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From Rock Bottom to Woman on Top

In conversation with Emma Burdett.

Emma Burdett is the definitive multihyphenate. Not only is she a diversity champion, keynote speaker, and transformational coach, but she’s also the founder of WILD – Women in Leadership Deliver. The Dubai-based entrepreneur created the platform for all women to come together, create connections, collaborate, and conquer after a series of life events put her on the path from hitting rock bottom to finding her true calling as an advocate of gender equality. 

Following her success with one-on-one coaching, Emma is gearing up to launch a group coaching programme in November 2021 – but that’s just the beginning. She’s also in the process of setting up WILD Consult in order to guide companies on their Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) strategies and taking the WILD movement to several countries across the region and beyond. As for how she seeks balance and what she has observed while helping women reach their true potential? Listen in.

Q

How would you describe the WILD woman?

A

WILD is a community of women where existing and future leaders come together and share knowledge with a view to inspire and have a sense of belongingness. Not only do I work with women to help them create wildly successful and meaningful lives, but also become the best version of themselves. The WILD woman is one who realises her full potential, breaks through limitation, transforms fear and doubt, gains confidence, and develops into a powerful leader.

Q

Can you tell us a little about how you work with women?

A

I work with women in many ways. I work with women on a one-to-one private coaching basis and group coaching where WILD Women can learn together and feel part of a community. Throughout my journey, I’ve had lots of transformations and breakthroughs as a result of going from a breakdown to my biggest breakthrough which was creating and building WILD with no capital and no support – just an idea and a vision and a whole lot of passion and faith! Along the way, I myself have learned and uplevelled my skill set, taking me from being broken, vulnerable, scared, and fearful to being confident and very grounded. To now scaling my own business at an exponential rate.

As my profile with WILD has grown, I have become a keynote speaker and my area of expertise is confidence in presenting and speaking, so I generally work with women from my community who see my journey as inspiring and want to be confident and feel powerful. A big group of my women work in the corporate world and want to go to the next level, perhaps reach director level. I also work with women to build their own women’s networks. Lastly, I’m an advocate for gender balance. Women occupy only 16% of leadership roles, but we know that gender equality contributes to greater productivity, innovation, and corporate returns. That’s why I work with women to become powerful leaders on a one-to-one basis, all working towards the bigger picture of gender equality.

Q

What struggles do women in particular grapple with?

A

Confidence and impostor syndrome – those are the two things I encounter most often, even when working with the women who are very, very senior in the workplace. In fact, the more senior they are, the more they struggle with impostor syndrome. These feelings of inadequacy are endemic of women worldwide as we all have what I would call wreckage from the past – often from childhood – which we keep pushing aside and trying to cover up. We have to start by dealing with those things that are holding us back, which is limitation and doubt.

Q

Based on your observations, what is it that women fear most?

A

Fear is actually something that I talk a lot about on my social media channels because I’m big into mindset. We have something like 80,000 thoughts a day – 95% of them are the same as the day before – and a huge 80% of them are negative. Fear is an acronym for ‘false evidence appearing real’. Women fear failure, we fear stepping out of our comfort zone, we fear judgment and what other people say and think about us. Those things, whether combined or in isolation, massively hold us back. The limitations are only in our mind. What will they think if I do this? What if I do that and fail?

Unfortunately, all of these things keep us playing small. If you’re ready for a transformation and you’re serious about going to the next level, you have to be uncomfortable and do things that you’ve maybe never done before because nothing comes from a comfort zone. I wrote WILD from scratch after getting fired and experiencing a breakdown. I had nowhere to go except turning to my faith, but built a women’s network and answered my calling. Was I uncomfortable? Yes. But I really believe that we can start to claim our personal power when we get out of our own way and escape the headlock of fear. And that’s why I want to work with women and help them realise their potential.

Q

Fields like construction, aviation, and finance remain notoriously male-dominated. What needs to change?

A

D&I is a topic very close to my heart. When I started WILD back in July 2018, gender diversity was a little bit under the radar. But between the Black Lives Matter and Me Too movements, companies are now being called out for not being diverse over the last few years, so that’s good. Shareholders, consumers, and clients are also demanding more diverse teams now. For me, what needs to change is companies moving from ‘say’ to ‘do’ – a strapline on a website isn’t sufficient. The first step is building greater awareness around the cause. It’s a complex topic and something that people really don’t understand. Even when I created WILD, I faced quite a bit of pushback from the market. ‘What are these women’s networks?’ they’d say. Well, actually, women’s networks are to counter the boys’ clubs because we know that men in traditionally male-dominated sectors build what we call informal networks. And these informal networks are the boys’ clubs that women can’t infiltrate and where much business is done.

