Inspirational Woman: Dani Trudeau | Founding Director, Keystone Women

Dani Trudeau

Dani Trudeau is the Founding Director of Keystone Women – an online platform, programme and community that supports women to design a working life that brings together their personal vision and business mission, whilst prioritising good health and happiness.

Through her own journey of growing businesses, background in behavioural science and dedication to well-being, Dani has witnessed the true transformational power of community. Her work focuses on how to reimagine the working life by incorporating tools for self-awareness, connection and wellness rituals and aims to support people to achieve their individual version of success.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role:

I have always been intrigued and invested in what makes a good business and importantly, what makes a ‘business for good’ – and I started my first enterprise when I was 14.

During university, I took a part-time job doing applied behavioural analysis (ABA) with children with autism spectrum conditions. After my degree – Education and Dance bachelors from UNCG – I quickly got hired as a lead therapist and I was later asked to relocate to set up a company here in Scotland. In 2001, I became an ABA consultant, working with families throughout the UK. I also gained an MSc from Strathclyde University in Autism and related conditions.

In 2003, I was awarded a Highly Skilled Migrant Person Visa and started my own company, Interplay. Fast forward to 2010, and two children later, while working within a large charity, I set up a social enterprise and fell in love with the idea of social businesses.

After working for Social Entrepreneurs Network Scotland and co-founding Trade School Edinburgh, a global movement based on collective wisdom and human capital, the idea for Tribe Porty came into being. With a strong vision underpinned by the values of social capital, with the results of a community survey, in 2015 I founded Tribe Porty – a community coworking and creative social enterprise – in my local neighbourhood of Portobello.

In 2018, my second social enterprise was born, Keystone, through which programme, I champion women to define their purpose, tap into their creativity, cultivate their entrepreneurial mindset and prioritise their core values. I know I am very fortunate to be witnessing the transformational power of community!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Definitely not!

I had my heart set on becoming a professional dancer from the age of 7, and I was well on my way to realising my dream when I got into the University of North Carolina School of the Arts for my undergraduate degree in Contemporary Dance; but unfortunately, a back injury changed everything and I ended up with an Education and Dance bachelors from UNCG.

When I began work with children with autism spectrum conditions – whilst still at university – I really thrived at the creative challenge of the 1:1 work and immersed myself in behavioural science and helped start up a charter school founded on ABA.  When I was offered a job straight out of university as lead therapist delivering ABA, I took it. I then was offered a consultant role and a chance to relocate to Scotland a year later.

From private to third sector, setting up Tribe Porty and Keystone Women both combine my desire to champion people’s potential without sacrificing wellbeing. Keystone in particular, has been a very organic process; a natural succession of decisions which led to where we are now – an online platform, programme and community which supports women to design a working life that brings together their personal vision and business mission, whilst prioritising good health and prosperity, and a powerful combination of thoughtful content combined with well-being strategies which has been curated to ensure participants thrive.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

I feel I’ve learnt so much from the variety of dreams and experiences which moulded who I am today – and what my business aims to provide.

First of all, there was the issue of perfection.

Devoting so much of my time to ballet when growing up trained me to aim for perfection. Being good at dancing also gave me an identity, which became something I felt like I had to maintain. There is not much room for error in ballet and my desire for perfection was supported by relentless practice. When the time came to accept I had to find a new dream, I just couldn’t truly let go – until I started doing the work from Keystone myself. It was through crafting my own story that what is real and of the moment came into being clearly, and that’s when I was finally able to let go of this notion of failure which was damaging my sense of wellbeing. These last several years have been a study of letting go, and I am really proud of what I’ve achieved and the way my work has been embraced and recognised, and especially of how I’ve been able to use my own experience to help other women.

This brings me to the concept of practising what I preach.

During the second year of Keystone, we experienced difficulties with Tribe Porty as we were in danger of losing our building. I kicked into gear, took out a loan to take over the entire building and had to throw myself back into building work. My work-life balance went off-kilter and this took a toll on my body, during a difficult period where I also lost family members and a good friend.

When I started having chronic pain and fatigue, alopecia and other strange ailments, I realised I wasn’t really listening to my body and I had to concentrate on my own wellbeing. I now realise how much those difficult times have taught me and continue to teach me, and, yet again, how much of my experience can be useful to other women too.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I feel truly privileged to be able to do what I do, but one of my proudest moments so far definitely is my nomination as one of the 100 Female Entrepreneurs to Watch by The Telegraph and NatWest. It’s a huge honour and a culmination of passion, determination and strong core beliefs.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

I strongly believe in – and I’ve applied this to my own career journey – a holistic approach to living and working which aligns your whole self with your career ambitions. First, you must define what your own version of success looks like. It is far too easy to get trapped in comparing yourself or letting society dictate what success looks like. Secondly, my values are my North Star and they keep my work feeling true and purposeful. I trust that feeling like my life has purpose, brings a whole host of physical and physiological benefits of health, cognitive abilities and even financial security. Purpose is an ancient concept; it is a deep and profound resource— worth taking your time to cultivate and in return, contributes to your wellbeing.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?  

Mentoring others and getting mentored are both great. I am a mentor for The Social Enterprise Academy and have mentored for their global fellows in India, Pakistan, and Sweden.

I have also been a mentor for Social Shifters, Universities and through the Keystone programme. I have had a mentor through the School for Social Entrepreneurs as well. I think the key to good mentorship is the match and both parties having clear expectations.

Finding a mentor is a great idea but be specific about whom you want to engage with and why.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

I would say, know your value. As women, we must resist systems that exist which try and minimise us, especially when it comes to work. When you trust and really know your value, you will be more likely to ask for or negotiate better working conditions and earnings. When you know your value at home, you are more likely to ask for a fairer shared workload. When you know your value, you are more likely to stand up and speak out against harassment and gender stereotypes. When you know your value, you can lift others up and not cut other women or men down to get ahead. When you know your value, you can celebrate your successes and be an example of what we want to see more of in the world.

By 2022, a quarter of women in the UK were considering quitting their job because of burnout, with many recovering for a brief period only to find themselves slipping back into stress and despondency.

Current data verified by The Gender Index, also confirms that only 16.8% of all active UK companies are female-led. And high-growth companies led by women lag significantly behind their male counterparts with the percentage of those that successfully raise capital from investors even lower.

I believe passionately that women can learn to create success and wealth for themselves without burning out and we want to support them on that journey. If we can help with this belief and its practical applications whilst creating a community of women actively listening to honest support, we will make a difference.

When I founded our holistic business community, Keystone Women I wanted to work to directly address this gender disparity, and experience told us that the combination of community, group coaching, upskilling and mentoring really does works.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Have more fun. I was quite a serious and disciplined girl from a young age. I was sold the idea that being a good little girl was the right way to be as I was rewarded for being quiet, cleaning my room weekly, straight A’s.  Intense ballet training, strict step-father and an absent father I was desperate to get the attention of, led to all work and little play. Perfectionism is a trap.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

Our business was created from hundreds of conversations with real women: Keystone is not just an online platform and programme, but a community supporting women to design a working life that brings together personal vision and business mission, whilst prioritising – and this is where what we really strive for – good health and happiness. We are working to transform the working world for women. As our work contributes to the links between education, entrepreneurship, economic prosperity, and the wellbeing economy, we are always seeking partners to expand our impact.

We are currently designing tailored programmes for national and UK wide institutions with entrepreneurial communities.  We are always looking for ways to provide access to any woman who wants support for a better working life.

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