doing a bachelor’s from school?

Hayley Lewis: Yeah, so I came from a very poor background, working class . I’m first-generation in terms of graduate. Mum and Dad, who are no longer with us, put a lot of stock into education. Particularly mum.  Mum was very clever, unfortunately she grew up in times. and had had a father who didn’t believe in girls needing education.

She actually got a scholarship to a grammar school, but wasn’t allowed to take it. She was forced to leave at 15, get her first job so she could contribute to the family. And I think that she turned that resentment when she had kids, into me and my sister, she put it into us so I remember being drilled by her for my 11+ because where I lived, and at that time in the early eighties, we did the 11+. And I remember her making me do the practice tests again and again and again, then I could hear my friends outside playing in their gardens and I had to do more tests. I really hated it. I hated her at the time. And it’s only as I got older that I am just forever in my parent’s debt.

And so I ended up going to grammar school, and loved school. Again didn’t always come easy to me in terms of the learning. And yeah, I never questioned, so there was this expectation from my mum and dad that I would go straight to university at the age of 18 and I never questioned it. I just went “okay”.

And actually I saw it was an opportunity to kind of spread my wings and get some freedom. I went straight from my A levels  into undergrad and then loved that. Spent three years doing my undergrad and then went out into the world. And it was five years later that I did my masters and I fell into my masters by accident.

I never intended to be an occupational psychologist. My first degree, my major was history cause I loved history. But I happened to be in the right place at the right time and my mouth for once didn’t get me in trouble, it helped me out. And I was offered the opportunity to move into the psychology team and studied for a master’s and they paid for it.

And so. Yeah, I can see you nodding. So lots of people want to know that story.

Bev Thorogood: I’m fascinated by that. I always find it fascinating that our early years can really, really dictate our love or hate of education. And I am similar to you, you know, quite a deprived upbringing in many ways, not deprived in love or attention or any of those things, but certainly financially.

It was tight and there was my brother and I, there was no expectation that we would go to university, you know, I think for both of us, we grew up in Newcastle on the outskirts of Newcastle and the expectation really was that the boys went and worked in the shipyards and the girls went and worked in shops or factories.

And if they were a bit creative, they became hairdressers or nurses, you know, if they had that kind of caring side to them. So it would have been comical, I think, for us to want to go to university or to have that aspiration. For me that really stuck with me for many years.

I probably carried it as a bit of a chip on my shoulder for many years. I did my undergrad at 48. And it took me that long to shake off the belief that I just wasn’t going to be clever enough or smart enough to study. I remember when I did my bachelor degree in business and enterprise, I had no intention of ever being a business owner weirdly at the time.

I remember chatting to my course tutor who was just coming to the end of her doctorate and being amazed at how anybody could feel they were smart enough to do that. I just assumed everybody that did a doctorate must be incredibly, incredibly clever. And I remember her saying to me, actually, do you know what? Yes, you’ve got to have an element of understanding. You’ve got to be able to read research. You’ve got to be able to interpret research and put your point across. But it’s more the workload than actually, you know, being mega intelligent. And I still thought ‘goodness me, I’m not clever enough to do a doctorate’. Where do you stand? What have you found going through that doctoral process? Was it just a hard slog of just do the work or has it taken you, well out of your comfort zone?

Hayley Lewis: Yeah. Out of my comfort zone.  Definitely. I think overall I absolutely loved it..

I loved it. And it was a really nurturing environment, you know, not every doctorate is the same as the program I was on. We’ve now. in this country, made occupational psychology the equivalent to clinical and forensic. So your root is the same. So once you do your masters, you then go out in the field and then you log your work from an evidence-base for two years and get your registration with the Health Care Professions Council, and your Chartership with the British Psychological Society. And then you can choose to do another two years, which is your doctoral research, which then confers title of doctor, which is what happens with clinical forensics.

And so actually I’d been out in the field a long time. I’d done my log book a long time ago. I’d got my Chartership registration. So actually going through that process of taking an evidence-based approach, drawing on theory, I’d kind of been doing that a long time. And then certainly since I set up my own business, you know, one of the selling points for Halo Psychology is making research and evidence accessible to managers and the leaders that I work with.

