Vikki Sylvester, Founder of award-winning Acacia Training and CEO of diversified investment holding company, MBH, shares her experience as a woman in business & the importance of supporting female leaders.
I have been in business with Acacia Training for 22 years – starting out alongside my Mum when I was 20. Since transitioning into my new role as CEO of MBH, I have been reflecting on my journey as a woman in business.
Over the years, I have faced many challenges, especially as a young female business owner in a male-dominated space. At the time, I didn’t necessarily see them as challenges but more as hurdles I had to overcome due to the nature of the space I worked in. On reflection, I can see that it was hard to be taken seriously by others in the sector, and there were spells where I have put too much pressure on myself to make decisions that made others happy, rather than going with my gut.
I had a tendency to be indecisive when I was younger, but now I’m less frightened of making the wrong decision and more so of making no decision at all. Every time I have made a ‘wrong’ decision, it has turned into a learning opportunity – a gift for the next stage.
I have recently taken on a new role as CEO at MBH. My focus is on growth and development with MBH’s purpose being to bring SMEs together into industry verticals and provide an environment where they can grow and collaborate. I help make this happen through bringing in new companies to join the group and collaborating with companies within the group, supported by the ongoing development of leaders and the future leaders of the MBH companies. I am really excited about this opportunity and very focused on how the group will evolve in the next chapter of its story.
I am passionate about using my knowledge and experience to support & guide other female business owners. At MBH, we have launched an initiative to support female leaders & help diversify the future of the world of work, which is currently in its 3rd cohort. The Female Leadership Programme has been running since 2022 and has so far supported 78 female business leaders who want to further develop their business knowledge and build their network.
It is important to ensure the development and encouragement of women to secure diversity of our future leaders in MBH, as well as supporting those women outside of the group who operate in the SME space, a lot of whom are from within our supply chains and networks. The purpose of the programme was to not just focus on women in business but to encourage and support women to lead with their female qualities as this adds so much value to the business and brings a different perspective and approach.
Whilst there are signs of improvement, women are still under-represented in senior positions, including in business & listed businesses, such as MBH. One of the areas I am really proud of within MBH is that we have always had a focus on diversity, not just in the immediate future, but also looking beyond that. And there is not just a focus on women specifically, we have spearheaded other projects focused on a range of diversity initiatives. Supporting female leaders is a part of this – to ensure that we have cognitive diversity and diversity of thinking across the group. Doing this in the way we have has provided a way to use shared experiences in our development, as well as providing a supportive network to encourage us and push us out of our comfort zones into the growth zone.
The voices of minority groups are the ones we need to hear if we are to bring different ways of thinking, and different points of view as all this leads to more ideas and creativity. In a business and work context, it adds huge value to an organisation and gives them a competitive edge. However, there are, without any doubt, inequalities that exist in systems and society. How these inequalities got there in the first place is a complex, and often painful, history of past societies that we should not forget, as this is where we can gather our greatest learnings to move forward and progress. And this progress will, and should always, continue as we learn more as societies continually develop and evolve.
This is why education is so important – all the progress we make comes from more and more learning, and more and more education. Education is one of the most powerful things in the world. Used positively it can create huge change. Used negatively it can create huge harm.
The investment that goes into quality education is so critical in educating for a better world. To do that, we need to ensure we are tackling inequalities and making education accessible – this is our route to ensuring we hear as many voices as possible. Those minority voices hold the key to unlocking new ideas and creating progress.
Everyone is a minority somewhere and we often forget this. This means there is a space for everyone to use their minority gift to bring new ideas.
My experiences of being the minority are often linked to my gender – being the only woman in a room or being subject to policies that are designed by people who do not share my experience. This doesn’t mean I have an issue with men, this means I have something to bring that alone they could not possibly bring due to their different experiences to mine, and in exchange, they have something that I can learn from them. This is the value of diversity, the reason why education should be the driving force, and why we need to stop getting hung on labels and focus more on what we can all learn from each other.
As I keep on my journey, there is no doubt that I will continue to learn from my peers, and from those I am surrounded by – and ensure to pass on my knowledge to other female leaders.
Find out more about Acacia Training or the MBH Leadership Programme here.