Celebrating an International Woman: Sarah Speake

In honour of International Women’s Day (March 8, 2019), we want to recognise all the strong women who put their aspirations into action with hard work and unrelenting ambition. Shout out to all the ladies who are making things happen!

One of those outstanding women is Sarah Speake, founder of Speake Up Consulting. Sarah is a former director at Google and a winner of the International Alliance for Women award for economic empowerment of women. She sits on the board of directors for Talking Talent.

We asked her a few questions about her path to success:

1.      What have you learnt most about yourself through your career?

I’ve learned that being my authentic self is seriously rewarding, and that trying to mould myself to another persona to fit in is both exhausting and non-gratifying. I tried that in my earlier career, and I wouldn’t repeat it now.

I’ve also learned that delivering everything at 90% vs. 150% makes far more sense. Answering an email immediately is never sensible – take the time to think! And, quash the inner voice that makes you doubt yourself.

2.      Define a great leader. What traits do you think great female leaders possess?

I think brilliant leaders, both male and female, bring their real selves to work and lead by example —and share their failings as a core part of that. My view as a people leader has always been that I’m there to serve the team(s) that work for me; categorically not the other way round.

My favourite former (male) boss was a brilliant sponsor for women in leadership, working parents, and inclusive cultural behaviour. The cultural organisational tone set at the top of any organisation is critical.

3.      What are your success habits?

To be consistent in my behaviours, so that people know exactly what to expect (whether internally or externally). And to always communicate proactively and authentically to ensure employees, customers, suppliers, and investors understand the vision of my organisation.

4.      When did you consider yourself a success?

I’ve always competed with my younger brother, so we had a competition to see who could become a board director first. I won, prior to my 30th birthday, which made him immensely proud (thankfully). I’ll always strive to do more, though. And starting my own consulting business Speake Up was immensely gratifying. I love working with an amazing combination of clients, adding value to different businesses, which is a real privilege. So, I’m currently rocking it, continuing to learn, and having an immense amount of fun!

But I think, as women, we always beat ourselves up about potentially doing better or doing more before we consider ourselves a success.

5.      Did your career ambitions alter after having children?

No. I’ve always worked full-time since becoming a mum to my amazing children. That said, I could never have been as successful as I have professionally without my incredible husband’s support.

For me personally (and I appreciate it’s different for every working woman), I compartmentalise everything. So, I have a different mental box for work, kids’ stuff, home, holiday planning, general life stuff, etc. etc. etc.

6.      How did you balance being a mother and a successful professional?

I’m very privileged to have a self-employed husband who has done our school run for over a decade. However, I’m always there for any key events in our children’s lives.

7.      How did/do you deal with negative influences and barriers to accomplishing goals?

I think we need to own our own goals and KPIs. Having a voice is SO important as a senior woman in work. There’s no excuse not to fight against negative influences.

8.      Define what success looks like to you?

For me, success is being able to know exactly where every single individual in any of my teams is at. It’s knowing customers love our brand. And it’s going home to my family and being “present” 100%!

9.      If you had the chance, what would you have done differently in your career?

I’m a forward-looking person, so I don’t tend to look back. I think I had pretty good advice and have enjoyed amazing sponsors of the Sarah Speake brand. I feel privileged to have worked with some of the best in the business in my career to date.

10.    What are you most proud of in your career?

Everyone who’s ever worked for me, including people I’ve fired, is still in touch. It’s unusual and immensely gratifying, and I’ll always back them (if they’re good…).

11.   What’s the one piece of advice you’d give a fellow female wanting to succeed?

There are four: Work out what’s really important to you. Don’t be influenced by other senior women’s styles. Enjoy being you!! And quash the inner voice…

12.   Who / what are you most grateful for and why?

My parents, for instilling a sense of purpose in my life and still being great friends to this day! My husband, my soulmate, for being my biggest supporter of giving up corporate life and going it alone to launch Speake Up Consulting. And, my brother, who knows me better than anyone. Because he and I have had almost identical career paths, he gets it, and we support one another to a degree that I doubt many other siblings enjoy.

13.   What is your life motto?

Life is not a rehearsal — courtesy of my Dad, the legendary John Speake.

14.   What’s next for you and your long-term goals / aspirations?

To continue building my business and helping clients like Talking Talent continue in their exciting evolution as businesses, which gives me an immense amount of pleasure.

15.   In the spirit of International Women’s Day, which female will you be celebrating and why?
I’ll be celebrating all women on International Women’s Day. I had the privilege of sitting at dinner with Madeleine Albright some years ago, and I love her quote: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women”. That says it all. I hope my 10-year-old daughter doesn’t even have to contemplate any gender diversity issues by the time she enters the workforce.

Thanks to Sarah for sharing her insight! Celebrate International Women’s Day with the people you admire too. Reach out and have a similar conversation with the women mentors and mentees in your own life!