And so again, I’d spent many years immersing myself in research, in journal articles, which I don’t always find easy to read you know, I have to read the same sentence 10 times and still don’t even understand what they’re saying, but I was really comfortable with that. Whereas some of my pals in my cohort were having to kind of learn that from scratch. The biggest thing was juggling everything. So I run a business, you know, I’m the main wage earner in the family, as were many of the women in my study. And so I have to protect that time for my business and kind of keep earning.

In the first year of my doctorate I was caring for my terminally ill mum. And again, that’s really common for women in particular, you know, often we’re the ones who take on some kind of caring commitment, whether it’s being a parent or a grandparent, or if you don’t have children you could be caring for a loved one or a family member, that does tend to fall on the woman or the woman takes it on. So yeah, it was the juggle more than anything, but actually I’m really ruthless with boundarying my time. And I took the little and often approach for each of my studies. And when my mum died actually the doctorate acted as a real anchor.

She died in November 2020. And I remember Sue, my doctoral supervisor saying “you, okay, do you want to take some time out?” And actually I didn’t, it was something for me to pour my grief into, to focus me. Because, you know, mou was so proud that I decided to do a doctorate and unfortunately she she’ll never get to see me kind of wear the floppy hat and the big velvet cloak

but yeah, I used that energy to just put everything into it. So yeah, so I’m not sure that quite answers your question, but all sorts of things came up as I was doing the doctorate and I feel less of an imposter.

Bev Thorogood: It’s interesting . twice now you’ve talked about the imposterism and I think we have a tendency to sometimes, don’t we, think that the more qualifications we have the more credible we feel we are.

And I’m interested to know, do you…. do you think the work that you’ve done on your doctorate has actually made you a better coach, better at job in general?

Hayley Lewis: Yeah. So that’s it, that’s the answer? Yeah it has in that I wear multiple hats. With the business, with Halo, I am much more choosy about the kind of research that I draw upon so everything I do, whether I’m running a workshop for managers or I’m doing coaching with a senior client I’m much more discerning about the type of research that I reference or evidence I draw on.  You know the doctorate trains you to scrutinize the quality of research and not all research is created equal.   I have developed this bit of a a tick every time I see like pop psychology research on Instagram or LinkedIn, it drives me insane.

Because it feels like once you learn and see it you can’t unsee it. And I think it it’s helped me formulate arguments a lot better when I’m having to influence some big corporate clients, particularly stuff around culture change.

It’s also really helped with the academic side.

I teach at several universities on their master’s programs including supervising dissertations and it’s given me much more confidence to do that, but also to give really. Hopefully, helpful advice. I mean, my students say it’s helpful advice. And they’re the customers ultimately.

I was supervising dissertation last year.  It was a post-grad dissertation and she was looking at psychological capital. And that was one of the things that I was looking at with my research. And she also wants to use a particular methodology within the qualitative methodology and I was able to really help her and advise her based on my own journey through the doctorate in a way that I probably wouldn’t have been able to help if I hadn’t done that.

So yeah, it’s helped in all sorts of ways. I’ve also become even more opinionated as my husband will tell you.

Bev Thorogood: Yes. But now you’ve got the title behind you to give you the right to be opinionated which is good. And we will talk about the contents of your thesis but I’d really like to expand a little bit on what your research covered and on what you learned.

I guess I want to let the listeners know why I was so keen to get you on because as the Generation Exceptional podcast is about trying to highlight Gen Xers who are doing things that maybe the rest of us are sitting back thinking “I wouldn’t mind doing that, but I’ve got the imposterism or it’s too scary, or I haven’t got the time” so that’s really why I wanted to get you on to say “do you know what, even if you are working, even if you’ve got your own business, even if you are a woman with all the other caring responsibilities that we carry, you can do this”.

I think that’s a great message to get across. But I do want to talk about the actual research that you did because the subject matter is quite fascinating, especially as a woman in business, just talk us through what your doctorate was about why you chose that that subject.

Hayley Lewis: Yeah. So I had multiple reasons why I chose this particular topic, which was about female business ownership, female entrepreneurship.

When you do a doctorate, you have to find something original. And like really go into minute detail, it could be such a specific question. And it should further build on the research that exists.

So I thought in my field now in my day-to-day work both through Halo Psychology, and also teaching, my expertise and background is in leadership and management behaviour and how that impacts culture.

Now, as you’ll know Bev, the World and his wife has done research on that? You know, there are thousands of research papers into leadership and management, and I thought, what can I add here?

