By Mica Walsh
Today I’m sharing an interview with Heidy Rehman, founder of Rose & Willard, the British womenswear brand, whose name means Feminine and Bold. In her recent Confidence campaign, Heidy features models of various backgrounds and ages, posing confidently in an office setting. In this Q&A profile, Heidy shares why she believes positive body language is so important for women, as well as some of the valuable life lessons that she’s learned along the way.
Where did you think you were going in your twenties? Did you have a plan /timeline/ idea of what wanted to be “when you grew up”?
I went from studying mathematics in college to taking a journalism graduate course. Eventually, I got a job in banking with no reason other than I met a recruitment officer while waiting out a storm at a train station in London. I then spent almost 14 years in banking before starting my own company, Rose & Willard.
The advice I give to younger women is always to keep an open mind and that nothing is ever lost. Journalism wasn’t the career for me but its training came in very handy – an equity research analyst spends a lot of their time writing research reports.
What advice did a boss/parent/friend/mentor give you that you followed?
My father, in particular, was a strong influence in my life. While I was born in the UK and have lived here most of my life (apart from a work stint in Dubai) my heritage is South Asian. This is a culture that values sons much more than daughters. My father didn’t buy into that.
Two of his most poignant pieces of advice were:
“You are not white and you are not male – these are two obstacles you will need to overcome every day of your life.”
“There is nothing a man can do for you that you can’t do for yourself.”
This advice certainly helped encourage my drive and determination – and still does. It has also enabled me to look any man straight in the eye. Those words live with me.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your 20s?
Not believing in myself. Confidence was a big challenge for me. It has grown over time and I intend to keep watering that plant.
What is one thing you know now that you wish you knew then?
People are in a great hurry to achieve and to be seen to be achieving. Sometimes it helps to just pause awhile and detach. I was always concerned that if I didn’t work relentlessly hard, including weekends, then I would miss out. The fact is that I missed out on time for myself. Taking time out for oneself can have a wonderful regenerative effect. It’s also true that if you pause for a while the world won’t stop – it will keep turning.
Most of my staff are in their 20s. To put into practice what I believe none of them ever works longer than an 8-hour day. It is important to me that they have their own time in the day. I believe having a fuller, more rounded life makes for a happy and more productive team. I want them to work to live, not live to work.
How did you feel about your body in your 20’s? How do you feel about it now?
Like most women I wasn’t confident about my body and unfortunately allowed this to limit my life. For many women the beauty of getting older is that we care less about how we look and what others think of us. The hang-ups I had in my 20s about aspects of my body seem so trivial now. Right now, I am comfortable with my body and my grey hair. My view now is that there are more important things in life – there really are.
You’ve written about the Imposter Syndrome, which can be briefly described as the belief of being unworthy. How do you think women can boost their confidence in the workplace?
In one of my last years in banking I undertook a weeklong experiment of dressing up every day, as though I was seeing my most important client. I also was very particular about my posture and body language (having read a lot of literature first).
For the first day there were plenty of jokes about whether I was interviewing for a new job. However, shortly thereafter, I noticed changes in the way people interacted with me. There was more seriousness and respect from everyone, including my boss.
This had the effect of boosting my confidence which then engendered further positive reactions. There was a sort of symbiosis in the way I felt and how people responded to me. Not only that, but my improved posture and more positive body language started to feel more natural. I would encourage every woman to try this and even see if they can make it last.
What’s a tiny change you have made to your life (getting up early, cutting out coffee, etc.) that has had far-reaping repercussions?
I read something intellectually nourishing every day, even if it’s only for five minutes. My mother has always said, “One can never know too much.” This is very true.
If I were in my 20s, with the same mindset I had then, I think that looking at the constant stream of lifestyle images would have undermined my confidence. I am sure I would have thought that other people were living these amazing lives and that I was either inadequate or missing out. In my 40s I can see clearly that the images and scripts are carefully edited and curated – scratch the surface and I doubt the same sparkle is underneath.
On the plus side, however, never before have people had such ready access to so much information nor the ability to interact with so many new contacts – the opportunities this offers seem limitless.
As an example I know someone who opened a dialogue with someone on LinkedIn at the start of her commute one day. By the time she had reached the end of her journey she had an interview arranged for a new job. That could never have happened when I was in my 20s.
Looking ahead: what is next for you? What is your next step / biggest goal right now?
The next step for me is to grow my company and to continue to help empower my staff and customers. I speak at events, work with charities and take action through the images and messages on our site. I want the Rose & Willard, Feminine & Bold community to grow and prosper.