Cecily chats to Michelle, founder and CEO of Peanut, the social networking app for mothers to connect and learn from like-minded women. She is a tech focused, strategic executive with a passion and proven track record for working with founders to achieve results for high growth and operational excellence.
Cecily: So you have gone through all of the spheres of corporate to start up. What does dressing mean to you across those industries?
Michelle: I think dressing is like a shield, it is your armour to be the best version of you. It reflects what I am doing that day: if I am wearing trackies and t-shirt then it is a product based day or a team centric day. If I have an important meeting then I want to feel like the best version of myself, so I dress up and upstyle everything. I think it is about finding clothes that make you feel powerful in whatever setting you’re in and finding “the look” that makes you feel like that. It says a lot about what mood you are in, who you are and what you are experiencing at the time.
From a corporate perspective, how you dress is much more about performing, and being in tech has made me realise that it has nothing to do with performing, it’s just about being you.
Cecily: When someone says “women in work”, what does that conjure?
Michelle: Good question. Historically I always thought of the very first partner that I used to work for, when I was a lawyer. She was very crisp, it was a more masculine aesthetic but it was very chic. For a long time that was women in work and then increasingly now “women in work” is all of my friends, and all of my friends look different.
I think the aesthetic of women in work has really changed. There is a fuller spectrum of women doing all different things, whether that is you working part time or bringing your kids into work or working for a big organisation or running your own small thing. Whichever it is, I think there are more examples of different types of women doing different types of work. That is women in work.
Cecily: It is a much more varied image than it has ever been.
Michelle: The type of work that we see women doing has changed as well. For the longest time “women in work” was a teacher or a nurse.
Cecily: Or a ball breaker, super masculine. Whereas now I think the picture that resonates more is exactly this: baby on one hip, ruling the world with the other hand on the keyboard. Images are still so powerful and the imagery does need to change.
Michelle: It has to change. But we also think about what the office environment is and that is changing. How could I ever imagined that when I started my career that my office would have a big sofa in it? I think that we work in a different way, it’s a much more casual environment.
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Cecily: The intense movement away from the “traditional” office due to their inability to retain women in that environment.
Michelle: We have to see different types of women in all different types of roles. I want to see a woman scientist, I want to see a woman engineer and I want to see a woman in logistics. I want to see them all because that is so important.
If you can only be what you can see, then you have to see more variety because otherwise you don’t know what is out there.
Cecily: Do you think that women, more than men, need to see in order to be?
Michelle: Yes, because for the longest time we haven’t seen at all, so we do have to see more to be inspired because it hasn’t been around for as long. I have a son, who is five, and I feel this terrible conflict sometimes because I am so busy, pushing powerful, strong women to him, and I am very conscious that I should be talking about men as well. I had a big conversation with my friend about this topic, because I bought Finn books about Frieda Kahlo and Marie Curie and I thought “I don’t tell him anything about amazing men”, and she said “that is called a history book”.