Home Patchwork Perspective TEDx speaker Sonya Barlow on the importance of diverse leadership

TEDx speaker Sonya Barlow on the importance of diverse leadership

by Ellie Kime

Our new business shower templates are the perfect way to commemorate and celebrate the launch of new businesses – if we do say so ourselves – and who better to celebrate with than the women in business we admire? (And yes, that includes you!) We spoke to Sonya Barlow, an award-winning entrepreneur, TEDxSpeaker, diversity coach and much more, about what it takes to set a business up, and what advice she has for people venturing into it. You can read her brilliant advice below!

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Sonya Barlow, and I am a Pakistani British woman with a tech background. I am an award-winning entrepreneur, TEDxSpeaker, diversity coach, author, and recent host of ‘The Everyday Hustle’ show on BBC Asian Network.

I am also the founder of LMF Network, a social enterprise that is enabling and empowering women and underrepresented groups. LMF is also helping businesses build diversity and inclusion strategies.

Tell us about the start of your business journey.

My business journey started with LMF Network, then Like Minded Females, as a side hustle while working full-time as a senior consultant in the technology industry. I was always interested in all things related to diversity, inclusion and equity.

My experiences as a South Asian woman in the tech sector impacted me. They made me realise I wanted to go beyond creating a space for women and people from diverse backgrounds to connect and share experiences.

I wanted to make a social impact and encourage inclusion and diversity in workplaces. So I left the corporate world, and that’s how the ‘business’ or consulting aspect of LMF Network – and later on, my own business – started to take shape.

First, I started by providing empowering workshops for the LMF community. But I realised that companies were in real need of business, diversity and inclusion services. So I began offering workshops and learning opportunities for companies as a diversity coach.

Now, I can proudly say that I have launched my own business and diversity consultancy.

Sonya stands in front of a presentation screen in a black buttoned top and blue trousers.

What do you wish you’d known when you started out?

I would have loved to know the true meaning of the word resilience and what success really is.

It took me some time to change the way I saw failure. At first, a setback made me think I was not doing enough or I wouldn’t achieve my goals. But, now I see failure as nothing but a temporary disruptor that forces you to learn and adapt.

On the other hand, I have also reframed the definition of success. It has nothing to do with a job title. It is about being the most truthful version of yourself and being true to your calling and mission, whether that is championing a cause within an organisation or starting your own business.

What’s the one physical thing you wish you’d had when you started out?

Does a team of passionate people count? Across the years, I have found how incredibly important to surround yourself with people that share your same vision because you can all thrive together.

LMF Network grew because of a network of amazing volunteers who put their extra time into growing and supporting the community. And, now, LMF’s consulting branch is growing because of having teammates that are working towards encouraging businesses to make a fundamental change in their workplace.

What’s the one thing you wish you’d asked for help with?

How to navigate the corporate world. I first experienced this when I finished university and then again when I started my own business. It is one thing no one teaches you at school, and having that knowledge can ease – to some extent – your immersion into your first job.

In my case, I learned it the hard way. From negotiating pay rises to dealing with workplace toxicity and bad managers, these are skills that are essential for your personal and career development because they can impact your confidence and sense of self.

That is why I have tried to give others the stepping stone I didn’t have. For example, at LMF, we provide career and personal skills workshops, and we have a mentoring programme, the largest virtual mentoring scheme in the UK. These initiative help bridge the skills gap for our diverse community.

An open-plan meeting room with floor-to-ceiling windows and pink bucket chairs.

What’s your one piece of advice for someone starting a business?

My main piece of advice is to make failure your best friend.

The reality of starting a business is that at some point, you will fail, you will suffer a setback, or you will have to rethink your approach to your vision. Unfortunately, that is constant and unavoidable.

But instead of focusing on the negative aspects, you need to learn to use those challenges as opportunities and ask yourself: ‘What did I do’ and ‘What can I do differently?’

You always have to stay focused on your vision and what comes next. Sometimes you will have to just roll with the punches, and some other times you will have to take a step back and start again.

But, the good news is that you won’t start from zero. Instead, you will begin from experience.

Sonya is smiling in front of a computer screen and laptop displaying her website.

What’s your next business milestone coming up and how will you be celebrating?

My next business milestone is to grow the consulting business side of LMF Network, and I already took the first step.

My first move was to bring on a global team, including a communications lead, project manager and outreach intern. It was important for me to make sure that my team members were remote and identified themselves as part of diverse backgrounds to ensure that our mission and our practice was reflected within our team.

I believe that when you are an entrepreneur, you celebrate the small and the big things, from signing a contract with a new client to sending that one email. So when there are important news and updates, I make sure I bring everyone into the conversation.

Though I do admit that when there is a significant milestone or great news, I do three things: 1) celebrate with my team, 2) go for a walk, and 3) remind myself that the journey I took to entrepreneurship – the hardships and the failures – were definitely worth it.

Thank you so much Sonya for your brilliant advice! If you want to see/hear/read/digest more from Sonya, you can find her on instagram @sonyabarlowuk, and on her website. If you want to make your own new business shower patchwork, you can find loads of templates to kickstart you here!

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