And then I thought, actually, why not do something a little different where there’s a gap in not just in the research, but in your field. So in occupational psychology, we tend to research leadership and management, teams, personality in the workplace, all that stuff. Nothing really for my field.

No one has really looked at women in business or entrepreneurship. Most of the research comes from the field of sociology or feminist studies or business and economics. So I saw there was something here. So that was one of my motivations. The other motivation, I think, as I said to youwhen you attended one of my interviews,

I’m anti-capitalist and I’m a feminist researcher, and it’s never sat right with me that the mark of success, how we define business success, even for small and micro businesses is big profit, big turnover, you want to grow. You want to get employees, big sales. That’s how traditionally, particularly in the Western world, we define business success.

And so if you don’t conform to that, what are you a failure? And that never sat right with me. And my instinct told me there was a different definition and I wanted to test that out. And then the other thing in terms of the feminist stance is this really masculine ideal of what it means to be a successful business owner and entrepreneur often perpetuated on things like the Apprentice, which I can no longer watch now because I just feel enraged because I think it’s all that’s kind of hammy and bad about business that you have to be pushy and, you know, stab each other in the back and, you know, really salesy.

And again, I thought there has to be another way. because, if I think about my own journey as a business, I know I don’t have to do any of that. So I just wanted to test it out. I wanted to actually do some research. And so, yeah, that’s what I did and my main question was actually how do women business owners define success and what are the psychological factors that help them navigate those crucial first three years?

We know around 60% of businesses shut up shop or ‘fail’ in their first three years. And rather than dig into why they failed I wanted to talk to women who’d been navigating those first three years and were surviving, you know, in a pandemic by the way.. What was it they were doing? So I wanted to take the strengths based approach.

So that’s what I did.

Bev Thorogood: I read an article quite recently in Forbes that said people over 50, I think it was were something like twice as likely to succeed in business than people  under 50. Why did you think that is, did your research give you any kind of understanding of why. I say we cause I know you’re not over 50, but I am . Why are us over 50s likely to be more successful.

And actually going back to your original purpose for the research, how do we even define that?

Hayley Lewis: So the bulk of women in my second study were in their forties with a few in their fifties and a couple in their thirties. I think for those of us who are older I think it’s a combination of life experience, that kind of accumulated and cumulative knowledge, skills experience.

I don’t know about you Bev, I’ve really felt this, certainly in the last year or so as I kind of head towards 50, I can’t help but wonder as we get older we recognize it’s not the end of the world if something doesn’t work out or goes wrong, we’ll do something different. You know, whereas I think when we’re younger, it can feel like all or nothing if it doesn’t work.

Whereas I remember when I set up in my first business at 42, it was a big decision because I was in a highly paid corporate job, as a say I’m the main wage earner in my family with a mortgage to pay and all that stuff. But when I finally got around to doing it I thought, you know what, I’ll give it a go. And if it doesn’t work out, I’ll just go and get a job.

And I think you develop that practicality that, that kind of, much more practical approach to life when you get older I think that’s what it is.

Bev Thorogood: Yeah I’ve found this really strange juxtaposition, certainly with perimenopausal women, and you know that’s obviously my area of interest, whereby hormonal changes, physical changes, mental, psychological, emotional changes can really erode confidence.

And yet at the same time there seems to be this contradiction in levels of confidence that say “you know, what”, exactly, as you just said, you know, “what’s the worst that can happen. I’m going to take my life skills. I’m going to take my years of knowledge and I’m going to do something. I’m just going to give it a go and have that level of confidence to do that”.

And they’re at total odds with each other and almost running concurrently. You know, I gave up my job because my confidence was through the floor.  Set up a business feeling really, quite confident about “well, so what if it doesn’t work out, but I think it will”. I very luckily didn’t have those financial pressures that I think some people do, which has been a bit of a blessing and a kind of a double-edged sword because on the one hand it’s meant I didn’t have to worry about finance, but on the other hand, it’s meant that I probably wasn’t as driven as I would be if finance was a real issue.

So, yeah, it’s strange. And what other findings did you have, how did women define their success? How are we different?

Hayley Lewis: Well, just before I get to that, as you were talking Bev I wanted to share, I can’t help but wonder if there’s a societal thing as well.

