Making choices: Brynne Herbert

Founder and CEO of MOVE Guides, Brynne Herbert believes that differences between men and women should be embraced in the workplace


Where do you stand on the women in business debate?

The professional world is run by men and that is probably not going to change in our lifetime, so it is important to talk about how women behave and the role they play in a workplace run by men. I am a big advocate of going to the pub with the men and knowing who won the football so that you can shoot the breeze with the guys on your team and in your office. But I also believe that businesses should instil policies that help women to grow and succeed at work. I also think that some women have a difficult time advocating for themselves and should be more assertive, confident and proud of their value in the workplace.

People often say that being a woman in business is not about behaving like a man. Are you saying that maybe it is?

In our generation it has moved away from that. A decade or two ago there was this image of a manly looking woman in an ill-fitting suit trying to blend in with her male colleagues. Ten the debate moved towards the idea that you can be feminine in the workplace. You can wear a dress and make up and your hair down and still be taken seriously. That’s different to how you manage, lead, behave, raise money and engage with men, and it is important to talk about this. Women are just as capable and effective as men at being successful business leaders and I believe we should focus on results, not gender.

So a deeper understanding of men running the world is needed?

People want to do their job well, they want to work with people they see as peers and part of being a good leader – and a good businessperson in general – is knowing who you are talking to. Leadership is about respecting your colleagues and understanding how to relate to the audience you are speaking with, whether that is in a room with male or female business leaders. That is a very important skill and one that people don’t necessarily talk about.

What attracted you about becoming an entrepreneur?

I like building things and am motivated by challenging the status quo. My business, MOVE Guides, helps multinationals to manage and move global talent. Before I created MOVE Guides, the global mobility sector was phenomenally antiquated and ineffective and it interests me to bring efficiencies, cost reductions and better experiences into it.

I also believe in globalisation, open immigration and open borders, which are what drive global economic growth. Some day I want to champion that governmentally, but it is also why I am fascinated by our business, by creating a market that allows people to move between borders in a better way and helps companies to foster mobility through better technology in the Cloud.

Are women entrepreneurs rare, particularly in tech?

Yes: 4.2 per cent of businesses that receive venture capital funding are female led; nine per cent of startups in the UK are founded by women. I think it is a really interesting debate because women and men, and I don’t think a lot of people would dispute this, are good at different things. In order to build a transformational business you have to take massive risks and really big bets. A lot of people who really don’t believe in what you are doing will criticise you, so you need a huge amount of tenacity and to believe that things are possible when no one else does. I think those are qualities more naturally associated with a man, the wheeler dealer – the “I am going to change the world, everyone is going to scream at me and I am going to laugh it off” kind of profile.

They don’t take it personally.

I think women are really good operators – Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer and Meg Whitman are great examples. But none of them founded businesses, none of them sat in a garage and said, “I have a vision, I am going to change the world.” And that is especially true in the tech industry. There are some great examples of women who have done that – Sherry Coutu is a shining example in the UK (and a MOVE Guides’ investor) and Julia Hartz (co-founder of Eventbrite) in the US, but I can’t think of a lot of women who have done that. We have role models, but very few women have built billion-dollar businesses from beginning to IPO, as Mark Zuckerberg has with Facebook and Dave Dufeld and Aneel Bhusri have with Workday. The lack of female leadership is most acute in the enterprise Cloud space, where we operate, but I am out to change that.

Could you be the one?

Absolutely! The dialogue we need now is about how to take risks, how to have a vision and how to lead others on a journey with you. That is a very different thing from building a sustainable career or climbing the career ladder. Neither one is more important or valuable than the other but they are different. And until we have women who do that it will remain hard for venture capital funds to back female-led businesses. They have plenty of examples of men who have had crazy ideas and brought them from a garage to a billion-dollar listed company, but very few examples of women, so I believe it is a big leap for them to wrap their heads around it. That is why I hope to lead by example and show women that they can take high risks and receive high rewards, particularly in the male-dominated enterprise Cloud space.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I’m super direct. I lead confidently and assertively, and with a big vision. We sell talent mobility solutions to FTSE 100 and Fortune 500 companies that have never heard of us, never heard of what we are selling, and have never heard of the category that we sell in before. We transform talent mobility for our clients – dramatically improving employee experience and company efficiencies – but we are a completely category creating company. I call it a “full stack startup” and that means that we need to be really good at a lot of things and touch all parts of our ecosystem. To do that, we need a clear vision, great team and clear communication. We also need emotional and economic ownership for our team, and at MOVE Guides, we have a strong culture of collective ownership and frugality.

Are there differences in how you manage men and women, or is it all about individuals?

I think you do manage them differently, and that has its challenges. I love my team, they inspire me every day, but when I’m recruiting I notice that a higher proportion of women get emotional when things are discussed. Men can be emotional as well, but generally in a different way.

Is it that they are better at not showing it in the workplace?

I think that, in general, men take things less personally. With men, you can give feedback that says, “Don’t do that again, that was terrible”, and they say, “Okay”, and we all move on. Women can sometimes take feedback more personally.

What advice would you give young women coming into business now?

On a personal level: choose your partner wisely so you can build a life and a career together, and don’t judge other women’s personal choices. Professionally: don’t take things personally. I think so much of business and career development is wrapped up in this. You need to be able to compartmentalise different emotions and discussions and build your business, and your career, in an even keeled way.

Lastly, I would say dream big. Be a visionary; take big risks and fight tooth and nail to achieve them.

You’ve spoken about women having equal opportunities but extra pressure. Can you explain what this means?

We have equal opportunity for men and women in the workplace but we still have different judgements and expectations of them. This means that women in their 30s don’t feel discrimination but they do feel extra pressure. Men can be unkempt some days – they can go out and be tired and not do their hair one day, and no one cares. But people don’t like female leaders who look like they can’t manage all of the different things they are supposed to be doing. Women are expected to be able to work hard, attend social events, manage their personal life and still arrive each day looking fresh and put together.

Given societal judgement, there can also be challenges for women when it comes to building professional relationships with colleagues and mentors. For instance, do you go to drink with your three male bosses at 9pm when everyone is leaving the office? I would absolutely say yes, but many women would feel uncomfortable or concerned about being seen out for drinks with male colleagues. I hope this judgement changes during my career.

Whereas it needs to move to the point of how we make it work?

Exactly. There is equal opportunity, period. The dialogue now needs to be about how to build a career in that context. And I think that all of the things that we talk about on that question are almost equally relevant for men as they are for women: men need sponsors, men need mentors, men need to find partners who balance them and men need to not judge each other when they go out for drinks with three female colleagues!

Brynne Herbert was talking to Carly Chynoweth.

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