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Female Founders: Marteka Swaby of Benevolent Health On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

​​Become your own biggest cheerleader — Entrepreneurship can be very lonely. Not requiring others’ validation is HUGE to become your own biggest cheerleader. However, we all need to be vulnerable sometimes and seek help from others. You can still be your own biggest cheerleader and surround yourself with other amazing women, who can pick you up and celebrate you when you are leading and winning.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marteka Swaby.

Marteka has over 15 years’ experience in mental health and is the Founder of Benevolent Health, improving emotional wellbeing through coaching and consulting. She is passionate about amplifying diverse voices and coaching diverse women to increase their impact and income, without sacrificing their mental health.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

My career path has been varied. I started in Insurance, then went to rehab!

Literally, I woke up one morning thinking ‘how can I help people turn their lives around?’

Within 2 years, I was working on a drug and alcohol rehabilitation programme in a Category A prison. Now, I have over 15 years’ experience improving emotional wellbeing.

From prisons and drug rehabilitation to consulting with large organisations and coaching diverse women.

I absolutely love mental health and helping women to go after what they really want and get the recognition they deserve.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I remember having a really difficult call with my accountant travelling to a meeting, and this guy who was lost was trying to get my attention to ask for directions and kept trying to talk to me.

I couldn’t focus on both conversations and asked him to wait. He took me literally and waited over 40 mins until I finished the call. I couldn’t believe it.

I was probably having one of the worst calls of the business and I felt so defeated, but he had waited all that time to get directions. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to laugh or cry!

In the end, I gave him directions and we had a really nice chat which completely distracted me from the difficult phone call. He was a delight to speak with and that conversation made me feel hopeful.

I learnt in this moment, that things don’t always go to plan and what felt like an interruption was probably a blessing in disguise.

We should always be grateful, even when things are not working out, there is often always another way to do things or a new direction!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Entrepreneurship can be lonely as a female founder, so it is important to surround yourself with other awesome women who are doing great things.

I am grateful for the amazing communities I have been part of over the years.

In my early days when first starting out, I remember, the first shared office space I had, working in a crammed start-up space with very few women.

I started a lunch and learn to share learning with other diverse women, working across health. I got everyone to bring a dish, so it created a community vibe. It was the noisiest lunchtime of the month, not to mention the lingering lunchtime smells!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Before I stepped into entrepreneurship full time, I was in a full-time job, and really needed help to change my mindset before stepping into entrepreneurship.

Like most people. I had a mortgage and bills to pay. It was scary to think about giving that up, to go it alone.

I hired a coach to help me build a roadmap, while keeping me accountable to the actions needed to take.

The level of consistency I was held accountable to was my superpower in the end. l was able to achieve my goals strategically and within 6 months I left my full-time role to launch my business.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

This is multifaceted problem and particularly more complex for black women, as this statistic is even lower.

We make up less than 1% of female founders, hence getting a seat at the table for many women of colour seems unattainable due to the lack of representation.

I have even been told that I should be grateful, but I worked 5 x harder to get my seat and still battle to keep it. Why, should I be grateful?

The underrepresentation of women as Founders, has two main issues in my opinion.

  1. VCs and Investors are predominately men, which means for women pitching to men it can perhaps be intimidating. Women need to harness their masculine energy and communicate in a way that is familiar to men, to get a ‘yes’
  2. The other issue is more intrinsic, connected to self-worth and confidence. When there is a lack of representation or few visible role models, it is harder to experience a sense of belonging and a greater need to become your own biggest cheerleader. Very few people can rely on themselves for validation, as a woman founder this a key skill to help sustain your entrepreneurial journey

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

I think quotas, legislation and policy from government can improve equality and this should be welcomed!

We should not rely on the government to take action, we have the opportunity now to be more intentional about nurturing a pipeline of women founders, particularly diverse women.

Entrepreneurship should be taught in schools, colleges, and Universities. Girls need to see representations of Female Founders across society, so they believe it is possible and they can do it too, because they see it around them.

The inauguration poet Amanda Gorman was huge for young black girls, they have someone to look up to, someone who looks like them and helps them believe it is possible, they can do it too!

Representation is powerful it gives hope and embodies possibility.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder, but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

Time Freedom — Work from where you want, pick your hours and you sign off your own annual leave. Time freedom is one of the greatest freedoms of being an entrepreneur. You work hard, but your freedom is worth it!

Unlimited Potential — The opportunity to increase your skills and experience in areas you wouldn’t consider is unlimited. You can take the business in the direction you want it to go, with your visions and dreams. It really is up to you, both your personal and professional development.

Better Mental Health– If you can be a female entrepreneur, you can do anything! Who thought running a business could improve your mental health? I have really had to go into the depths of myself at times and this journey has highlighted all my weaknesses.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

Entrepreneurship is really hard work, there is lots of failure, rejection and disappointment involved, probably more than the myth of money and success.

I have invested in some amazing coaches, mentors and even a therapist to help me stay the course! Entrepreneurship will acquaint you with your previous life traumas, including rejection, fear, disappointment and failure.

Don’t ever sacrifice your mental health, get help from other professionals.

I also think the ‘Hustle Culture’ is a huge myth, that somehow it is cool to work 16 hours a day, 7 days a week and you must do this to be successful.

This is big BS but if it is your preferred workstyle and you want to do it, great! But, for most people this leads to burnout and long-term health problems.

Avoid this at all costs, instead find a way to be sustainable and appreciate consistency.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  • Never sacrifice your mental health — In my early days I never had boundaries around taking days off, resting properly or even using my lunch breaks. I got burnt out really quickly and found it hard to bounce back. Always prioritise your mental health
  • Trust your instincts — for me it is that still quiet voice inside that warns me when something is wrong or if I should take action now. Tune into that voice and learn to follow it.
  • Make ‘No’ your best friend — You will hear a lot of NO’s!
    Don’t let it stop you from speaking up and asking for what you need. ‘No’ can create great boundaries. It’s good both to say no to certain opportunities and experience being told no. ‘No’ will help you to grow. Make it your best friend.
  • Kick Imposter Syndrome in the butt — I have often felt inadequate for many reasons, including being a woman and a WOC. Most of my life I tried to overcompensate by setting excessively high goals. Kick imposter syndrome in the butt and stop those pesky saboteurs that keep you striving for perfection. Failure can often lead you to your greatest success.
  • ​​Become your own biggest cheerleader — Entrepreneurship can be very lonely. Not requiring others’ validation is HUGE to become your own biggest cheerleader. However, we all need to be vulnerable sometimes and seek help from others. You can still be your own biggest cheerleader and surround yourself with other amazing women, who can pick you up and celebrate you when you are leading and winning.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I make the world a better place by helping diverse women to get the recognition they deserve without sacrificing mental health.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

My mission is to change the narrative on race and mental health and alleviate diverse women into greater positions of influence. I believe we all deserve a seat at the table, and we need to create more opportunities and legacy for future generations and I am passionate about seeing other diverse women leading and winning acrorss their expertise.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Oprah Winfrey. Her energy is incredible. I would love to have a breakfast with her or just be in her presence to take some of her energy!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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