One of my colleagues in my particular cohort on the doctorate, Denise, she’s in her sixties, she’s just done her doctorate in her sixties. And she’s had a really successful career as a psychologist. She has spent time in the East, in Tibet and places like that and in other cultures, they revere their elders.

You know, you have the wise elder, the wise woman.  Often there’s a whole ceremony around this acknowledgement of moving into a different phase and the wisdom that comes with that.  We don’t do that in countries such as ours. We write or bin people off and her research looked at what it is to have a meaningful life in later life, after you’ve formally retired.

So she’s been sharing her stuff but yeah, that’s got me fascinated around the whole societal thing as well around what it means to be old, let alone an older woman. So yeah, I just thought I’d throw that into the mix and I’ve become really interested in that.

So it’s interesting you talk about perimenopause. I mean, my energy! One of my symptoms is my energy levels drop. Like literally I cannot do or think. And so I’ve had to start to structure how I do work around my energy levels because there are certain points in the day where I am absolutely fit for nothing I have to have a nap.  I have to, I can’t function otherwise.

And so that’s the other upside of being my own boss..

Bev Thorogood: Yeah, it’s interesting though, of course, because one of the things that I do for a living now is go into businesses and talk about the impact of perimenopause and menopause on working women and the lack of energy, fatigue, brain fog, all of those things come into it.

And I’m always very conscious of not encouraging businesses to throw the baby out with the bath water, you know, Yes, we are potentially having these low energy dips and all of the other bits, but actually look, you’re working, running a business, you know, you’re finishing your doctorate. It’s not, actually impacting your output, but you’re having to manage and change possibly the way that you deliver that.

I setup my business at 52, 4 years later, I’m still doing this and I think I’m reasonably successful. We’ll have to come back to, “how do I measure that?”. Yes, I have bumps in the road I have to navigate, but it doesn’t stop me getting there. It still doesn’t stop me doing the job. And I think that is really important.

Cause I do hear a lot of people kind of say “well, if women are having all of these problems, why would anybody want to employ them?”.   Because we are bloody good!

Hayley Lewis: We are you know?! Well, yeah, don’t get me started, that’s a whole other podcast episode around women in leadership. That’s for another day, and I could talk about that stuff all day as well.

It’s always been my focus ever since I first qualified back in 2001, I’ve always had an affinity to, and done lots of work with women at different stages in their working lives.

Right. The definitions of success.

So in my first study, I looked at what the research over the last 20 years had said actually, none of them defined success.

But they had used measures. So financial measures of success that every single paper had when they were doing experiments, doing research with groups of women and male business owners, they were using measures of success, such as amount of sales, amount of profit, number of employees.

Bev Thorogood: Those traditional financial measures?

Hayley Lewis: Absolutely traditional, not one of them had defined success.

So, enter stage left Hayley.

So there was a gap there in terms of my second study where people like yourself got involved There were really clear definitions of success.

So it’s not to say money isn’t important because I think that would be really naive. . Actually money did come out as one of the definitions, but it was about earning a good income.

It wasn’t about six or seven figures, which is again, the narrative that you see on LinkedIn and Instagram. it’s very much the social media.

Bev Thorogood: It’s the 6 figures? What does that even mean?

Hayley Lewis: Well, or the seven figures I’m seeing a lot of, and I’m seeing a lot of women with their glossy, Instagram pictures, with their Mercedes, et cetera, it just sends me cold to be honest, “are you going have your seven figure year”.

And actually there’s a really good podcast called Duped which unpicks toxicity around business and the coaching that’s offered to people like you and I and, and Duped actually educates us to ask more questions. What do you mean by big? And what’s behind that?.  Actually helping educate us to be much more savvy in terms of what we buy, because that was another thing that really spurred me on with this research.

I see a lot of good women spend a lot of their hard earned cash that often they can’t afford on programs that promise the world and deliver nothing. And I feel really strongly about that, but anyway, for some money did come out as important. But in terms of being able to pay the mortgage, take the family on holiday and have enough money for a rainy day.

It was never about,you know, I want  10 grand a month or. And that’s not to say that wouldn’t be nice, but the women I spoke to were really savvy that actually there were other things that are important as to how I define success to actually impact that income. Because in order to earn six or seven figures, there are sacrifices you have to make. And actually, I don’t want to make those.   

And so the other definitions that came out that were far more important and were really strong themes from talking to all the women.  Having real credibility with clientsand people out there saying she really knows her stuff.

