The Fox of the internet boom was Martha Lane Fox. An impressive businesswoman, philanthropist and public servant, Martha was the co-founder of the successful website Lastminute.com, which hit its peak when floated on the London Stock Exchange for a £571 million valuation. A queen of the the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, Martha has in no way slipped into obscurity since then, but instead headed up a stream of ventures (both online and off) including the launch of seven private Tokyo-esk karaoke bars in and around the UK (luckyvoice.com).
Martha is now an active member in the House of Lords as the UK’s Digital Champion and a non-executive board member at Marks & Spencers which leaves her with little time to herself. However, she wouldn’t have it any other way and as Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho (the hyphen being a non-negotiable condition of House of Lords membership), Martha is one of the youngest women in the upper chamber.
An inspiration to many women, Martha Lane Fox spoke with the ACN about what motivates her in business.
1. What motivates you to succeed?
Different things personally now having done all the things I have been lucky enough to do has allowed me to meet some very interesting people that I may have otherwise not met. I enjoy meeting people with different talents and engaging in conversation that allows for different views. Listening to other people motivates me as well as being part in items with a social purpose.
2. Where do you think the opportunities for women in business lie in the future?
I think that we haven’t even begun to see the potential power for women that women have yet to completely unlock their full potential. Increasing education in developing countries will give women in those countries an opportunity to succeed, getting women from around the world engaged in work and learning is important. I believe if we can give women equal opportunities as the fundamental stepping stone we will all have a very rosy future….as long as we keep shouting that equality is important.
3. What advice do you have for women hesitant about their own abilities?
If it’s any consolation even the women who appear to be most confident can sometimes be hesitant in their own abilities. Everyone battles inner demons and confidence can sometimes be one of these. I might appear confident with all that I have accomplished, but I just wake up and switch my brain on to confident daily. There has been many times where I have been in a room, and there will be many women in the same position, it is important that you do not get overwhelmed by nerves and that you realise, whether it be a boardroom full of men, that you have every right to be there, you have the right to be heard and have a voice, always be forthright and don’t apologise for speaking your mind. An important piece of advice I can give you is that no matter who you are you have something valuable to contribute so make sure you believe in yourself.
4. How do you feel women can support other women in business?
All women whether successful or not should help women, whether it’s your own peer network, or your business group, always talk and keep the motion of communication open. It’s important to communicate, set a good example, do the right thing and in turn you can inspire other people. Within your networks keep them diverse and mixed. I have teams from all walks of life and they all bring something new to the table. .
5. What top tip would you give to a woman trying to drive their career forward?
I’ve never really had any far plan ahead, but I have made an effort to increase my network , be open-minded, not so much networking through conferences, but if I genuinely want to get to know someone I may invite them for a tea at my home. I also think it is important to keep your mind stimulated. Read, look around and be engaged and interested with your networks, peers and life in general. Never stop learning is a key to driving your career forward. I am a fan of TED talks, they are inspiring. My top tip is to constantly keep learning! And do it with a smile.
6. In your field do you see a culture-change taking place in the boardroom?
I think there is a funny dual thing about this. I think there is a lot of noise out there in the media and the internet about shifts happening, but I don’t believe in the slightest it is happening at the scale that is being broadcasted. I think it’s important for the FTSE 100 companies to ensure that more women come in not just in the board room, but in executive and non-executive roles. I think it is important to keep a sharp eye on the topic.
7. Is the glass ceiling getting easier or more difficult to break through? Any changes between now and ten years ago?
Not sure actually, I think that the data isn’t very encouraging, I think that one hand there is more positive role models through technology and engagement, however equal pay is still not being addressed . I think it’s good to see more female models, such as the Forbes Powerful Women’s list. There have definitely been advancements with women over a decade however more can be done.
8. Who inspires you and why?
Funny people, usually not the people you would imagine inspire me. I surround myself with some really extraordinary friends who are doing wonderful things. I like sharing their stories and seeing what they are up to and how we can all work together to inspire each other. I have one good friend, Shauneen Lambe, who started a cause called Just For Kids Law which is a charity providing legal support, advice and representation to young people who find themselves in difficulty. Her efforts have seen a law overturned in the judicial system which is impressive. She works incredibly hard and is a huge inspiration even though she is far away. I also have to say my mother, she is a working mum who inspires me and reminds me to stay on my toes while also keeping me grounded. Even when I go to the movies I get inspired by some fictional characters, they usually have a message.
9. In your eyes, do you feel there is an opportunity to do more off the back of the Davies Report to progress women’s careers?
Yes I think there needs to be more focus on it. What’s interesting is that there is hype about it but nobody talks about it with any real stories. I believe the key steps for women to succeed now is to implement cultural balance way back in the classroom. The classroom allows for some kind of quality back in the education system. The Davies Report is only one part of the whole picture I think.
10. What are the top three initiatives you feel the government could do for women who want to succeed in business?
I don’t have a top three policy; it’s partly to do with the government, but also companies themselves, and their policies. Governments must lead by example and hopefully this will make companies look at how they do business and if there is a base for women to succeed.
11. What are the top three ways you feel the government could support and push corporates who want to attract and help more women prosper into their business?
I don’t think government can do that much. They can set challenges, and show the economic benefits of what corporates and businesses can gain from females in companies, but ultimately it comes down to the company itself and whether they want to take on board the findings and comments the government make on the matter. If a company wants to continue in a backwards fashion there is really nothing the government can do?
The Government can highlight issues, create networks to address these issues and broadcast as much as they would like, however true change is up to the corporates and what is already deeply structured within their sector and how they have been operating.
12. If we succeed and support women in business productively, how would you like to see the landscape change in 5 years? Please state any thoughts from the boardroom to investments in female businesses.
I would like to see more equality and more clarity in pay. No matter whether you are a female CEO or a female factory worker you should be paid equally to your male counterparts. It’s not a complicated concept yet for some reason it is not being addressed. I believe if proper equality is in place this will make for a more interesting and balanced workforce and in turn a balanced economy.
13. What is the most inspiring quote you have heard?
I like a quote from Goethe – “The boldness has genius power and magic in it”