Kaitlin Zhang of Oval Branding: “Help women get funding”

More women should be founders because it sets a great example for other women and the next generation. Founders also have much more power to address issues such as equality, diversity, gender pay gap and culture from the top level. On a personal level, I have found that being a founder has given me more […]

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More women should be founders because it sets a great example for other women and the next generation. Founders also have much more power to address issues such as equality, diversity, gender pay gap and culture from the top level. On a personal level, I have found that being a founder has given me more flexibility to shape my work-life balance and career progression.

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

Kaitlin Zhang is the CEO of Oval Branding and an award-winning speaker based in London UK. Kaitlin is a Chinese Canadian entrepreneur and her multi-cultural background helps inform her cross-border branding practice especially between China and the West. Kaitlin also specializes in personal branding to help her clients actively craft their brand niche and build their reputation.

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

In the April of 2020, I took around 2 months off work due to a bicycle accident which left me with a broken wrist. It was also the middle of a lockdown in the UK which meant that I was mostly stuck at home alone with very little work to do. It wasn’t an easy period emotionally but I learned a lot through it. First of all, none of my clients noticed that I was away because I had a fantastic team that continue to do great work while I was taking time off. Secondly, having some time off gave me the opportunity to strengthen relationships outside of work to build a strong support network for when I’m back at work again. I know that the pandemic has changed a lot about how we all work (or not work) and my hope is that we’ll all come out stronger on the other side of this. Let’s love and support each other through this.

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?

I’m sure this is a classic mistake a lot of women can relate to. One of the worst mistakes by far is wearing painful heels at a networking event all evening because I thought that presented the best image of me. At the end of the night, my phone ran out of battery, there were no cabs, so I ended up having to walk home in the heels. Never again. For all my fellow women, if it doesn’t make you feel beautiful and confident, it’s just not worth it.

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?

I’m tremendously grateful for my therapist for helping me with my personal growth over the years. She has always been a beacon of light and comfort in my life. She is also not afraid to give me a disapproving look when I say something ridiculous or self-deprecating. I encourage anyone who is considering therapy to give it a try and give your mental health the care it deserves.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I’m currently reading a book called “No Hard Feelings: Emotions at Work and How They Help Us Succeed” by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy. The book is full of humorous illustrations and stories that helped me see that it’s perfectly normal to feel all kinds of emotions at work. Whether it’s “third-degree burnout”, “scope creep” or “email explosions”, we can learn to deal with the emotions from them all. I think this book has been particularly useful for me because I was often told that it’s bad to have emotions at work or that women need to tone down their emotions at work. In fact, we can all benefit from being more emotionally intelligent and nurturing with our work selves.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

I like a quote by the minimalist author Joshua Becker of becomingminimalist.com: “Throw out the excess, clean up the mess, say no to stress and live with less”. It reminds me to re-evaluate my priorities and reduce the excess in my life and work so I can focus on my most important purpose and work.

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

One of my main passions is helping people with improving their personal branding and online reputation management. Some women can find this especially more difficult because they need to put themselves out there online and it’s a scary thing.

Even before remote working, zoom and WFH took over our collective working lives, it was unusual for many of us to conduct a quick Google or Linkedin search to find out about others prior to meeting them for the first time.

There is significant value in creating a positive first impression face to face with a great personality, a confident outfit and a steady handshake. But in a post-pandemic world, those opportunities are fewer and further between. For all we know, the handshake might be a thing of the past now. What we are left with are versions of our digital selves on the internet, social media and video calls. And where my company Oval Branding want to add value is to help everyone proactively manage their online reputation by creating the best digital first impression.

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?

The top 3 things that are holding women from founding companies are:

  1. Simply not seeing enough women founders being represented;
  2. Gender stereotypes encountered on a daily basis and limits women’s businesses from getting the support and funding they need;
  3. Online abuse and violence are disproportionately targeting women more than men. The fear alone can stop women from putting themselves out there as a CEO of a company and a public figure.

Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?

In addition to the personal branding work I do with women founders, I’ve always had this idea of starting a women’s entrepreneur’s club called the “Comfortable Shoes Club”, where women and people who support women can come and gather in comfortable shoes and meet each other in a casual atmosphere as friends. Maybe this can be my future project in London when we are allowed to meet up again after the pandemic.

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

More women should be founders because it sets a great example for other women and the next generation. Founders also have much more power to address issues such as equality, diversity, gender pay gap and culture from the top level. On a personal level, I have found that being a founder has given me more flexibility to shape my work-life balance and career progression.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.

  1. Feature more women founders on mainstream media

Representation is so crucial. When I was growing up, both my parents were very entrepreneurial. For many years, my mom worked from home full-time, which allowed me to have the courage to choose that option myself. Because of the way I was brought up, being an entrepreneur that works from home was a valid career option. But that is sadly not true for many others. That is why representation on mainstream media is key and I encourage companies like Netflix, Amazon and Disney to take note. Young girls and boys need to see that women can be founders and scientists and race car drivers and anything else they want to do.

2. Utilize the power of PR for women founders

Similar to having more representation in the mainstream media, it is also important for women founders to be represented positively in the press and on social media. This is an area that existing women founders can invest into. Having a well-managed public relations image not only helps women with their careers but can also inspire others to follow suit. It’s a win-win scenario.

3. Help women get funding

According to Forbes, VCs invest 98% of their capital in start-ups led by men… yet despite the serve funding gap, start-ups founded and cofounded by women performance better over time, generating 10% more in cumulative revenue. If we can get more funding for women founders and teams, then we can change the narrative about women and entrepreneurial success.

4. Support and celebrate women of color, trans women, women with disabilities

The experience of being a woman is not universal. As a women of color and an immigrant, sometimes it is easy for others to ignore the difference between me and another woman who has more privilege than I do. At the same time, I understand that I also carry a lot of privileges and responsibilities, being someone who is young, healthy, well-educated and the CEO of a company. That’s why it’s so crucial for us to understand these differences and support and celebrate women from different backgrounds as beautiful individuals with their own journeys. In addition, we should stand up against any discrimination or abuse.

5. Be curious and continue to learn more about gender equality

To empower others, we might equip ourselves with knowledge and always keep learning. Recently, I discovered a great online program called 50 ways to fight bias by Lean In, which is started from the book of the same name by Sheryl Sandberg. The website has sections of resources for women, for allies, and for companies. There are a ton of useful information. For example, today I learned that the term “powwow” is a “social gathering that holds spiritual significance for Native American people” and I have been misusing the term. There is always something new to learn about diversity, inclusivity and equality.

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.

For some people, it may take more courage and leadership to be a follower and to let go of one’s ego. They are so many inspiring people out there leading amazing movements, why not consider supporting them instead? Some causes that are dear to my heart include gender equality, climate change, mental health and the minimalist movement. On a more ‘selfish’ note, I wish naps were more mainstream. We all could use it!

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.

I would love to speak to Lulu Wang, the director of the film “The Farewell”. It is a movie that hugely resonated with my experience as a Chinese immigrant, living through a very similar experience with the protagonist. I’d love to thank her personally for the beautiful story and bring more representation to Asian women on the big screen.

Lulu Wang’s Twitter: @thumbelulu

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Company Website: www.ovalbranding.com

Personal Website: www.kaitlinzhang.com

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kaitlinzhang/

Twitter: @kaitlinzhang @OvalBrandingUK

Instagram: @kzhangbranding

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

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