You need to work with such and such, that kind of word of mouth, that was a definition of success for many of the women.

The second was having a really tangible impact, having proof, having data, having hard facts that you have made an actual, tangible difference to the people or companies that you’re working with.

And I think that goes hand in hand with the credibility. Those two came out loud and clear. And then the third was around freedom and autonomy.

So I feel most successful and I feel successful as a business owner when I have enough time to look after myself, to have time out if I need it to go on a bike ride in the afternoon with my nephew, if I want, that’s success to m.

Working nine to five, Monday to Friday or seven days a week would be the antithesis of that.

That would be failure to me. That’s not why I set up my business. So that again, came out crystal clear and then a really interesting unexpected one that came out was around this concept of thriving.

So this is something that I’ve been really interested in for a long time. There’s something called the Theory of Thriving at Work .  It is quite an old theory, but it’s not that well-known, I love it.

And it basically says we thrive when we’re learning. And when we get energy from what we do. And that came out as loud as a bell across all the interviews.

One of the women used the metaphor of love. I’m in love with my business. I love it. Actually it was almost like it was a person and that’s the definition you know, your energy and vitality and the work you do.

And that’s evident to me in the stuff that I see you putting out Bev. So, yeah, it was really interesting, money was there, but actually there were other things that meant more to these women and that helped them define success.

Bev Thorogood: Of course, the difficulty is how do you measure that? How do you measure how much love you have for the work that you do?

It’s not that easy traditional measure “well, this was my turnover, this is my profit this year. I love that actually. And I’ve not heard of that theory of thriving, but I’m feeling it.

I think I look at the work that I do now, and my husband will say to me, goodness, me, you know, it’s Saturday or Sunday and I’m working, but it doesn’t feel like work.

And therefore actually you are right about the success measure. I think my success measure for this coming year will actually be around how much time am I willing to move away and concentrate on my health and wellbeing, because that has definitely taken a back seat for the last two or three years.

But partly because actually I really do thrive on doing what I’m doing. And I have not prioritized that enough. . So that will be my measure of success. Can I actually lose a bit of weight and get a bit of my fitness back? Because that’s been the sacrifice for me in building what I’ve been doing the last few years?

I think the other thing for me that I measure as success is, and again, not an easy one to measure. Am I seen as authentic?  Are people seeing the me behind Floresco and that sort of personal brand. I don’t know if that’s quite the right term for this, but I wonder with your six and seven figure business gurus, how authentic are they?

And that’s really important for me to be on LinkedIn and people go  “Yes. She knows her stuff. Yes. She got this business, but actually I feel like I know her” and that when they meet me in person, I’m probably not so different. I think for me, that’s a really important thing. I don’t know. Did any of that come out in your research?

Hayley Lewis: Absolutely, so mine is the first research to specifically look at the role of personal values in the lives of female micro-business owners. No other studies looked at that. In my thesis, I talked about the Holy Trinity of personality competencies and values.

Quite a few studies look at personality in relation to being an entrepreneur and being a business owner. And I do use those terms interchangeably. Because there’s no, clearly agreed definition of entrepreneur. And actually many of the women I spoke to did fall into some of the definitions of entrepreneurship, as well as business ownership.

Some studies look at competencies, but none have explicitly looked at values. So there was a real opportunity there and there were three values that stood out. They were like a moral compass across all of the interviews I did with, with the women.

And the first of which was authenticity. It’s really important to me that my business is congruent and how I show up is congruent with who I am.

And you know, a few of the women talked about feeling like I can be me in a work context for the first time ever in my career.

Every woman I spoke to, it was their first business. That was deliberate. I wanted to look at women who had made the leap from being employed to becoming self-employed.

And yeah, a few of the women said, you know, I was in a role where I was having to pretend to be someone I wasn’t. Because I was working in a certain sector, I was in a leadership role, for example, And that really resonated with me. I felt that I spent quite a large proportion of my life trying to fit in, trying to squeeze my size six feet into size four shoes, metaphorically, and not always feeling comfortable.

And therefore, is it any wonder that I wasn’t always my best self? So yeah, some of the stories that the women shared really resonated, but authenticity came out as number one in terms of core value.

And then there were two other just wonderful values. It was such a heartwarming study to do Bev.

