Opinion

Why female small business owners can look and feel great – despite naysayers

6 min read

24 October 2015

Justine Roberts, the founder and chief executive of Mumsnet, the networking site for parents, wrote an article in October complaining about how much time women spend getting ready for work. But fitness specialist Julie Creffield has hit back at the claim to defend female leaders.

She quoted surveys that have found that the average woman spends the equivalent of ten working days a year getting dressed and putting their make up ready for the office.

Women typically now spend almost 20 per cent of their income on their working wardrobe.

“There is a lot to be said for setting office workers free (literally) from stifling dress codes – and, in the case of women, the frankly weird expectation that they should sport full make-up at all times,” Roberts said in her article in the Financial Times.

Women running their own small businesses are often concerned, as the face of the company, about how they look. Generally female executives are judged more frequently and more harshly than men, not just on their clothes but on their general appearance – including their body shape.

However, working all hours to drive your business forward and grabbing snacks whenever you can doesn’t mean that you have to neglect your weight and your fitness, according to Julie Creffield.

Women shouldn’t feel that they have to choose between working on their businesses and keeping fit, she argued. Neither should long hours and a punishing schedule be used as an excuse for eating badly and not doing any exercise.

As a plus-sized marathon runner who helps overweight women thrive in the sport of running, Creffield also knows herself about keeping fit while working hard from her practical experience of managing her own business.

She works with health organisations and local authorities to find the best solutions to the growing challenges of obesity and inactivity. She’s also appeared on ITV’s This Morning teaching women to run 5km in five weeks.

“Prioritising your own health and fitness as a small business owner is tough when the demands on your time are so tight,” she said. “It feels so indulgent to take time off to go to the gym or for a run when you have a stack of work to do, and often you are fire fighting, so even the best plans go out of the window.”

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That said SME owners enjoy some advantages that employees of large corporates don’t. “On the flip side, we’re in control of our own diaries so we simply need to be firmer with ourselves and schedule our fitness into our working week,” she said.

“Cycling or walking between meetings can work. On a Friday if anyone wants to meet with me I insist on a walking meeting, or else I arrive in running kit, as that’s the day I try and fit in a long run. People seem to care less on a Friday somehow.”

Creffield points to the growing range of gadgets that can be useful here. “I also find wearable technology helps to keep me accountable during those inevitable office days, when your bum is literally glued to a chair,” she explained.

“I remind myself that my cells actually start decaying after 20-30 minutes of inactivity, so I plan short trips to the Post Office, or regular water or loo stops so that I’m not completely sedentary.”

Where female bosses lead, their staff can follow, she claimed. “The health of employees has a direct knock-on effect to absenteeism, productivity and general morale.

Read more on health and fitness in the workplace:

“And even when you have an already fit and healthy workforce implementing physical activity programmes can lead to better working relationships and new ideas surfacing.”

Creffield concluded: “I think SME owners have more incentive than anyone to stay fit and healthy, because if we go off sick there is nobody else to pick up the pieces.

“Besides, being active helps with productivity and idea creation, its like meditation in many ways and an opportunity to de-stress and switch off from the world.”

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