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Inspirational Female Founder Spotlight: Sharon Peake

Sharon Peake is a gender equity expert with over 20 years of experience in global businesses. She is a registered psychologist, a certified coach and the Founder and CEO of Shape Talent – the equity, diversity and inclusion experts for complex multinational organisations who are serious about gender equality. 

Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?

I am an entrepreneur, an equity, diversity & inclusion expert, a certified psychologist and a coach. Although I was born and raised in Australia, having lived in England for over 20 years, I now call the UK my home. In 2017, I launched Shape Talent a gender equality consultancy which works with large organisations to create gender inclusive organisations, through our consultancy and women’s development programmes. I am the creator of the Three Barriers to Women’s Progression Model, measuring the impact of societal, organisational and personal barriers which prevent women from taking senior positions in organisations. 

How did the idea come to you for the company?

After working in corporate HR for several blue-chip FTSE companies for over 20 years, I got frustrated with the slow pace of change in women’s representation in leadership and wanted to be an active part of the solution. I therefore launched Shape Talent where I get to work with insightful clients and a brilliant team, partnering together to actively dismantle the workplace barriers that women face.

How have you been able to gain funding and grow?

I have bootstrapped my growth. As a service-based business I’m fortunate that I haven’t needed large cash outlays, such as manufacturing or technology investments. As a consultancy, our biggest overheads are our team costs. I have a flexible workforce, with a small core team of employees and a larger team who work as associates. This makes it easier to manage costs.

What are the key successes?

There are a few things that I am really proud of: requalifying as a psychologist in my 30s after five years of additional study, working as the Group Director of Talent Management in an FTSE10 business during the third biggest global M&A transaction in corporate history, setting up Shape Talent and driving it from nothing to 7-figure revenues in three years after returning from maternity leave. A few months ago, Shape Talent won Diversity & Inclusion Consultancy of the Year, which was wonderful recognition.

What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?

I faced various professional challenges – the acquisition of my employment and subsequent redundancy, burnout and health scares – but I always felt I could see a path through these. But the biggest challenge I faced was a fertility challenge partially associated with me prioritising my career in my 30s, which meant I very nearly missed the chance to become a mother. I am incredibly grateful to live in a time of modern science and advanced IVF options, which, after a long and hard 5-year battle with pregnancy and various miscarriages, allowed me to become a mother in my 40s.

What are your plans now/for the future?

I am focused on growing Shape Talent and helping more organisations address gender equality in a meaningful and sustainable way. It is important to me that our work reaches the biggest possible audience, in order to really help accelerate gender equity. The team and I have exciting plans for growth with new products, research and partnerships coming out this year.

What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?

I would say that every journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. You don’t need to have sorted out all the details when you start, there is a lot you can figure out as you go. There is a lot to be said for being experimental and trying things out to both figure out what works for your clients, but also, importantly, to figure out what works for you. What I am doing now – running a B2B consultancy working with organisations to dismantle systemic barriers for women – is fundamentally different to what I started out doing, which was career coaching for women. I wouldn’t have known that my earlier idea was not enough to sustain me – intellectually or financially – had I not experimented first.

Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?

Tenacity, perseverance and a belief in yourself and your mission. A lot of work in a start-up, or scale-up, can be very un-sexy. There have been days where I have felt like the CEO, CMO, CFO, Head of Sales, Facilities Manager and Administrative Assistant, all in one day! At its best it can be thrilling and stimulating and at its worst it can be tedious and stressful. But even on the tough days I have always reminded myself of why I am doing this and why this work is important.

Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why? 

  1. Malala Yousafzai – for her unbelievable courage in standing up for what is right, even at great risk to herself and her family
  2. Emmeline Pankhurst – for helping secure women’s right to vote in the UK against immense opposition
  3. Jacinda Ardern – for showing the world that politics can be done in a different way, a way that is kind and compassionate
  4. Dame Virginia McKenna – for her unrelenting commitment to animal welfare and conservation, using her considerable profile to help those who cannot help themselves
  5. My daughter – for reminding me of the simple things in life, and what is really important

What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?

“You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think” – A A Milne

“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to follow you” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg

What are your Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn social handles and also website links so our readers can connect with you?

Website: https://www.shapetalent.com/ 

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/shapetalent/

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