So the second was around caring. caring for others.  Not in a, you know, being a parent or carer, but actually caring deeply about people, that you see yourself here to serve. So whether it’s  kind of women navigating menopausal changes in the workplace you know, whether it’s teams in conflict, which is some of the work that I do, you care deeply.

And when we care actually that’s when we build really trusting relationships, but then there was this deep, “I really care. I really genuinely care about others.” Others who I might touch in some way through my business.

And then the third was around the sense of community, being community minded, community oriented.

So recognizing you’re part of something bigger than yourself .  As micro business owners, it can feel very lonely. There was one woman who said, and   it was quite an emotional conversation we had actually, she talks about her journey from being a director in a company to setting up her own business.

She said no one tells you how lonely it can feel. . And she said “I felt like, you know, I’m a really experienced director and I felt out of my depth.” . She said, what humbled her and overwhelmed her were the number of women business owners who reached out and said, can I help you in some way? Do you want to chat? Here’s some of my time, let me introduce you to some of my network or my contacts – just the willingness and generosity she said overwhelmed.

She said, now, she proactively reaches out to others who have set up their own business. She says “it’s really important to me that I give something back”. And that sense of community giving something back again was like a, like a steel rod through pretty much all of the interviews and came out really clearly as another value that helps women navigate the ups and downs of business.

Bev Thorogood:  I love that. I absolutely love that. My working background was for the Air Force. Predominantly worked with men. Obviously I had a few sort of close female colleagues, but on the whole, it was with men. And I don’t know if this is going to extrapolate across society, but certainly in the younger days, I never felt in competition with the men I worked with, but I often felt in competition with the women Probably perceived I don’t know that there was any real rivalry, but in my head, I certainly perceived that.  It’s interesting now working for myself as an older woman, I completely get that support network of other women doing, not necessarily the same business, but in business for themselves.

It’s so strong. And that initial, probably the initial six months of working on my own. I remember feeling very, very isolated, very alone. I’d go and sit in a cafe and work just to have the buzz of people around me and that, that sisterhood, if I could use that without it sounding too idealistic, that sisterhood of women in business that I’ve met and formed relationships with over the last four years has absolutely kept me going.

And, you know, there are a few who really stand out (and you know who you are, girls!). But it’s so powerful, isn’t it? And I think if we can support rather than compete, there’s such a power in that

Hayley Lewis:. There really is and again, you know, I can’t help,but think about other cultures.  You know, you have. other cultures where groups of women regularly convene and come together, again that wise elder council.

Bev Thorogood: And do you think it’s as prevalent in younger women or do you think there is this sort of, I don’t know maybe it’s a hormonal thing that, they’re vying for that sort of survival and reproductive element?

Hayley Lewis: I don’t know if that yeah, potentially.

I mean, that’s an interesting study in its own, right. Isn’t it? Potentially, I mean, Yeah, there could be that primal thing when you’re younger that you’re competing for a partner to procreate. I’m not saying that necessarily is the case.

Not everybody wants kids. I don’t have kids. it’s almost like this primal competition or instincts

Bev Thorogood: . Oh, gosh, we’re running out of time.  You know I could have you back, I think, because there’s so many other things I want to talk about.  I find it fascinating. but there are a couple of questions I really wanted to cover going back to doing the doctorate.  And the work that it entailed. What your biggest challenge do you think?

Hayley Lewis: I think it goes back to one of my earlier points that it was about balancing everything, because there were some self-imposed deadlines, but you know, it’s not cheap, doing a doctorate isn’t cheap and I was paying for it myself. And I didn’t want to go over 2 years, because I’ll be paying more money.

So there was almost like a self-imposed deadline. I’m also very action oriented. I like to get stuff off my plate. And so I was like, I want to get it done so I can move on to the next thing. So yeah it was managing time as I said and all the different things that I was in continuing to juggle with. That was probably the biggest thing.

Bev Thorogood: How did you manage that? Were you time blocking?

Hayley Lewis: Yeah, and so throughout my whole career, everybody’s always commented on my organization skills and actually how boundaried I am.  It’s one of the things I get asked for, particularly coaching clients who are struggling with that stuff, but yeah, everything from kind of time blocking, tasks blocking.

For my first study I was blocking out the first two hours of each day, so I took a little and often approach. I’d read a paper, synthesize it, upload it onto my database. I had a lot of papers to go through, to do my first study. So that little and often, like a couple of hours each day, and then I’d go into the working day.