The second step is actually strategy and implementation. But it’s not just about recruiting more women – it’s about creating an inclusive environment where women can contribute. One thing I hear all the time is small numbers beget small numbers. So if you’ve got a couple of women leaders in a meeting, they’ll often be overshadowed by men, they’ll be talked over, they’ll be discredited. All this stops women from speaking up in meetings because they’ll think, ‘Well, what’s the point?’ It also means there aren’t as many role models or mentors for younger women because there is often a ‘think-leader-think-man’ mindset. We have to overcome that bias in order to create an inclusive environment, and a key component is getting men on board as engineers of change. There’s so much work to be done in this space and we’re nowhere near where we need to be. There’s actually more male CEOs called John than there are women in total. I always remind companies that more women in leadership results in higher corporate returns. It’s been proven, so it’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?

Q

How do you feel about the term ‘female entrepreneur’ – empowering or offensive?

A

I definitely don’t find it offensive. I mean, I am a female entrepreneur and there’s way more things to be offended about. But there is something that I would like to add. Sadly, a lot of women don’t support other women, and I always say that if we’re ever going to tackle gender inequality, we need to support each other – how are we ever going to be taken seriously if we don’t? I see too much judgement and too much competitiveness, and maybe that’s because there aren’t enough leadership positions, so women are scrambling over each of them to get to the top, but I massively believe in collaboration over competition. We’re just so much more powerful if we come from a place of solidarity and sisterhood, and I wish more women understood this. Let’s support each other, let’s come together. That’s fundamental, especially as we’re tackling inequality.

Q

The term work/life balance is rather divisive – some say it’s an achievement, others say it’s yet another double standard. Where do you stand?

A

I’ve done some talks on the ‘can you have it all?’ subject, and what I deduce is no, you cannot – not without sacrificing something, at least. An example is Indra Nooyi, the former CEO of PepsiCo, who was asked that question and felt that her relationship with her daughters had been compromised because of her position. Can you have it all? Honestly speaking, I think you can have it all, but something has to be compromised. Personally, I don’t believe in hustle and burning out in order to be successful. I think you need to work smart. 

There’s a new age thought leader who I follow named Gabrielle Bernstein, and she’s a proponent of ‘do less, attract more’. It’s about attracting as opposed to chasing and an actual theory that I’ve been following for the last two years, and I’ve had so many opportunities come my way as a result of staying true to my values instead of pushing and controlling. Obviously, taking action is important – I’m not just waiting for things to happen – but I’m not doing things out of fear or need or desperation. Instead, I’m working on my own personal development and growth, making sure I meditate, staying centred, and therefore attracting the right circumstances. This concept of hustle is an outdated one. You’re no good to anyone burned out with health issues. After dealing with health issues of my own and reevaluating my priorities, I believe balance is more important than work-life balance.

Q

Successful people have their morning routines down to a T. What’s yours?

A

Habits and rituals are everything! They’re life-changing. I meditate and listen to an inspiring podcast every single day without fail. I do a gratitude journal almost every day, and exercise three or four times a week. In fact, one of my coaching sessions is called ‘Habits and Rituals’, and I’m shocked at how many people don’t have them. They simply wake up, get dressed, and go to work – that in itself causes unfulfillment. I recommend setting your alarm 30 minutes earlier, but don’t jump out of bed and don’t turn on your phone. Practise gratitude, whether it’s in your head or a journal – it gets us in an amazing state of mind and sets us up for the day. Meditation has changed my life; it’s opened me to expand my awareness, to heal, to improve concentration. And now that I’ve dedicated my life’s work to supporting women in transforming, I wouldn’t get women to do all of this if I hadn’t seen the results myself.

Q

What’s one assumption that people falsely make about you?

A

Many look at successful people and think that you’ve had things handed to you, that you’ve been given an opportunity. I’ve worked incredibly hard and sacrificed a lot – it’s been blood, sweat, and tears to get WILD to where it is, but I’ve never had any handouts or anything like that.

Q

What one thing do you know now that you didn’t one year ago?

A

That there is infinite possibility. Anything is possible when we remove limitations and doubt. When I started working with coaches and broke through my limitations, there were infinite opportunities and possibilities to tap into, and I hope that I’m an example – building WILD from awful circumstances and a rock bottom moment to, now, having this growth on an exponential level with no funding. It shows you that anything is possible, and that’s what I’ve really realised in the last year. Always stay open to creative possibilities. We live in an abundant universe, and infinite possibilities are available to us.

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