Inspirational Women: Katherine Grice and Christie Jennings | Co-founders of topbird

Katherine Grice and Christie Jennings

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

Christie: We met at drama school and have been friends for over 30 years. We’ve had similar career paths – for the past 20 years we’ve both had successful careers as facilitators and coaches, but the opportunity to work together never came up. Katherine travelled all over Europe delivering workshops for a huge variety of clients and I spent my time working within the senior civil service and the NHS.

During lockdown, on those endless walks, we talked about the possibility of creating an online community and coaching programme to empower women in business. We wanted to build a space where women from all walks of life could learn about equality and parity in the workplace. We wanted it to be supportive, challenging but most importantly fun.

Katherine: We decided to call it topbird because that’s exactly what we want – for women to be at the top of their game, to spread their wings and fly. Using our theatre background, we teach simple, straightforward techniques that really work. Whether it’s in meetings, presentations or challenging conversations, our speciality is helping women gain what we call our ‘3 C’s’: Clarity; Confidence and Courage.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Katherine: Absolutely not! Actors have big dreams but we also always knew it was a challenging career path. Now as entrepreneurs and business coaches, Christie and I have become more intentional around what we want our business to be and how we’re going to get there.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Christie: Like many startups, our biggest challenge has been increasing our visibility. Social media has been essential to our business’s growth, and connecting to women online and creating a community is an incredibly important part of our business. We’ve had to teach ourselves how to market topbird on social media, there’s been a lot of upskilling on our end!

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Katherine: Our achievements are really the achievements of our participants who come through our programmes and then go out and have those difficult conversations with their boss or get that promotion. 

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

Christie: Something that sets us apart is our focus on creating a learning environment that is positive, supportive and fun. We truly believe this is the best way to stretch yourself and move out of your comfort zone. All the work we do is practical and experiential – it’s rooted in our theatre training.

Katherine: We’re both allergic to what we might describe as ‘tick box training’. There are huge amounts of books on leadership and effective communication and the theory is fine, but how do you live that? How do you actually take that control when you’re in that meeting or that presentation? Or when you sit down to be interviewed by a panel? Practical answers to those questions through action is what we achieve with our clients – and it’s this approach that’s become our niche in the market and a factor in our success.

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

Christie: I have been mentored unofficially by several women throughout my life who have had a really positive influence on me. My godmother for one, who passed away at the ripe old age of 96. She was fearless and perhaps more importantly curious. She taught me how to listen. We are also starting to mentor younger women and pass on some of our experience as coaches.

Katherine: I love mentoring – both officially and unofficially – and have been mentored by various fabulous women over my career.

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

Katherine: There are too many women who work in SMEs who have no or little career support – and therefore have slow progression. If you Google ‘women in leadership’, you will find lots of theory-based academic programmes, but there is an unmet need for practical schemes that support, encourage and champion women to achieve their ambitions.

Christie: Empowered women are good for business. It’s shown across companies in the US, UK and India that companies with at least one female executive board member tend to make better financial decisions and generally outperform firms with male-only boards. We need to get more women into these positions.

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

Christie: Consider your partnerships. When deciding who to work with, partner with someone you have a strong relationship with. There are ups and downs in every business journey – as a team you need to be able to recognise each other’s strengths and support each other through the challenging moments.

Katherine: It’s easy to revel in the high moments, but working with someone who can motivate you in the tough ones and remind you why you started is key.

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

Katherine: Our ambition is to grow our profile. We’re taking time to make considered investments, we want to broaden our reach to women in a range of sectors, particularly focussing on women in media and advertising.

Christie: At the moment most of our client work is in London and we’d love to expand throughout the UK and further afield. In the immediate future, our next Women at Work Toolkit begins on 20th January 2023 – you can find more details on www.topbird.co.uk.

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