The Woman In The Room: Q&A With Baroness Karren Brady CBE
Ezra sat down for a Q&A with one of the UK's most influential female business leaders – Baroness Karren Brady CBE.
Now Vice Chairman at West Ham United, Karren became Birmingham City Football Club's first female Managing Director at age 23. We spoke about her leadership journey and the challenge of being a female leader in what is so often a male dominated world.
Baroness Karren Brady has repeatedly found herself as one of the only women in the room.
Whether it was as a student at Aldenham School in Elstree where boys outnumbered girls by a considerable margin, or later when at age 23, she convinced a business associate to buy the Birmingham City Football Club and let her run it, Lady Brady has a long history of forging ahead in male-dominated environments.
In both instances, Lady Brady said she ultimately triumphed by ensuring that she did not succumb to the negativity that many women face in their business endeavours.
“Look, I’ve been around so long – I’m 52 now – but when I started in football, I was 23 and … there was a lot of negativity towards me being a young woman working in a business and I dealt with it head-on,” Lady Brady said in a recent Ezra webinar. “I’d call people out. I’d say ‘ I won’t be spoken to like that. I’m not having that.’ And I spoke up for others. And I think that was very important for me and who I was and what I believed in.”
That steely determination has made her not only one of the most successful women in U.K. business, but also one of the most famous women of any description with cross-over successes in broadcasting and politics.
She has worked as a consultant for Syco Entertainment, a partnership between reality TV personality and entertainment executive Simon Cowell and Sony Music Entertainment. In 2013, she was awarded a CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth, and a year later was elevated to the House of Lords as a life peer, where she took the title of Baroness.
Her success with Birmingham City FC ultimately paved the way for a move to West Ham United Football Club, which is enjoying a very successful season in the English Premier League of professional football. And if all that were not enough, she is an Aide to Lord Alan Sugar on the British edition of the popular BBC television show, The Apprentice.
Lady Brady’s accomplishments in the board room and away from it have made her a genuine A-lister who is frequently featured on the celebrity pages of British tabloid newspapers. She was also recently identified by British actress Hannah Waddingham as the inspiration for her character on Ted Lasso, an award-winning television series produced by Apple+ where she plays the stoic owner of a top-flight football team.
Brady said the secret of her success has been to remain extremely faithful to the core values she established as an 18-year old. She famously elected not to attend university, launching out into a career in business with little experience of any kind.
“I’m very lucky in my life to have given challenges and chances of a lifetime,” she said during the webinar. “And I’ve grabbed them and worked very hard to do great things for the people I work with. But I come back to my core values – I worked them out when I was 18 and at 52, they’re still exactly my core values.
“I treat everyone as I want to be treated. I wanted to build a business, the kind of business that I wanted to work in when I was 18 where you could go as far as you wanted if you were ambitious, that nothing would hold you back. That you felt cared for, and you felt important no matter where you were in the organization – that you were listened to. That there was a candid atmosphere where anyone could speak to anyone about anything, and people would listen.”
Lady Brady said she has tried throughout her life to be a tireless champion of female empowerment in all its different forms. And while she believes there have been some successes, “boy, do we still have a long way to go.”
Unfortunately, the pandemic has eroded some of the progress women had made in the world of work, she said. The social and economic restrictions that were necessary to help control the spread of COVID-19 have hit women particularly hard and left many displaced in the labour market.
“There is mounting evidence that the pandemic is setting female economic empowerment back,” she said. “Half of women in the UK don’t have sufficient childcare, for example, to enable them to work. And 70 per cent (of woman) through the pandemic had to work less hours. And two million women were either deprioritizing their careers or exiting the workplace because of the pandemic. Because the childcare responsibilities fall to them and they can’t have a career. I don’t know what I would have done if I had two small children at home that I had to home school and try to run my business. It would have been very, very difficult.”
Moving forward, Lady Brady said she tries to provide as much guidance as she can to women just starting out in her careers. Above all, she said she tries to emphasize that women need to be ambitious, assertive and unafraid to go out and get the career that they really want.
“You do not, under any circumstances, want to get to the age of 52 and look back on your life and say, ‘I wish I would’ve.’ Try everything. I talk to a lot of people who say, ‘I don’t know what my passion is.’ Well, it hasn’t fallen down the back of the sofa and you’re not going to find it there. You really have to drive things, try new things, you have to see what you’re good at. You’ll find your passion and then, you’ll find your ambition.”
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