Inspirational Woman: Liz Villani | Founder of #BeYourselfAtWork

Liz Villani is founder of #BeYourselfAtWork, an organisation which partners with workplaces to create a new narrative around the role that work plays in our lives to boost energy, performance and results.

Her company allows and encourages people to be their authentic selves and see work as an opportunity to make a unique difference. Liz is the creative mind behind iAM, the world’s first personalised values product, which helps people to define their unique character so they know how to bring their whole and best selves to work. Clients include Redbull Racing, NHS, Arup and HSBC – innovators in leading workplace change and supporting authenticity in leaders, managers and those who reduce their success due to challenges with workplace conformity, social mobility and diversity.

Liz is a frequent commentator on the future of workplace culture and a tireless advocate for inspiring new generations, underrepresented groups and everyone to radically change their view of work. She regularly features in consumer publications such as Management Today, Metro, Glamour and a range of workplace and people-focused titles in the UK and around the world. Liz is also an export champion for the UK Department of Business and Trade.

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

I am on a mission to make work popular again and to bring authenticity to every leader, manager and workplace.  I’ve always loved work having found myself through job vs. school and family as a teenager.  As the Founder and CEO of the BY@W movement, I support our teams here in the UK, US and Australia to challenge how people see the role of work in their lives, become better, more authentic leaders and have confidence in who they are.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Totally.  At the age of nine, I decided that I wanted to be a food buyer.  Everything I did, the GCSEs that I chose, the work experience and degree etc were all planned and deliberately chosen for that one job application. I applied for the role and got it.

Today I plan not only my career but also provide practical help to others to understand who they are, their values as well as their purpose, behaviours and skills to love and be great at their work.  I always ask people three questions when they ask me for career advice – 1.  What do you know?  (and not just because of your CV). 2.  What do you want? (And not just the money).  3.  Who are you?  (So you can align your values to your success).

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Oh yes!  Having your own business is not the easiest route.  It takes years of dedication, long hours and belief in yourself and your mission as an organisation.  Like the people I help, the main challenge is always with yourself.  Mental agility, openness to change, courage to get up again, discipline of your inner voice, and confidence, are all vital abilities that need cultivating throughout the day.  We’ve always been ahead of the curve as well.  I used ‘Blue Ocean’ techniques (where you ignore the current marketplace and create something from scratch that leapfrogs the market) to formulate the concepts and constructs of iAM.  (iAM defines who you are, and your values, so you can #BeYourselfAtWork).  This means that one of our greatest challenges has been to create a market as well as succeed in it.  Facing the challenges with innovative thinking can be too much for some.  Today we find ourselves very much innovating in the ‘how you do business’ sense.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Without a doubt, the impact that iAM is having on people.  I know I should say successfully getting investors on board last year, achieving success with clients like The Bank Of England and HSBC etc, but it’s the impact on people that I value the most. We are currently running a fresh #BeYourSelfAtWork Survey and I took a read last week of the data so far.  For example, just 6% of people say they can fully accept a compliment, this changes to 48% for those with an iAM.  iAMers have three times more positive self-talk in their inner dialogue and are two and a half times less likely to unfavourably compare themselves to others at work.  The impact of knowing who you are and being yourself is incredible.  For that, I am humbled and very grateful.

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

Myself.  I am asked constantly what my life is like and how I do it.  Growing up in challenging socio-economic circumstances with lived experience has given me a drive, resilience and humility that allows me to continue and be kind every day and with everybody.  I am lucky now to have investors and ambassadors around me that I can lean on but ultimately my relationship with myself has been the biggest driver.  I’ve been described as ‘a machine’, and a good person at the same time.

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

Yes, I have mentored people and been a mentee.  This is such a valuable experience for anyone.  They say, ‘As you rise, lift people with you’.  If you can be the person who helps others to believe in themselves and have the courage to make a difference that’s an incredible honour.

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

Eradicate all guilt felt by working mothers.  My mother had several jobs as I was growing up and it was a role model approach that has really supported my belief that I can have a successful career and a family.  With my own daughter, I have made sure that I have fully supported her to have her own career dreams.  We must all decide not to let unwarranted feelings of guilt take up our valuable headspace.

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

Be Yourself!  I like most spent years comparing myself to others, worrying what people thought of me etc and it takes so much energy and wastes so much time.  Switching out of this earlier would have helped me to learn more from others and my experiences.  Today I am fascinated by people, methodologies, and new ways, rather than wasting time beating myself up for not knowing and being everything.

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

Making work popular again!  Imagine a working world where we all show up as our best selves and see work as an experience to make a difference.  The impact on our societies, our economies, and our happiness will be groundbreaking.  The challenge is to help everyone see their work as as important as their family, friends, hobbies, me time etc.  Work has the power to give us purpose, and confidence and is often the only avenue to making an impact in our lives.  71% of us had a dream job as a child, but only 18% followed their dreams, which is very sad.

We’ve just released a free version of iAM for job seekers, those who have been made redundant, looking for their next role or are beginning work for the first time.  Bringing authenticity at scale to the recruitment process, to leadership, to career development has the power to shift how we think of work.  I’ll stop because I could talk about this forever…

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