The theme of International Women’s Day 2021 is #ChooseToChallenge, a call-to-action raise awareness against bias, celebrating women’s achievements, and taking action for equality.

Our MD Suzanne Watson is President of Bradford Chamber of Commerce, Governor at Bradford Grammar School, Trustee of the National Eczema Society and a Bradford Community & Business Champion. Here she talks us through some of her experiences of being a woman in business.

Where did it all begin?

I started in PR back in ‘92. The days of fax machines, contact sheets, print photos and power suits! After 10 years in PR and four years as a journalist, I set up Approach in 2001 to help bring the flexibility of balancing being a mum with earning a living. We’ve evolved through two decades of a constantly changing business climate to the consultancy you see today.

Why do you think days like IWD are important in the business community?

IWD is much more than an awareness day, it’s a movement which inspires, educates, informs and empowers women of all ages and life stages. I’m a big believer in sharing experiences, of being honest with each other and acknowledging our imperfections, our insecurities and the lessons we’ve learned along the way. In an era where social – and traditional – media can create an illusion of success and happiness, we owe it to each other to be authentic and create a safe place where we can be who we really are and nurture each other. How we communicate with each other every day, not just on IWD, really matters.

Are there any other female figures in business that you look up to/admire?

I admire all the women who have come through the doors of Approach. In 20 years we’ve provided employment for 28 women and those who have moved onto the next chapter of their careers I feel lucky enough to still call my friends. I believe Approach is a place that never leaves the hearts of those who join and every day I’m inspired by the continued journeys the women of the Approach world – past and present – are making. Whether still working together or not, that support and the bond between the women who worked together remains and that’s something I am very thankful for.

Who has been your biggest female inspiration/support during your career?

Lisa Clifford is a personal and a business coach who I met more than 10 years ago and we quickly became very good friends. Together we’ve conquered mountains, walked on red hot coals, broken arrows in our throats (!), laughed, cried and supported each other. Lisa believed in me when I didn’t, refocussed me when I went off track and pushed my comfort zones when I’d really rather not. Her approach to life is truly energising and my ‘can-do’ mindset has undoubtedly been shaped by her positive influence and wisdom.

What one piece of advice would you give to young women starting out in business?

If you’re starting out in business, be clear on your values, your terms and your proposition and don’t undervalue yourself to make a quick sale. It’s too easy to become led by the money and forget your true purpose. Remember your worth, remember why you’re doing it and focus on delivering a service that is unique to you. The income will follow.

Your greatest business achievement?

It has to be being part of the duo which is the first ever female president and female vice president in Bradford Chamber’s 170-year history. Bradford truly sets an example to the rest of the country with its unprecedented female leadership and together with Bradford Chamber’s current vice president Vicky Wainwright, I couldn’t wish to be working with a better team.

What are you most proud of?

Running a business and staying true to my goal of being there for my children Melissa and Ben (now 17 and 21!). When I launched Approach it was to achieve work-life flexibility and be the mum I wanted to be. Personal changes meant I had to be the mum I needed to be to ensure our survival and as a one-parent family, the challenges of life felt at times, insurmountable. But I knew the business could bring us security and sanity for me so I chose to keep it going while attending every assembly, helping on school trips, dropping off, picking up and being an active and involved parent for the (relatively) short time they were at school. Approach gave – and still gives – me the freedom to be there for my family and to create many new relationships with individuals, colleagues and friends I otherwise never would have met.