Strength in Numbers - Lynne Kennedy MBE talks ambition, networking and commerce

After graduating as an interior designer, Lynne Kennedy M.B.E went on to create set designs for the BBC and STV before moving into a highly successful career in the publishing and events industry. After running her own company for 15 years she launched Business Women Scotland (BWS) to celebrate female entrepreneurship and support women in the world of business and commerce. Over the past six years, the popularity of the BWS roadshows has soared and resulted in Lynne’s appointment as an adviser to the Scottish government (in addition to being awarded an M.B.E). We spoke to Lynne about confidence, leadership and how the days of big shoulder pads are thankfully behind us.

What is more important – knowledge or confidence?

One of the topics I frequently discuss in my meetings with the Scottish government is confidence in women. We host business roadshows in the main cities in Scotland and bring in experts to discuss leadership and presentation skills. Not everyone is an academic. Sometimes people can get much further in life with great communication skills and the natural capacity to push themselves forward. You can have a first-class degree from the world’s best university, but if you don’t have the confidence to go forward you’ll be left behind. I’ll never forget what one of my interior design lecturers said, ‘50% is a good portfolio and the other 50% is your personality.’

How do the BWS events help to boost camaraderie between women in business and why do you think these events are such a success?

The BWS roadshows have been running for six years now, and with each new event we learn something new. Being an entrepreneur can be a very lonely place for some women, even those who would normally class themselves as very sociable. It’s a great opportunity for those who are self-employed, as well as the women who are working in large organisations to come together and share stories, engage with other attendees and learn from the speakers. I think it makes you realise that you’re not the only one with issues or tricky business quandaries – and coming together at the roadshows gives you the chance to find solutions from the new industry connections you’ve made.

There are still some surprising attitudes towards female self-starters. Mainstream banks still see female lenders looking for investment as a higher risk group than their male counterparts. What are your thoughts on this?

Access to finance is crucial for women seeking to grow their businesses, and yet they continue to experience barriers trying to tap into loan-based financial resources. It’s a topic on the agenda at many of the meetings I attend with the Scottish government, and it’s essential we move forward in order to unlock the £7.6billion economic opportunity represented by female-owned businesses. Banks need to look upon businesses equally, regardless of what gender the applicant is, in order to address this funding gap. Women need to be honest about their needs, and not be afraid to ask for help. It’s going to take a little time, but things should change eventually.

There was a time when women felt the need to dress more like men in order to be taken seriously. In 2018, do we still need the power suits and shoulder pads to show we mean business?  

Thankfully I think those days are behind us! Everyone has their own sense of style – they know what pieces to put together to feel confident. We no longer have to stick to the formal, outdated dress codes of blouses, skirt suits and court shoes, we can develop our own ways of looking smart. With age comes wisdom and I think this applies to what you choose to wear. I’m approaching the big 5-0, and in my head, I don’t feel any older than I did when I was 40. Of course, there are things that suited me ten years ago that wouldn’t feel right for my size or shape now, but change is good and hopefully with every year that passes, you’re leaving the fashion faux pas behind you!

What was it about Sarah Haran handbags that has made you so loyal to the brand?

By taking control of the provenance of her collection, Sarah is being clear about representing her ethics and business values whilst supporting the UK economy, which is something I feel passionately about. As an art school graduate, we were always taught that less is more, so I’ve found myself avoiding overdesigned and fussy things – which is precisely why Sarah’s handbags are ideal for me. I’d rather make one thoughtful purchase than lots of smaller fast-fashion ones, and the adaptability of Sarah’s bags means I actually end up with three-bags-in-one anyway, which as we’ll all agree, is excellent value for money!