Untitled design

International Women’s Day: how to become a CEO

We earn a commission for products purchased through some links in this article

In honour of International Women’s Day on 8 March, we spoke to female founders and CEOs from across the UK to find out how you can succeed in business.

According to the 2023 Rose Review Progress report, women established over 150,000 new companies in 2022 — more than twice as many as they did in 2018. Women are on the up but, unfortunately, the business world remains a male-dominated space, with only 3.5% of equity investment for the first half of 2023 going to female-led businesses. So, to help close that gender start-up gap, we’ve called on some incredible female bosses to share their advice on getting to the top, no matter the industry, and how to overcome the obstacles before us.

How do I start a business?

“Firstly, make sure you have a support system,” says Dielle Charon.

Initially starting out as a social worker, Dielle created a coaching business as a side hustle to help her make ends meet. Through a lot of hard work and research, Dielle eventually grew her client list and is now a certified life coach and seven-figure earner. She’s also the host of the Women of Colour Sales Show podcast and has been featured in Forbes.

Read more: I tried Maya Jama’s workout. These were the results
Dielle Charon

“Support is so key to your journey. There will be ups and downs and a lot of moments of doubt and setbacks,” she says. “Before any strategy tips, women should know that support is key.”

Meanwhile, Margaret Dabbs OBE points to cashflow as having been her number one priority before getting started.

“One piece of advice that I don’t think is spoken about a lot is how important cashflow is to get your business off the ground,” she explains. “It’s important to be careful with cash and remember you must bring in more money than you’re spending.”

Margaret founded Margaret Dabbs London in 2004, which specialises in luxury beauty products for hands, feet and legs. In 2023, Margaret was awarded an OBE in the New Year Honours List, and her product range can be found at Harrods and Liberty London.

“Keep your business model simple and don’t overthink it. That’s the key to making sure it works,” she adds.

Who motivated you on your journey?

“Oprah is one of my biggest inspirations,” says Dielle. “I love that she’s successful in an unapologetic way, especially as a woman of colour.”

Meanwhile, Dr Leah Totton, founder of Dr Leah Cosmetic Skin Clinics and Dr Leah Skincare, points to Lord Alan Sugar as her mentor and motivator.

“My business partner is Lord Alan Sugar, and he’s the person who’s mentored me throughout the years.”

Read more: Millie Mackintosh discusses cosmetic treatments 
Dr Leah Totton

Dr Leah founded a chain of cosmetic clinics in 2014 and has gone on to win a series of prizes for excellence in skincare. When it comes to advice, hers is simple:

“Focus on yourself. Not your competition. That’s the one thing that over the years I’ve realised is a key difference between people who have had success in business and those who have not.”

For Margaret, Susie Wolff was her inspiration. Susie is a former professional racing driver and currently serves as managing director of the F1 Academy: “She’s been a trailblazer in a heavily male-dominated sport and is now using her expertise and success to train other young women at the academy.”

What would you advise women in business not to do?

“Don’t be afraid to be disliked,” says Emily Abraham.

Emily founded pre-loved brand Love Luxury with her husband Adam, who have both been luxury goods buyers for over 15 years: “It’s that age-old issue that strong men in business are viewed as successful and powerful, strong women, on the other hand, are labelled as cold and ruthless.”

Read more: How to invest in luxury handbags
Emily Abraham

“Stick to your beliefs and goals and what feels right for you,” she continues. “You’ll come across a lot of people with opinions on how they think you should run your business, but it’s important to not lose sight of your end vision.”

Jennifer Mo shares a similar thought: “Don’t give up on your original vision. I launched my brand because I didn’t see a collagen product on the market (based on the scientific research) that I would personally take.”

Jennifer founded Pura Collagen in 2020, after 25 years of working in the sports and health industry, and has advised professionals from leading athletes to Navy SEALS.

Read more: How to become a marathon runner 
Jennifer Mo

“I had a clear vision of what the product would contain and what it would look like,” she explains. “But within a very short amount of time, people wanted me to compromise that vision for commercially viable reasons. That was never my vision for Pura, and I’ve not strayed from my original vision.”

Meanwhile, Dr Leah highlights realism as her mantra: “Don’t be unrealistic about how long things are going to take and how much work is going to be involved.”

“When I went onto The Apprentice at 24, I thought that creating a successful business was going to be a lot less work and a lot easier than it transpired to be. My advice is to be realistic and accepting, and willing to put the time and work into building a successful brand if that’s your goal.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Dr Leah (@drleahtotton)

To round things out, Jennfier asks budding business leaders to remember that you’re a person outside of your business.

“We must give ourselves grace,” she says. “As women, we tend to place ourselves at the bottom of the priority list when it comes to life’s demands. Try to build time for yourself in your day — do something that’s not related to work, so that you can feel grounded outside of your business.”

Share this article