Following a career in the legal landscape, Emma May launched her slow fashion e-commerce company, Sophie Grace, during the pandemic. We asked her what it means to be a woman in business, what International Women's Day means to her, and the women that have inspired her in her career journey.
Happy International Women’s Day! Why is International Women’s Day important to you?
It is and it isn’t. To be honest, the whole thing where 50 percent of the population gets ONE day??
But we all know why. I mean, we still only get two percent of the financing for venture startups so it makes perfect sense that we allocated one day. I think one of the things I have most enjoyed about this day is seeing all of the amazing events out there celebrating it.
What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced, and how did you overcome them?
Having a baby at 28 as a young lawyer set my career on a path I wasn’t ready for and never expected. I found it incredibly difficult to balance the dedication both being a mum and being a kick-ass lawyer would require of me. I struggled forever trying to find a way to make it work and would just feel really shitty about the job I was doing on both ends. I quit law and went into real estate where I had much more control over my schedule.
But walking away from what was meant to be my career also filled me with shame. My mother, another lawyer, wasn’t thrilled with the choice I was making at the time, either. But that move launched me on a path that redefined everything for me. It taught me how to sell, how to get comfortable with being reliant on my own ability to secure work for myself and it gave me all the time I needed with my kids who are the light of my life.
Are there any women you have looked to for inspiration in your career?
As someone who started her latest venture at 48 – I look for women who made later life pivots and who still find ways to contribute. I love Madeline Albright’s story. She didn’t get into politics until well after her kids were grown. We built so much on a timeline that is built around men and their biology. But a great number of women who have children are changing course later in life and venturing in new directions once they have the ability to refocus.
What is the best advice you’ve received when it comes to your career?
Just because you are good at something, doesn’t mean you need to do it. I was good at international trade law. No interest. It helps to have natural inclinations towards what you want to do – but I learn new things and skills every day. If you want to do something – take the first step.
What does the future of female leadership look like to you?
I think it looks second nature. That we won’t think twice when a prime minister has her baby on her lap at a meeting. That we won’t question whether a woman has the metal to be a Defence Minister. That we look back and wonder why it was that we used to only have one day a year devoted to celebrating all the incredible things we contribute to the globe.
That we have run out of ‘firsts’.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Women are not a monolith. We are different sizes, colours, potentially born as a gender that we no longer associate as…. And as much as there is that binds us together on women’s day – there are still many things that can undermine our collective achievements. I am a white woman, born into the lucky sperm club. I have had challenging experiences over the years because I am a woman (the usual….) but I haven’t faced the additional discrimination BIPOC women, disabled women or LGBTQ women face. (Shan – does this include trans?? I think so…) I am 50 and still figuring out how I can best help to lift others and where it is that I need to step back and give space to other women. It’s easy to think – “Well not me, I am not the problem because I am a feminist” but it’s all a little more complicated than that. How do I confront my own complicity and still keep moving forward? Things I am continuing to ask myself.
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