For my second study, I just had to plan in advance for booking interviews in you know, so I just blocked out time for that. And then obviously work and business would go on top of that. And then for actually writing papers, I’m somebody who likes to go deep. So I blocked out a whole day. I can’t do that in bits. I kind of really get immersed in the writing process.

So, yeah, I kind of took different tactics based on what was required and also knowing myself really well about how I work.

Bev Thorogood: Brilliant. So if you were to give three top tips to midlife woman contemplating going and doing some sort of maybe a masters or maybe it as much a doctorate, but doing some sort of higher educational study later in life.

And I say later in life, that midlife bracket, what would be your top tips? What should we be considering?

Hayley Lewis: So the first is do your research. On the program and the university, what kind of things do students say about it? So for example, one of the universities that I teach at most of my students are in their forties, fifties, and even 60s.

And they wanted to go on that particular program because it met certain needs. So it’s distance learning. As well as kind of weekend learning, they could do it around their jobs. Also many of the lectures are practitioners as well. That was really important to them. So do your research.

The second is recognize the power of the group, the community.

I can always tell how successful a cohort is going to be in terms of how well they work together inside the program and outside. So that’s where things like WhatsApp groups come in. So it’s really interesting, one of the universities I teach our masters, the students who are predominantly in their twenties, they’ve gone straight from school to undergrad, undergrad to masters, which I think is a different issuu – so competitive.

And I say to them, you know, this is your network moving forward into your careers. What are you doing?

Whereas the groups that I work with, who are older, they help each other out, they nurture each other. So yeah, kind of going somewhere where there is a sense of community and people looking out for each other.

And then the third is even before you start a program to start doing some reading, ease yourself into it. Otherwise it can feel overwhelming. Just get back into the groove of what it means to read journal articles. Just think about how you’re going to plan your time as well. If you are working or you’ve got other care commitments, just think about that stuff in advance.

Bev Thorogood: Thank you very much. So are we able to get to read your 52,000 word thesis?

Hayley Lewis: You will at some point,  It’s just so bureaucratic Bev, there’s a formal process that I’ll have to go through. So I’m doing what’s called minor amends at the moment. There’s a lot of them, even though they’re minor.

Once I’ve done the minor things, I then send it off for formal sign off from one of the examiners and then it gets loaded up onto the university portal and then I will be able to share it. So yeah, hopefully within the next few months. And yeah, I’m under pressure to write a proper journal article as well and to submit to a journal.

Certainly I’ll be sharing snippets through my social media feeds as well.

Bev Thorogood: Right. Where can people find you if they want to learn more about the work that you do with Halo?

Hayley Lewis: So the main place is LinkedIn. I’m on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram. I’m not on Facebook. The main place is LinkedIn.

That’s where I’m most active. And so, yeah, I’ve got my main business, which is Halo. I’ve set up a second one on the back of this research called Find Your Hive and Thrive. . That’s fairly quiet at the moment because I’m just kind of easing into that. Cause Halo is just very busy

Bev Thorogood: And what is Find Your Hive and Thrive?

Hayley Lewis: Find Your Hive and Thrive is going to be a variety of offers based around my research.

So an evidence-based approach, so creating community groups, running master classes on specific things. So whether that’s kind of influencing to secure a proposal, all that stuff. So yeah, so I’m going to be creating kind of a suite of things over time.

Bev Thorogood: Brilliant. And I have to say for anybody who doesn’t know you go and check out Hayley’s LinkedIn. Because she does the most amazing drawings, sketch notes. Sort of infographic type things.  I think. Are they every Monday?

Hayley Lewis: A new one comes out every Monday and then the rest of the week I share old ones. So I’ve got about 170 now, and most of them are kind of evergreen content. They’re always relevant. And there are the few that go viral. Like I literally have to come off social media because I can’t keep up. Because they resonate with people, maybe stuff around leadership.  I like to make stuff that can sometimes be unnecessarily complex accessible to the public.

Bev Thorogood:. Brilliant, Hayley it’s been an absolute pleasure. Good luck with the thesis when it is released, I’m sure you will get some amazing feedback.

I know you will. It’s been great talking to you. Thank you so much for giving me your time.

Hayley Lewis: Thank you for asking me. Thank you.

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